Remote work can be a huge benefit to a company or an albatross around its neck. There is no simple answer to remote work. To determine if using it is right for your company, you need to consider the company’s current goals and plan new management tactics specifically for remote work. If you need to hire remote workers for your business then check out the best free recruiting software on today’s marketplace. Recruiteze is number one, click here for a free trial.
Remote Work and Company Goals
As we discussed in Part 1, remote work can be a valuable tool for addressing many company goals. You might address retention rates, workplace satisfaction, overhead costs, productivity goals, and hiring broader ranges of candidates.
Remote work should not be implemented just because it’s the thing to do. It should be entered into and strategically managed to help meet your unique goals.
Remote Work Hampers Innovation, or Not
Major companies who have been turning from remote work, like IBM, complain mostly about creativity. They have found that creativity, teamwork, and innovation suffer from working remotely, and creativity is quickly becoming one of the most important workplace factors.
Professor of management, John Sullivan, from San Francisco State University summed it up powerfully, “It turns out the value of innovation is so strong it trumps any productivity gain….[Remote work] was a great strategy for the 90s but not for 2015.”
IBM’s chief marketing officer, Michelle Peluso, and chief information officer, Jeff Smith, have publicly stated their belief in the connection between location and creativity. Smith wants a more agile IBM that can compete with smaller, disruptive tech companies. Clearly IBM’s primary concern currently is innovation, and they believe remote work is hindering their innovation.
But is this true? You may be sitting there thinking, if IBM thinks it’s true, who’s going to argue with them? I’m not going to have the audacity to say what’s right for IBM, but I am going to point out that while IBM has reason to think it isn’t right for them, that doesn’t mean that remote work is across the board going to hinder creativity and innovation.
Dom Price wrote an interesting piece for MSN Money making the point that management and engagement play the most important part in creativity, regardless of whether your employees are in the office or at home. We all know how mind-numbing and uncreative most on-location jobs can be.
The Atlantic made some very interesting points about the concept of “collaborative efficiency.” It explained how airplane pilots in the cockpit together can solve problems in moments with barely any words. Body language and shared visual and audio clues make all the difference. If you need to solve a problem in moments, email and probably even phone or video chat aren’t going to cover it. Although video chat and remote software could be quite helpful for many problems.
But proximity does not always equate to improved efficiency or innovation. It turns out that people who work close to each other use alternate means of communication such as email most frequently.
The Atlantic described MIT’s findings, “The communications tools that were supposed to erase distance, it turns out, are used largely among people who see one another face-to-face. In one study of software developers, Waber, working alongside researchers from IBM, found that workers in the same office traded an average of 38 communications about each potential trouble spot they confronted, versus roughly eight communications between workers in different locations.”
The only way to make sense of these contrasting concepts is to refocus our attention on how a team is managed. IBM can boost creativity and innovation by limiting remote work, not because of the remote work itself, but because of the management strategy they plan to implement when they bring people back to the office. IBM executives themselves mentioned the right tools, monitoring, “really creative and inspiring locations,” and small “squads” that the leaders have to be big players in.
Managing Remote Workers
To make the most of remote work, try the following tactics.
With 85% of their employees working at least part-time at home and saving millions on productivity costs, Cisco is a remote work success story. Part of their success comes from a healthy dose of communication and collaboration as they report that over 60% of their remote workers’ time “is spent collaborating and communicating with others through its technology.”
Note several things about that statement, there is communication, as well as collaboration, and they are using a dedicated system to streamline idea and information flow.
Diebold Vice President Rachel McClary describes her recipe for success as not sending thank you emails because they are a time-waster and a distraction and, secondly, asking that people call her when an email thread requires more than three responses. This is one example of how communication between management and team members can be tweaked for optimum productivity.
You should also consider a virtual gathering place rather than relying on email. A single good communication tool for a team helps recreate much of that in-person, same time, streamlined information-sharing environment. Trello is a great place for many people to work on, mark progress, and collaborate on the same project. Salesforce’s Chatter is also recommended for remote teamwork.
Choose at Home Sometimes or Always
As Marissa Mayer at Yahoo pointed out, remote workers who work at home part of the time sometimes don’t work out as well as those who exclusively work at home. Think about it, you’re trying to combine in-office work and remote work in the same teams and it can create an unproductive and demotivating environment.
Mayer described frequent complaints from workers who were struggling to work in the office because a team member who is often there is suddenly not there. She went on to say, “Actually, I had less of an issue with people who had really good work-from-home setups. A lot of time when people work from home formally, it works really well.”
If a company chooses to use remote workers, they should either employ remote work full time or strategically plan partial remote work so that workers can switch from in-office to remote work without negatively impacting their productivity and team involvement.
Focus on Engagement and Results
Any team, whether in-office or remote, performs best when the company culture is more engaging. Many businesses don’t invest enough in engagement for any of their employees and some may be under the impression that remote workers can engage themselves. The truth is that even the best self-starter and self-motivator slips when their efforts are not appreciated. Who’s going to invest all their creativity or effort into something that feel like a waste of time?
To promote engagement in remote workers, do the following:
- Encourage plenty of communication between team members.
- Give employees space to innovate and come up with their own ideas.
- Reward them for creativity.
- Communicate with them in a timely fashion.
- Employ a results-oriented approach rather than a time-based one.
Most of this advice is important for both in-office and remote workers. Creativity and productivity need room and nutrients to grow and blossom.
- Room involves freedom to take risks, share ideas, receive constructive feedback on those ideas, and know that ideas will be considered and, hopefully, sometimes used.
- Nutrients involve information and collaboration. You can’t build what you don’t have the material to build.
The quicker remote workers can get information and feedback from management and team members, the faster and more efficiently they can work.
Also, a results-oriented success model encourages people to put more organization, creativity, and effort into their tasks rather than simply using up time on a clock to prove they’re working for a suitable amount of time.
Remote work is taking a beating right now as companies who have explored it discover there are problems and limitations with it. Many people are thinking the answer is black and white, that remote work is great or it’s a mistake. The answer lies somewhere in the middle. Remote work is best for individual companies to address certain goals. It also needs to be managed strategically as a new method of work in itself and then integrated into the company. You can’t just tell people they can work from home sometimes or hire a person who works online and think it takes care of itself. Even autonomy requires management, it just requires different management.
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