Remote Working 2.0

At the beginning of Lockdown I wrote a blog called “Dear Manager this is not remote work this is work from home” which led to me being interviewed for a LinkedIn Live show called Virtual Coffee with Francois. I had just completed two on-demand courses about setting up remote workers and managing remote workers and the topic was red hot at the time.

Now I find the conversation becoming relevant again. Firstly as lockdown has eased up some of the challenges faced by employees, and by extension businesses as well, are easing up. An example of this is children returning to school so parents do not need to split their time between work and homeschooling. So the viability of remote working is improving and companies are weighing up the positives and negatives of making this a permanent change.

The second driving factor for continued remote working is that, even as lockdown is lifting in South Africa and infection and death rates have slowed down, society at large has realized that we will not be out of social distancing, the wearing of masks and washing our hands at every turn for a long while. Given the cost of office space and an inability to cram people into every nook and cranny, it becomes a very expensive exercise to maintain vast amounts of office space.

At this point, I believe we are closer to the remote work environment than a few months ago as the reduction of isolation of individuals, the lessening of fear for self and others, the return of lifestyle services and routines, and the normalizing of health measures has reduced the pressure on society in general. So what does that mean for businesses who are trying to decide on the viability of remote work?

In my previous article I highlighted aspects of business that need to be taken into account when implementing remote work, this included:

1. Remote work should be appropriate to the vision of the organization.
2. Remote work should reflect the organizational culture.
3. Implementing remote work should be well planned from a systems and a process perspective.
4. Employees should be supported in creating a remote work location.
5. Employees should be given time to adjust to remote work.

I stand by these as pivotal factors in setting up businesses for successful remote working. I feel especially strong about the last point. Understandably businesses have taken massive strain under lockdown and expected more than ever from employees to perform. A lack of employee performance, however damaging to the business, was understandable to a point, given the challenges mentioned above.

It is more important to evaluate employees on how they approached the challenges during lockdown, rather than do a straight comparison of work-from-office performance vs work-from-home performance. The reason for this is that a major contributor to having remote employees is that of trust. This thought occurred to me when I was interviewing Maureen Baird yesterday for our Performance Cafe Coffee Companions series. Maureen implemented her first remote work project in the 1980s and she shared so many valuable lessons with me. The most important for me was trust. Not just trust in employees to do what is expected of them, but also trust in managers that they will provide leadership appropriate so this style of work. Maureen also shared that a spin-off of this is was creativity and innovation. As people who feel trusted are more likely to take appropriate risks to find better ways of doing the same work.

So when we try and measure performance for the last few, insane, months the question is not whether the employee maintained the same level of work, but rather:

1. Did they innovate?
2. Were they creative?
3. Were they resilient?
4. Were they adaptable?
5. Were they relentless about improvement?

The reason to ask these questions, and ignore more traditional measures, is that these are the key characteristics of mature employees who do well at remote working. Remote workers are not just good at getting the job done. They show tenacity and self-leadership instead of waiting to be micromanaged.

So if you feel despondent about the results of your business and are uncertain about the approach you need to take then consider whether:

1. You have employees described above.
2. You have your all the areas of your business setup for remote working.

If you answer yes to either of these it is important to be strategic in your approach to the other.
If you answered no to both above, then it is important to evaluate whether remote work is appropriate for your industry, your business, and your clients.
If you answered yes to both then stop reading this article and get back to work!

Maureen Baird is our guest on our 40th Performance Café Coffee Companions series. Maureen spent a major part her career working for a large international IT company, holding a variety of positions which included executive and senior sales, business operations and technical management. Her industry expertise includes the mining and financial services. In 2011 Maureen decided to make a radical career change. Maureen now owns and runs a successful bespoke ceramics & pottery business. Maureen designs and produces her own range of ceramics and is an accredited ceramics and glass conservator / restorer

The blog mentioned above was one in a series of three articles, they include:
Dear Manager, this is not remote work, it is work from home
Working from Home: why your professional brand is so important
Working from Home: securing your professional brand