5 Cornerstones of a long-term remote work plan
Before we cut to the chase – this is not another remote working guide. This post does not include quick-fixes on how to amp up your home office. Instead, the aim is to focus on exploring what does a long-term commitment to remote work require. After all, what was first thought of as a temporary shift, now seems to be a somewhat permanent transition to a new normal.
Let’s look at some numbers first. Gartner’s survey results imply that 74% of CFOs are planning to shift some employees to remote work permanently. In addition, tech giants such as Twitter announced its employees to be able to work remotely ‘forever’ if they wish to do so. Leaning towards more lasting working-from-home arrangement is not happening exclusively because of the interest of an employer. In May 2020 57% of the remote workers said they were “very satisfied” with their job, and according to a survey by IBM 54% of Americans want to keep remote work as their primary mode of work, and 70% say they’d like it to at least be an option. So let’s face it, remote work is not a fad, it’s a huge part of the future of work.
Despite having its challenges and limitations, remote work is not a villain – on the contrary. There are a number of benefits in working remotely – for both the employer and employee.
- Time saved from commuting
- Higher productivity
- Better work-life balance
- It’s made easy with all tools available
- More flexibility in terms of working hours
- Saving costs in office space
- Expanded talent pool; hiring the best people, wherever they are
- Happier employees are unlikely to leave
- Happier employees = healthier employees
- Reduced overhead costs
In the light of the facts that
a) employers will encourage remote work in the future;
b) employees prefer working from home
c) the setting is beneficial for both parties,
it only makes sense to start thinking about making long-term commitments to the remote work. In other words, start creating a long-term remote work plan.
We have identified five cornerstones of long-lasting and fruitful remote work setup. What this means, is that in order for your employees to thrive from home, you have to include the following into your long-term remote plan:
No team can exist, let alone thrive if the communication doesn’t work – no matter if distributed or not. However, the importance of communication is amplified when it occurs in a non-face-to-face manner. Even though workplace communication takes shape in many forms and is kind of a given, it requires thought and planning to really work at its best. It is not unheard of to create communication guidelines to get everyone on the same page. Many articles talk about practising effective communication, but what does that mean and how can it be achieved?
Whether it’s formal or informal, spoken or written communication, when it takes place online, it is entirely dependent on the tools. There’s a variety of communication tools available and whichever one(s) you choose, make sure it is implemented across the entire company. It’s important to lock into one video conferencing tool that everyone uses in order to avoid any issues and extra confusion. The worst thing you can do is to jump between Skype, Google Meet and Zoom and expect that everyone is able to follow.
In a normal office setting, informal communication occurs naturally without giving it much of a thought; co-workers chitchat over coffee and take lunch breaks together. However, when coworkers don’t see each other outside of the scheduled video meetings the interaction between colleagues needs to be intentionally fostered. Completely remote Gitlab talks about formalizing informal communications, meaning that the leaders should take the initiative plus action to organize and facilitate informal communication and an environment that empowers employees to have those more casual conversations.
When working from home the line between work and home gets blurry and it may be tempting to always be “on”. Especially for employees who are more inexperienced in working from home, it may be challenging and stressful to close the laptop and keep it closed the rest of the day. When the aim is to encourage remote work even after the pandemic, the entire company should have a clear consensus of how the boundaries are communicated. Whether it is a status update on Slack or calendar blocking, every employee should be prompted to use the same method to let others know when they are available.
What is culture?
What is company culture? Is it the vibe at the office; the overall mood, the soundscape, the dress code? All those things can be part of the culture, but its essence is something more substantial. Culture goes beyond the physical elements at the office and therefore should not be ignored in a remote or partially remote company either. On the contrary; Laurer Farrer, CEO of Distribute Consulting, says that the role of culture is actually bigger in a virtual environment because it is what helps employees to separate work from home. Indeed, starting a day and logging on at a company that has a great and engaging culture makes it easier for remote employees to get in a work mode.
Building and maintaining culture
If the transition to remote work has happened rapidly and unexpectedly, it is the leaders’ responsibility to make sure the culture still exists. The shift to more permanent remote work culture doesn’t happen seamlessly overnight; it requires intentionality. When a company truly has a great culture in place it doesn’t just disappear when workers go remote but it still needs the effort to maintain it. If not already done, now is the time to document the company culture; the values that define it. After documentation, it is time to think about the tools and activities to support the long-term remote culture. It’s also important to understand that building culture is an ongoing process that is never completely done. After every unexpected event, it’s a good idea to revisit and update the cultural values.
