What do Yahoo, Reddit, IBM, and Best Buy have in common? These major companies called their remote workers back to the physical office! IBM once boasted that forty percent of their employees worked from home. Best Buy had coined the term Results-Only Work Environment, leading the way in the shift to remote employment. Each of these companies, of course, could merit a business school case study. However, you don’t need to earn an MBA to benefit from what these large companies learned about the world of remote work.
Yahoo’s remote work reversal came in 2013. Take a moment to remember the mobile phone you owned in 2013! You probably would not want to rely on that phone today. Recalling your old phone puts the pace of change in perspective. Since 2013, more and more companies have found success with remote work because the infrastructure is rapidly becoming more accessible and usable for the agile employer.
You might think that if Yahoo can’t sustain remote workers, then it may not be worth your effort. However, statistics on remote work say otherwise. In 2017, 3.9 million Americans identified as at least half-time remote workers. This includes freelancers and employees of small businesses. That is a 115 percent increase from 2005. And the number continues to grow.
Here are the areas to plan for as you move into the future of work. Stop after each section to consider the question to shift your thinking as you move to the next level of having a distributed workforce.
Collaboration is definitely a business buzzword. It is easy to picture a group of people in a room huddled together, working on amazing ideas. However, the word is Co-Labor, not Co-Locate. Today’s technology provides a way for co-laboring even when workers are not in the same location. With the right technology, you can create the same energy.
Who in your organization has best demonstrated the ability to collaborate without co-locating? What can you learn from them?
Creativity is a critical skill in today’s economy. We’re not talking an artist with a paintbrush here. Creativity is needed across all fields. Creativity happens in teams, but it is also highly personal and varies from employee to employee. Allowing remote work means your finance employee may be able to give you her very best work at 6:00 am before her children wake up. Your marketing designer may be inspired by looking out at the beach while he works from Thailand. Don’t let geography limit your organization’s creativity.
What areas of your organization need a shot of creativity? How could you seek help in these areas?
Remote work success means you need to break through to new ways of thinking. One attraction of remote work is freedom. Yet, a drawback of remote work can be isolation. Find out what your remote employees need to feel connected to the team, yet not tied to a phone 24/7. Remember that different employees have different needs. Flexing invites employee responsiveness to the needs of your organization.
What assumptions are holding you back from engaging remote workers as effectively as you engage onsite employees?
When you have some of your employees in the office and some distributed across town or around the globe, there can be a tendency for these employees to compare their situations. Some studies show that remote employees actually work more hours because they do not want to be seen as slackers. As the employer, you can even the playing field. Celebrate project successes so that all the employees know of the accomplishments. Make sure that remote workers have the equipment needed for success. For example, some of the savings created by distributing your employees may need to be invested in “co-working” office space for those who can’t work from home or find coffee shops too distracting.
What is one step you can take to break down unfair comparisons among your employees? Who would be honest enough to talk to you about this topic?
Trello, a company that creates product management software, has about 100 employees. Sixty of those work remotely. They didn’t start out as a distributed workforce, but they’ve learned how to do it well by giving extra attention to communication. Decide on a platform and use it for everyone. Don’t have one system for onsite and another for offsite. For a meeting involving remote workers, have everyone in the meeting sign on from their separate locations, even those who work onsite. Trello goes beyond business meetings and has casual conversations on Fridays, pairing people for conversations that are not work-related. This space becomes the equivalent of the break room. Zapier, a totally distributed company, has a social space where workers can post photos of their personal lives—much the way an onsite employee would have a picture frame on the desk. This invites conversations. And personal connection invites creativity.
How many communication platforms are used in your organization (email, texting, project management software, appointment software)? Which ones are effective for all employees (both onsite and distributed)?
Culture is not just a ping pong table in the break room. Culture is how you and your employees invest your days—in common goals and in each other. As you move to a distributed workforce, take time to analyze your company culture. What kind of employees do you want? Consider both onsite and offsite employees. Include indicators for remote work success in your hiring rubric and processes. Trello, for example, uses video-conferencing as a part of their screening process, observing the engagement level and proficiency on that platform. All employees should be confident in communication across various platforms to ensure healthy collaboration.
Could all your employees describe your company culture and values? How much of your culture is dependent on location?
Learn from the companies who have tried the future of work—both those who reverse direction and those who have found success. Seek help to navigate the future of work, so you join the agile companies who make shifts along the way to create healthy integrated work spaces.