Remote working is more widespread than ever before and ‘on the up’ within most companies. In fact, experts predict that 50% of the US workforce could soon be working remotely. Some companies are going a step further and doing away with the notion of the ‘traditional’ office altogether. Take technology company, Aha, which only operates remotely, and to which the CEO in part attributes remote working to the success of the company. So, if those policies and processes in your own organization are still a little up in the air, now’s the time to figure out what remote working means in reality.
Why the shift from the office block to the home office?
Many workforce trends that have been bubbling away independently are starting to come together. Our attitudes to the role of work are changing with most of us seeking better work-life balance. At the same time, a new workforce demographic made up of freelance and gig economy workers has materialized thanks to improved unified communications and bandwidth that make working anywhere possible.
The Pros by far outweigh the cons
For employers, the first benefit that springs to mind is that people who are allowed the freedom to work flexibly tend to be happier, more loyal and more productive. Take the commute out of the equation, and the benefits increase: organizations now have access to a much broader, diverse talent pool.
Employees, on the other hand, get to avoid the ‘delights’ of the daily commute and gain the flexibility to work while prioritizing other aspects of their lives. For me, the chance to visit my elderly family for a lunchtime cuppa or a quick jog through the countryside when I’m not on a plane or at my desk in our London office gives me the drive and buzz for those times when early starts, late nights or the odd occasional weekender are needed.
Naturally, remote working brings a degree of trepidation from both employers and employees alike, and possibly some stigma too. After all, won’t less face-time inevitably hamper collaboration, innovation, teamwork, and bonding? The answer is absolutely not.
That said the three common (but not insurmountable) risks I see are:
- Employees feel isolated. If they work remotely or are not in the office very often, there’s a risk that people feel less connected to the organization, culture, and their co-workers. Possibly there’s a sense of ‘it’s just me and a desk,’ which over time can be demotivating and hinder individual as well as team performance. This could also act as a barrier to building pukka relationships with colleagues.
- Employees who work remotely can’t help but be less visible to their colleagues, peers, and management. The danger here that they don’t get all the support, guidance and recognition they need. So, let’s demote presenteeism and instead promote performance.
- Employees fail to ‘switch-off’ which leads to an unhealthy work-life balance. For some, unplugging when work is done can be a challenge. They find themselves working long hours and are inevitably paid back with stress, lower productivity, and wellbeing issues. One word: discipline.
Minimize the negatives and maximize the positives
As with most things in life, it’s all in the planning. If you don’t have a plan, ‘you’ve planned to fail’ as my military father and German mother wisely instilled in me. For organizations, team leaders and people managers (even yourself), here are five key considerations for remote working:
1. Believe in The Dream. Crack Onboarding Right from the get-go.
If employees are going to be working remotely, successfully onboarding them when they join is critical. This is the time to immerse them in the company values, mission and working style, as well as introducing them to key staff co-workers, managers and company leadership. Training and induction on processes, policies, and technology systems are an essential part of this also. Together, these aspects will create the best environment for getting individuals to pull together and forge working relationships whether they work in the same physical location or not.
2. Make Sure your Managers Believe in the Cause.
Whether or not you’re a manager yourself, you’ll know they often make the difference between success and failure. Crucially, they need to be 100% behind any remote working initiative and even given training and skills to lead and manage remote and flexible teams. This includes the use of workplace technologies and unified communications such as video conferencing and collaboration platforms as well as work processes such as facilitating virtual meetings. Managers can also play an essential role in helping to encourage a work-life balance among home workers. For example, by keeping a careful watch on employees’ workloads and trying not to reward or praise routinely long hours.
3. Dive in Head First to Collaborative Tech and Tools.
Online communities and collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp groups or Salesforce Chatter: All these tools help employees to work effectively in remote teams. They allow people to share their successes and receive praise from peers and managers, as well as to bounce ideas around and share challenges they’re grappling with. I think there’s a misconception that with online interaction it’s not possible to feel connected in the same way as if you see people in person. Just be sure to encourage ‘real-life’ conversations before getting down to the agenda, just as you would in a physical meeting. What’s to stop you grabbing a coffee and a virtual chat? Moreover, use your webcams whenever possible it helps with attention, connection, and reading body language (so resist the urge to hide in PJs or that outrageous university society hoody).
4. Don’t Just Gather Opinions, Do Something About Them.
If a large proportion of the workforce is working remotely, it becomes even more important to give them the opportunity to provide feedback regularly. It’s a meaningful way to test levels of engagement and uncover concerns and challenges. So, in addition to the annual or biennial employee engagement survey, make sure there’s room for pulse surveys on specific issues that might be impacting certain teams. Also, provide a channel for always-on feedback so that people can easily voice their concerns.
5. Town Hall meetings: Create opportunities for face to face interaction.
Of course, we all know there’s no substitute for a good, old-fashioned get together. With that in mind, wherever possible (and business objectives allow), create opportunities for getting people together in the same location. As well as formal team meetings, companies that have successfully embraced remote working make time for team building, awaydays and recreational events to forge closer and trusted working relationships.
Organizations don’t have a choice; remoting working is coming to a desk in every office. However, it’s not for everyone, and it needs to be well thought out. As working styles shift and flexible and remote working patterns are adopted more widely, the spotlight will naturally fall on the possibility of adverse side effects. However, I’m a firm believer that if you do things the right way, it’s possible today for any business to thrive and prosper without requiring all their staff to turn up at the same location every day.
Read more about Employee Surveys.