Culture lives in every stage of employee lifecycle
The ‘world’s largest all remote company’, Gitlab, defines culture as not by how a company or team acts when all is well, but rather by the behaviours shown during times of crisis or duress. The global pandemic has been the ultimate test for company culture and it has forced many to go back to the drawing board. Culture needs to live in every stage of the employee lifecycle. The first touchpoint is when a new employee is hired and onboarded, and therefore, the cultural values should be well-infused into the onboarding experience. The culture needs to be part of the process, regardless of whether the new employee is onboarded remotely or not. In a similar way, culture also needs to be integrated into the employee’s offboarding experience. After all, having a great company culture throughout the employees’ journey can help turn former employees into advocates!
It is astounding how many remote tools exist, and new ones are sprouting like mushrooms after rain. Even though discovering new cool tools is exciting, ‘more is more’ does not apply here. Gitlab recommends to “strip the tool stack down to a minimum when working remotely”. Having a concise set of tools makes it easier to everyone; it takes less effort to manage accesses, it’s more likely less expensive to run on fewer tools and it is definitely less stressful for the new hires to settle in when they don’t have to get acquainted with 50 different software. Streamlining the company-wide toolbox removes a lot of hassle and confusion of working at home. It can be extremely frustrating to waste time on trying to figure out which tool to use. It can moreover result in information gaps, disconnected colleagues and misunderstandings.
Whether it’s communication, design or documentation, determine THE tool for each purpose and stick with it. Obviously, sometimes there are more function-specific tools, for example project management at engineering could be done with a different tool than it’s done at sales – and that’s fine, as long as every role knows what tools to use for what.
In terms of the right kind of tools for remote work it’s important to consider not just tech and software but also home office supplies such as ergonomic chairs, additional monitors, adequate broadband and so forth. It is unreasonable to expect employees to work efficiently if they don’t have the right setup. If the remote work is intended to last beyond the pandemic, companies need to support their employees and create policies to facilitate the permanent shift. Moreover, employees shouldn’t feel uncomfortable asking for proper home office equipment, in fact, they shouldn’t have to ask for it in the first place. The initiative to offer the tools should come from the employers side. What and how much will the company provide is always case-specific but there should be a documented policy to guide the process.
Flexibility is a give-and-take type of deal. It can be one of the fine advantages of remote work but it’s also something that both the employee and employer need to be able to offer. Gone are the days when working from home meant working less. This year has proven that employees can be as (or even more) productive when working outside the office and office hours.
Now that the big world-wide WFH experiment is approaching its end it is indeed hard to deny flexibility around office-type work settings. And why would you? Flexibility is a great competitive advantage when you’re fighting for the top talent. It improves job satisfaction and work-life balance. In fact, in a recent survey by Deloitte, 33% of the respondents said work flexibility would increase their job satisfaction and morale, and nearly 30% said it would increase their overall productivity or efficiency. Forward-thinking companies are already starting to understand this value by implementing long-term flexible remote work possibilities. These companies are the ones that will have the first pick from the talent pool.
Flexibility doesn’t mean that everyone may do as they please and when they please. It is built upon trust and structure. In order to maintain structure, employers have to set clear expectations for when employees have to be flexible with their flexibility, e.g., when they need everyone online for meetings. In the same manner, employees need to communicate how they are working and when they are available online. As a leader of a fully or partially remote company where work is flexible, it can be challenging to stay on top of everyone’s progress. This is when a well-structured documentation policy steps into the picture. When you have set clear expectations of what needs to be documented and where, you can avoid wasting time in trying to track down every single employee working remotely on different hours. Maintaining flexibility happens in co-creation with employees and is always a team effort.
5 Focus on the outcome, not hours
This one is not possible without the flexibility and the right type of leader. Becoming a great remote manager requires a lot of work and practice. An inexperienced leader of remote workers might have a stubborn tendency to keep close tabs on employees. Micromanaging, however, is not the way to run a successful remote team. What is motivating and empowering, is when employees are trusted to manage their work on their own terms. In other words, rather than counting hours, the focus should be on the output. Time is no longer an adequate measure of productivity. In fact, according to a survey, the average worker is only productive for 3 hours a day. Hence, employees who sit by their desk at the office from 9-5 aren’t automatically the ones working hardest; more hours do not lead to more output and presence does not equal productivity.
Shifting the focus
How can companies then shift from looking at activities to looking at outcomes? It’s not an easy task, as the good ol’ fixed 9-5 is deeply rooted in our work culture. A change this big requires the organization to break some of their existing structures and re-build them to focus on employees’ individual goals and outputs. Setting personal OKRs and having regular check-ins and evaluation sessions is a great start. By having personal goals and schedules it’s way easier for employees to do their job well and for leaders to evaluate their staff. What matters is the output, not clocking in at 9 am sharp.
Start your remote plan today
Grasping remote work in a more lasting manner and doing so successfully requires a structured written plan. The entire company needs to have a coherent understanding of what it takes to work remotely as a team. For most, the groundwork has already been laid and now it’s the matter of building a more permanent set up as well as supporting and empowering employees to work fully or partially remote. We have seen fully remote companies thrive for years and will be seeing many more doing the same in the future.
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