The Future of Work Is Remote:
Covid-19 Is Definitely Kicking That Door Wide Open
Over 250+ people participated in a recent webinar addressing a nagging concern on the minds of HR and business leaders these days. Remote Work.
Cary Moretti is a serial entrepreneur, an innovator and a technology advisor who believes the future of work is remote. He’s actually lived that philosophy for over 20 years. In 2008 he built his first 100% remote organization and hasn’t looked back since.
A few days before this webinar, an online review of material surfaced a Harvard Business Review piece: 15 Questions about Remote Work, Answered. The first question posed: “Are organizations prepared for this sudden transition?” The quick answer, according to Moretti, is no.
Covid-19 is a unique situation the world has never seen the likes of before. But there’s always a silver lining somewhere, if you look for it hard enough.
In 1665 during the great plague Isaac Newton (not yet “sir”) worked from home. He was a student, at Cambridge. They closed the university, just like universities are closing now. It turns out that the time he spent at home worked out really well; he developed his theory of gravity and calculus. They call it his year of wonders. So, if anyone’s a little worried about whether or not they or their teams will be productive from home, just think of Newton.
So what’s happening out in the work world since the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic?
Right now, the number one issue is that we’re being sent home. Some of us have been laid off. Others are still working or trying to work. Some of us – the fortunate few who were already in a 100% remote organization or a hybrid, some mix of that – have some of the tools already. But many of us don’t.
What a lot of organizations have done, is said “Okay we want to comply. We want to do the right thing. Everybody, go home. Start using your laptops.” But then we’re left to our own devices.
So, let’s talk about what that means.
Some of us are leaders, some are managers, some work in HR and many are employees. Regardless of our position or rank, there are four areas involved in a sudden move to remote work.
1. PEOPLE\CULTURE – number one is people; people come first. Recognize though, that there are a lot of parallels in remote and office setups. A lot of the same tips and tricks or techniques apply. For example, an effective manager is effective remote or onsite. They just use different tools. Our first priority is establishing trust. Second is paying attention to relationships and reaching out to the other people in your group. The third is dealing with feelings of isolation and exclusion (it’s pretty clear everyone has a very heightened level of anxiety right now).
Certainly, if you’re not remote yet – start the discussion!
- Identify tasks that are location dependent
- Agree on common work hours
- Consider staff with at-risk family members
- Be very aware that employee engagement is MORE important than ever right now
- Watch for signs of isolation, alienation, burnout
- Set up Instant Messaging (IM) channels or opportunities for non-work-related chatter; have fun with the tech (think virtual water coolers, yoga classes…)
- Don’t assume everyone will figure things out on their own
- Respect boundaries, consider scheduled emails
- Above all else, be empathetic
2. PLATFORM|TECHNOLOGY – There’s a big gap between working remotely once a week and being 100% remote. A lot of organizations are seeing that right now. Techy issues that have been trivial in the past are now becoming much bigger when everyone is remote. So right now, this is about picking the right technology and making it consistent across our organizations. Many of us use Zoom. Or tools like WebEx and GoTo meetings, and Hangouts, and Skype. They’re all great. But everyone’s got to be on the same platform. We need to standardize. If your organization didn’t already have a set of standards for communication, get that in place.
- Audit your hardware and software and quickly close gaps; do the devices your teams are using work with your applications? do you have proprietary or legacy applications (Silverlight, Flash…DOS)?
- Consider having second (and third) monitors, keyboards, mice and docking stations – just in case
- Leverage tools like Office 365 or GSuite and look at other platforms like Slack, Zoom, Jira. Trello etc
- Make sure you have enough licenses
- Agree on and communicate how to use the tech you have
- Look at your cloud directory structure, make sure it’s clear
- Standardize document sharing
- Take time for training, and follow up frequently – again, don’t assume everyone will get it the first time
- Use Virtual Private Network (VPN) access only where needed; be aware video streams can overwhelm your VPN
- Be ready with a backup device; a phone can keep you in a meeting
3. PROCESS – is about creating clarity on objectives, process change and business impact. How are you going to do daily scrums/standups? How are you going to have those ad hoc meetings? Work that out, now. It’s not too late even if you’ve already been sent home.
