Why enabling remote work has to be considered

… and how to do it really well.

I am hearing the occasional comment from people that managers and leaders in their organisation are not supportive of team members working remotely. Or that there are a lot of rules and restrictions that make the practical implementation rather difficult.

Having consulted companies on this topic for several years I would like to summarise the key considerations.

In many organisations we find globally dispersed teams. In these settings it is a given that people collaborate across distance. Nobody questions that. Most of the time there is room for improvement of HOW they collaborate. But the fact they can not meet face to face on a frequent basis is accepted.

Something seems to change when co-workers are located in the same place! Or we face managers who have absolutely no experience in working with others who are in a different location. They build up arguments why they don’t like it.

Dear Managers, please consider this:

Don’t paint it black and white

Of course there are challenges – but tell me in which settings there are really NO challenges….! The real question is whether the advantages outweigh any potential downsides.

Be open to new ways of doing things

You can dare to try something different. Get yourself some inspiration from others who do have the experience. Don’t say no and “we have always done it that way”. Sometimes a new approach needs time and learning to settle. Everyone has to be clear on new behaviours and processes.

Communicate with your people

If you are uncertain, read all sorts of things in publications, don’t take it for granted. You and your people know best what work for your environment. So talk to each other. In fact encourage an open discussion with all members of your organisation about what they think about the way they work.

This does not mean that you have to accept everything people suggest. There may be ideas that can not be implemented as they are inefficient, too expensive or something like that. However, there are many small and bigger changes that can be made.

Consider the advantages

Whenever I ask workshop or conference participants about the importance of offering flexibility in the location and time of work to employees the unanimous answer is “…oh yes, we hear that questions from our applicants all the time…” So it is recognised that it makes a big difference when organisations allow for some flexibility.

Manage the challenges

Try and find good ways of alleviating those aspects that appear to be challenges.

Often times it is a matter of agreeing the rules of the game within the team. Don’t let things be unspoken. But get the team to identify the approach and then it is your turn as a manger to 1. Act as a role model, 2. remind them when necessary.

Maybe your concerns include some of the following:

You want to know when a team member is available?

Your internal customers need to have access to experts in your department?

Several team members need to meet regularly to agree on their work and align on certain questions?

Your company does not provide the necessary technological solution?

You are concerned about whether team members will really work when they work from home?

You want people to be in the office to “see them”, walk by their desk and have them available in case you need to talk to them?

Or something else?

These are valid questions. The good news is, there are answers available. Experience from companies shows how to deal with these questions.

Why should you as a manager bother?

Many current (and future potential) of your employees are asking for it. This is not because they don’t want to work. To the contrary, most people are highly committed. They are asking for possibilities to be more flexible in their work place and work time in order to be more efficient. This typically includes:

  • Saving significant commuting time and expense to and from the office. In light of the traffic challenges most cities face this will come even more to the fore. And there is also the consideration of reducing traffic for the sake of the environment.
  • Being able to combine work with other commitments that are very important. This can be children, elder care or similar responsibilities.
  • In some cases, people are more productive working from home. If they have a quiet place with less distraction this can be a big plus.
  • It feels good to human beings if they have a degree of decision making on how best to organise their work day.

Needless to say, you do not have to go the extreme way of total flexibility. Maybe you want to start with a some initial steps and learn how it works.

My experience shows that there are a number of aspects everyone has to get used to. Your role as a manager and leader is important in making this work really successfully. I am not saying it is super-easy. But it is helpful – to your employees and therefore to the organisation at large.

  • Consider your mindset and attitude. Trust is key.
  • Encourage active exchange. Avoid isolation and lack of communication with those not working in the office.
  • Pay attention to the human touch in virtual teams. There are helpful things everyone can do to make collaboration more meaningful and engaging.
  • Check if your company provides a modern collaboration platform which makes work easy for everyone.
  • Realise that people want to perform well. Allow them to decide more when it is important to be in the office and when they can do part of their work from home.
  • As mentioned above, agree certain rules and behaviours with the team to ensure people are not guessing but know what is best for the team. Consider not just the “what” but also the “how” of work.

And to proof the point…

A recent study conducted by McKinsey and the German Stifterverband in 2018 confirmed the future requirement of skills. Collaboration and digital interaction come out as being of primary importance in the future. 86% highlight the importance of these skills going forward. EVERYONE will have to learn more about it.

So you and your organisation better start now to get yourselves well prepared for the way of working in the future.