Will the remote format suit your company?
Remote work has rapidly entered our world, but as with any hype, it was a path of high expectations and disappointments. Amid the praise of the new interaction format, we can frequently see the news that another major company has finished its remote work experiment because efficiency, revenues, etc. are lost. What is the difference between companies that return employees to the office and those who report successes of the remote format?
Disclaimer: here we consider only companies and positions where remote work is technically possible. This opinion does not apply to areas where employees have to physically be present near each other or it is impossible to identify areas of responsibility.
Bring everyone back!
Is this “disappointment” trend massive? It seems that the news about that is not always true. If you skip loud headlines you’ll see that mostly it’s all about some kind of change in the conditions of remote work. For example, the Best Buy retailer has canceled a program that gave employees the freedom to choose a job – office or home in 2013. Remote work is still available but in agreement with authorities. However, Best Buy is now mentioned among those who “returned employees to the office.”
Canceling of the remote work does occur, but not as popular as it might seem. In 2013, due to the decline of users’ interest Yahoo! announced the return of the part of its employees to the office. In 2014 – Capterra and Bank of America, and 2016 – Honeywell International. Aetna was mentioned in the same context, but this insurance company still supports remote work. The industry was hugely impressed that IBM took a similar step in 2017 – one of the pioneers of remote work in its modern format (and, by the way, a consultant on “setting up” a remote business).
If you analyze all these examples, the return of employees from a remote is just one of many steps aimed to transform a business that is losing the fight to more dynamic competitors. The transitional process is a key moment. HP CEO Meg Whitman has explained the new company policy: “When you’re in a turnaround, making decisions in real-time, conference calls don’t work.”
These are the main reasons for remote job cancellation:
- Employees interaction difficulties, in particular, the absence of “brainstorming”;
- Performance drop;
- The complexity of control;
- Problems with knowledge sharing;
- Absence of contact with the client.
Consequences of the office return
Usually, stories about the return of employees to the office end positively: reduced costs, increased profits, strengthened position in the market. However, we must remember that this cancellation is only one small part of a company transformation.
Many pilot projects that transferred employees to work from home, especially in large companies, began with the idea of cheap office space. In absolute terms, this releases huge amounts, but, concerning the wage fund, this is not so much. Great results could be achieved simply by thinking about how to increase the return on payroll from the existing (remote) work format.
However, we are not interested in the motivation of companies. The main question is, are there prospects of remote work in general? Does this step backward mean that remote work is a futile strategy?
Spherical Specialist in a Vacuum
Let’s define the terminology first. Remote work is not a freelance. Freelancer exists within the full production cycle – from finding the customers to the customer payments and tax paying. The remote worker is focused only on specific tasks, working inside a team with the distribution of roles. Freelance and remote work requires slightly different competencies. Freelance is closer to a novice entrepreneur. The remote work is somewhat closer to the office work, but there are some specific features.
So. What are the basic properties of employees that can ensure their successful work from home? A remote employee must:
- have strict self-control and responsibility, otherwise, he won’t be productive;
- be established employee, middle and senior level, ‘cause the remote format complicates the transfer of knowledge within the team;
- be able to adequately assess the intermediate results of his work, due to the lack of external control;
- Be able to manage time and life priorities, or he will burn out soon.
Such a set of properties is a direct road to business. Many do so. Thus, the market for potential remote employees is smaller than it seems.
For the effective remote format, the company must take care of the correlation between its plans and the personal goals of the employee. It must provide:
- Good working conditions;
- Interesting projects;
- The arrangement of an employee workplace.
Personal qualities, qualifications, and mutually beneficial cooperation are three important aspects of interaction with employees. In practice, there are many more. Therefore, attempts to “slightly tune” the office mechanisms do not lead to anything good. It is necessary to completely change the approach, trust employees, and learn to control in some different way.
What comes first: work format or business processes?
What must be done first:
- We have to remove employees from the office and then establish the remote processes?
- We have to think through business processes and hire employees for them?
By the best of our knowledge, the second approach is better. The company is more effective when the crucial remote processes are in the foundation of the company. Also, since there are no unshakable sets of best practices, the processes must be constantly adapting to the situation. New ones are first introduced de facto, tested, and only then approved de jure.
Most of the unsuccessful examples when employees were returned to the office for one reason or another are examples of the first approach. In these scenarios, the employees were initially hired to the office (hired without taking into account the qualities important for remote interaction) The workflows have not changed – only the tools have changed, and such an important element as the “stern bossy look” has disappeared from their list. As a result, some people became disappointed, as it turned out to be more difficult to work remotely, they were not ready for this. Remote work requires a result; its absence raises questions. In the office, this situation was perfectly masked by the very fact of being at the workplace.
Is it possible to avoid such a scenario with half measures, for example, use a remote format for a part of the week? Our experience says no. The problem is in people and processes. A manager who is accustomed to the office format can’t objectively evaluate the performance and establish control of remote colleagues, especially if there are employees in the office.
Slope of Enlightenment
Did you notice that in 2019 there was no loud news that employees are returning to offices?
Watching this market from the inside, we at “Maxilect” believe that the remote work format has already overcome not only the hype peak but also the low point of disappointment and is now slowly rising on the slope of enlightenment. The share of employers who are ready for this format of work is only growing by now.
Technology Hype Cycle, taken here
I would like to note that the remote work format is only one of the options for flexible arrangements with an employee. Such format is more attractive to a certain type of people, and remote companies must be able to work with them, for example, not to crush truly qualified employees with total surveillance. However, if this format doesn’t work out with your business process it must be avoided. You can always offer other options that meet the real needs of employees and are profitable for the company.