With many business leaders being haphazardly thrust into the world of remote working due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a lot of confusion about what it will mean to guide companies and departments in such an unprecedented way. There’s been a lot of great content written on everything from the right tools to use to the right way to allocate time and preserve mental health. I can’t agree more with most of these tips. That said, many companies already understand the advantage of using chat and video as necessary. And the importance of getting up and walking around every once in a while whether in an office or not is, well, obvious.
I’d like to focus on the bigger elephant in the room. Remote working has thus far been a privilege largely reserved for individuals who are difficult to hire regionally or who come from other companies or backgrounds where the “perk” is table stakes. This perk has not been extended to many others because companies have leverage against offering it. In some cases the individuals themselves prefer to work out of an office because the company is not set up to facilitate a healthy or effective remote culture.
At this very moment, if you are in a position of leadership, you might be wondering — “What happens if my employees get too used to working remotely? What happens if what starts as a few-week quarantine turns into a perk my employees enjoy so much they decide they can’t go back to the way it was before?” If you’re not, you should be. As someone who has worked remotely for 15 years, led remote teams for most of that time, and collaborated with countless other leaders in similar positions, there is one thing I can tell you with certainty: It’s the future and once you turn the corner on it, it’s almost impossible to go back.
I would encourage every leader at this point to not look at COVID-19 as a temporary setback for office culture, but as a watershed moment for the inevitable pervasiveness of remote working itself, which is only trending up. This time is an opportunity to learn, grow, and modernize as a company. Don’t squander it.
“[Remote working] is the future and once you turn the corner on it, it’s almost impossible to go back … I would encourage every leader at this point to not look at COVID-19 as a temporary setback for office culture, but as a watershed moment for the ultimate pervasiveness of remote working itself, which is only trending up. This time is an opportunity to learn, grow, and modernize as a company. Don’t squander it.”
If you ask anybody experienced with remote working what the worst part of it is, you’ll find there’s a pretty consistent response: It’s all of the people in the organization that don’t work remotely. Why? Because as it turns out, one of the most important parts of work - remote or not - is how quickly you are able to spread quality information and make decisions. In an office environment, this happens at the water cooler. It happens at happy hours. It happens passing each other in hallways. When you’re remote, it happens over the purposeful pushing of information back and forth - usually over chat, but sometimes over video calls without rigid agendas. When you’re operating an organization where some folks or departments are remote and others are not, this ends up leading to an effect where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Folks in the office have certain information. Folks who are remote have other information. Opinions fracture, decisions get compromised.
What we are faced with now is a forced, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fix that problem and make everyone remote. In the process, we’ll find so many surprising benefits. The leaders who fully embrace the situation and over-communicate with their teams using the most modern of digital tools will find that remote work is not only super effective from a productivity perspective, but also net better for employees’ mental and physical wellbeings. Of course, one of these outcomes is caused by the other, not merely correlated.
“[The worst part of remote working] is all of the people in the organization that don’t work remotely. [When individuals and departments are fractured], this ends up leading to an effect where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing … What we are faced with now is a forced, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fix that problem and make everyone remote. In the process, we’ll find so many surprising benefits.”
As with any disaster, there is always opportunity for lessons, and from those lessons, unexpected positive outcomes. Don’t begrudgingly tell your employees it’s time for everyone to work remotely. Embrace it. Create a vision for how it looks. Understand that you’re leading them into the future, and that this future is for so many reasons better than the past.