By Ricky Harper, C12
Working from home, remote work, teleworkers or virtual teams; call it what you will, it is fast becoming the nature of today’s workplace dynamics. But working from home is nothing new. I have been doing it since 1995 when the company I was working for at that time, GE Healthcare, closed all its satellite offices. Computers and the internet were getting sophisticated enough that GE saw an opportunity to save millions on facilities, and, thus, I started working from a small area I cobbled together in my garage.
Last year, the trend of remote workers shot through the roof due to Covid. And now that the country is beginning to open back up and the economy is rebounding, many business leaders are trying to decide if allowing their workers to stay at home permanently is a good idea, especially given that many of them did not see a drop in productivity.
So, what is a business owner to do?
There are many distinct advantages to a remote workforce. Cost is an obvious and not inconsequential one. Here is a list of why work from home makes sense…
• Reduces the need for space, whether rented or owned, space is expensive.
• Reduces utility costs and overhead.
• Less interruptions working remotely compared to the collaborative workplace.
• Flexibility in schedules.
• Increases work-life balance.
• Some people are more creative working remotely.
• Remote teams enjoy greater innovation.
• Less stress due to lack of office drama, commutes, etc.
In fact, research by a collaborative group including Harvard University, Gallup, Stanford University, and Global Workplace Analytics found the following five benefits of having a work from home workforce:
• Teleworkers were on average 35-40% more productive than their office counterparts.
• They had 40% less quality defects.
• They enjoyed 41% less absenteeism due to stronger engagement.
• Turnover went down 12%.
• Profits were up 21% due to less cost, on average, reported at $11,000 per employee per year.
Given these advantages and this evidence, what is not to like about having a remote workforce? Well, the answer might be, plenty.
• Some workers simply need direct supervision, a lot of it.
• Working from home can dangerously feel like living at work.
• Remote workers can lose sight of the corporate vision and purpose.
• Research found that 65% of remote workers feel lonely and depressed and 78% become anxious about keeping their jobs when they do not get regular feedback.
• Decreased work-life balance.
• Remote workers are less likely to be promoted.
• Much more difficult for leaders to develop talent.
• Remote workers feel less appreciated, less engaged.
So, what is a leader to do? Based on the available evidence, and my own experience with working remotely, it seems the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. But how do you make it work?
First, your management style and process might have to change. Leading a workforce that is partially or entirely remote will require intentional effort to stay connected with your employees. Talk to them, call them regularly, plan occasional meet ups over coffee or lunch.
And when you do talk to them, spend time with the ‘person’ before the ‘employee.’ Don’t jump right into business, ask about them, their family and life. You are the steward of these human beings. Pay attention to their mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Doing so is essential to prevent burnout and protect mental health.
Second, keep them engaged by giving them a sense of belonging. Working remote can disconnect your people from your purpose. So, be intentional at casting the mission, vision and purpose of the project and business.
Third, equip them with good technology and tools, and invest some time in training them how to look and act professionally in a virtual environment. There are many resources on this subject; use them. Mix up the use of your technology, too. Do a Zoom or team call and then do an audio only conference call. This prevents the routine from becoming mundane. And studies have linked innovative ideas and insights to team members that can ‘walk and talk’ when on a call.
Finally, trust them. Some leaders fall prey to the notion that if they cannot see their employees, they cannot trust them. People who are treated as trustworthy usually act in a trustworthy manner. Your employees can sense when you do not trust them, which leads to your sensing their concern followed by a downward spiral of mistrust between everyone.
Prudent leaders ask themselves, “To what extent are my concerns rooted in an unhealthy lack of trust?” Do not let your natural tendency to mistrust others doom the remote workforce before it has a chance to prove its worth.
Working from home can and does work. But, its success is more on the shoulders of leadership than the workforce. What will you do to foster a great remote work environment for your team? For more information on C12 or for questions, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.