Remote working seems to be the way of the future. After all, with all this collaborative technology, who needs a traditional office?
Turns out, some companies retain greater confidence in the traditional office. In 2013, Yahoo ordered its remote workers to “relocate to company facilities.” Shortly thereafter, Best Buy ended its remote working program. Both companies cited the need for more intensive collaboration in a difficult market.
These decisions were controversial considering the number of employees affected, and the even greater multitude of benefits that remote working brings to the table.
Statistics show that remote work has the power to increase productivity and decrease employee turnover, all while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from commutes and cutting down on absenteeism. So why not embrace it? Let’s answer the question: should you be working from an office?
Curb Your Enthusiasm
It’s easy to rush into the remote work trend--admittedly more than a trend now--when the benefits are so clear and it seems like everyone else is implementing it.
But remote work isn’t just about keeping up with the competition or maintaining relevance. Reaping the benefits of remote work requires a lot of, well, work. Remote work’s huge impact is in part due to how different it is from the status quo, which means that when it comes to integrating remote working into your business, the way that you’ve always done things probably won’t suffice.
Shama Hyder, Founder and CEO of Zen Media, gives the caveat that “remote work is a whole different animal from office work,” thus “when companies try to impose a traditional office model on remote work, they’re asking for trouble.”
All that glitters is not gold. Remote work presents its own challenges. Most of these challenges are actually based on your company culture.
“Culture” is a bit of a buzzword in the business world at the moment, but for good reason. In this day and age, it’s difficult for any company to hide behind closed doors, literally or figuratively. Workplaces with toxic, or even just unfavorable cultures will be pulled into the light, exposed, and probably roasted on Twitter.
Sean Graber, co-founder and CEO of Virtuali, describes culture as one of the three core principles of successful remote working. I would argue that culture actually permeates the other two foundations he describes, which are communication and coordination.
Graber broadly defines culture as “a shared set of customs that foster trust and engagement.” Fostering trust and engagement in a physical office is a different matter than doing so in a digital office. That’s why your business should have components of company culture already working in its favor before bringing remote working into the mix.
Tools In Place
Remote working requires a number of different tools to maintain adequate communication and coordination. Collaborative software makes co-working easier than ever, and video meetings with platforms like Zoom or Slack can keep remote workers from feeling isolated.
However, if your company doesn’t implement a lot of digital or cloud-based tools already, the transition to remote work would be nearly impossible. The learning curve would be too steep for the productivity benefits of teleworking to really come to the surface. Before entertaining visions of remote workers scattered about, coming together in a magnificent tapestry, make sure you have what it takes to make the tapestry.
Remodel Your Metrics
The right tools alone don’t prepare you for remote work, there’s also remodeling to do. Successful remote working requires rethinking how you measure productivity and success. One of the benefits that remote work offers is the radical redistribution of time. It may be the same amount of time you’d spend at the office, but flexibility is built in so that your team can work when and where they’re most productive.
Shama Hyder explains that in remote work culture, progress isn’t oriented around time “on the clock. Instead, it’s measured “by meeting critical goals and aligning workflows with business objective goals”
Clear Goals & Transparency
It necessarily follows that with a metric that values goals over time cards, your company should have clear goal systems in place and in practice before transitioning to remote work. If you’ve neglected to practice goal-setting, or your current systems and incentives aren’t effective, then remote work will be incredibly difficult to implement, and wouldn’t give the results you want.
In addition to clear goals for your company and your employees, it’s important that you’re transparent in regards to how everything operates. According to Skillcrush’s Kit Warchol, this sense of transparency is one of the signs of excellent company culture, especially for remote work. It also boosts public perception of your company just to be honest with your audiences--thereby decreasing the risk of the aforementioned Twitter roast.
One of the number one complaints in regards to remote working is that it can be isolating. There should be ample opportunities for engagement. Does your company have cultural routines and traditions? Are you willing to integrate remote workers into those traditions?
Remote workers aren’t lone wolves, and in order for them to be successful, there should be plans in place to connect them with the rest of the pack. For example, Fred Cozagnac of Azendoo suggests “dual working teams” where remote workers are paired with workers in the office.
Meanwhile, software development platform Github has taken their communal company culture even further, by simulating the “watercooler experience” of the office. In their “#toasts” forum, employees can post major accomplishments. Then, colleagues worldwide may respond with selfies toasting to them--with whatever beverage they like, because remote work has its perks.
Ultimately, the goal is to build a sense of shared identity and make personal connections. If your team isn’t being intentional about that already, chances are that remote workers may feel too isolated and the benefits of telework will become buried under those layers of loneliness.
Are You Remote Work Ready?
It may be time to join the remote-working revolution. It is, after all, an exciting and innovative endeavor. But it is also a transformation you must be prepared for, especially in terms of company culture. Before you take advantage of all remote working has to offer, make sure that you have the tools, practices, and transparency in place for remote workers to succeed.