- Make sure every meeting is in your calendar tool
- Pay attention to declined invitations and changes in the meeting URL/call-in
- Ensure EVERY meeting is a remote meeting; be sure to include a web link, call-in-details, and an agenda
- Make sure physical locations are connected with screen share visibility
- Establish and maintain a directory of all contact points for the members of your team: mobile (whatsapp), email, Slack, Skype and yes, even landline numbers
- We have a tendency to assume context, but emails and text can be surprisingly ambiguous; unsolicited regular updates dramatically improve workflow – so over communicate!
4. PLACE – all the anxiety and stress around Covid-19 is pushing people into taking a close look at their home workspace. Many are coming up with some really cool home setups. Just be aware that the physical space that works for one person may not work for another. Drop any workspace bias. A few helpful measures:
- Decide what is available and what can be offered for the home workplace
- Don’t fixate on a desk; remote workers need to experiment to find their sweet spot, many prefer a more casual set up (kitchens can be comfortable)
- Be aware of background noise (mute buttons are awesome) and help others to be mindful too
Tip: unless you have no choice, try to choose a workplace that has windows. If you have a partner you can work near – but not too near – that can help too.
Buffer , a 100% remote company with more than 80 employees working in several different countries, surveyed nearly 2,500 remote workers. An overwhelming 99% indicated they would like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers.
This means in a normal environment, people who try remote not only love it, but they want to do it more. And those people who are remote never go back.
“I genuinely believe we’re changing the world right now,” says Moretti. “Once people get a taste of working remote, in an environment where you don’t have to drive or ride public transit for an hour, there’s no going back from that.
It doesn’t matter if the organization you lead or work for believes, “when this is over, we’re going to go back to exactly the way we were.” Nope. That’s not going to happen. Remote work is a door. Once opened, it’s not likely to be closed. With that in mind:
- Think about what you’re going to do when your employees don’t want to come back
- Consider the long-term implications of anything new you do right now, and plan for sustainability (like standardizing on Gsuite or Office 365 or whatever)
- Of course, not everybody is going to like remote, so how will the tools work in a hybrid environment?
- Teams are a big concept right now, but teams that are remote are not the same. Imagine managing a team of 27 staff spread out across seven countries and nine time zones…
- Working 9 to 5 is a bias mentality. There’s no reason to work those hours. What’s been seen over the years is that when someone moves from office to remote, they start off keeping those same hours (which is a great launch strategy by the way – try to change as little as you can other than your environment). But then what happens over time is it starts to drift. Some people make this change quickly, realizing “hey I can get more done working at 7am cuz the house is quiet.” So be prepared for those changed schedules
- MEASURE & RECORD – this is big, big big!
- Long term strategies are very different from crisis planning
- Keep track of what you learn in the coming weeks, iterate on your successes and your failures
- Ask for feedback – employee engagement and sentiment will inform broader change
- Look closely at the technology you selected and consider long term viability; not every tool is for everyone
- BEST PRACTICES – for long term growth through remote
- Identify where remote work is now possible in your organization
- Approach technology as an enabler, not a blocker
- Hybrid models will become common, so ensure communication strategies include remote workers
- Look again at employee engagement strategies in light of your experiences; use your findings to identify and remove remote work friction points
And for all of us in our remote physical spaces? Make your nest, and learn to love it. Find nice things for your workspace. If it’s in the basement, try to find a window. If you can’t get a window, get a nice light.
“After this pandemic I do believe it’s going to impact how companies operate more for the better and flexibility of employees. Think about real estate. The no-longer need for all those seats if you can have people hotelling. It’s going to change the way people work.” – Rob Catalano, WorkTango Chief Engagement Officer
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