In 1979, IBM became a pioneer in implementing a remote work policy. The primary impetus behind its decision was its realization that it could save millions of dollars in office space alone. IBM promptly installed green-screened terminals in the homes of a handful of employees, allowing them to work from the comfort of their own homes.
Fast forward to today and, IBM has decided to retract its liberal policy, forcing employees to either relocate or quit. The retraction was done in an effort to more effectively foster collaboration, yet digital collaboration is now easier than ever with technological advancements.
The retraction from the pioneer is in stark contrast to the growing trend of many companies to let their employees work from wherever they want. To dig deeper into the effectiveness of the policy, Dell spearheaded a the Future Workforce Study. They found that 66% of all US employees work remotely at some time and 52% work remotely at least once a week.
As many of us who have constructed makeshift offices in our living rooms know all too well, when working remote the hours of work can quickly protrude far beyond daylight. 35% of all employees believe they are more productive when working outside of the office and 28% admit to accomplishing more when working remote. Part of this has to do with eliminating the dreaded commute and part revolves around how distracting the open space office plan can be.
Recently Harvard Business Review, analyzed why employees can concentrate better and are more creative in a coffee shop, than in their office. The reason boiled down to the fact that we get tethered into too many conversations with colleagues. David Burkus writes, "researchers found that face-to-face interactions, conversations, and other disruptions negatively affect the creative process. By contrast, a co-working space or a coffee shop provides a certain level of ambient noise while also providing freedom from interruptions."
For companies looking to increase efficiency and location flexibility amongst their employee base, there are several best practices that help ensure success. Management must create a culture conducive to work flexibility, structure their organization around results, and establish a healthy communication cadence.
Right People, Right Culture
It's hard to deny that an essential prerequisite to success in the modern workforce involves establishing the right culture. When one or more remote teams come into the picture, this becomes even more important. It's no longer about perks. It's about trust, transparency, and communication.
Establishing the right culture starts from the first interview. Consider Cloudbeds, a hospitality software startup that currently has 140 people in 24 countries, with 80% of their team members working remotely.
They espouse an employee-centric culture - one that is based on personal connections (even though many of their employees have never met one another face-to-face). Cloudbeds CEO Adam Harris notes that being hyper selective about who you hire can help in setting a remote workforce up for success. Cloudbeds' mantra? Trust the people you hire and let them be productive in ways that suit them.
Many executives can attest to the fact that, when it comes to the modern workplace, work is not defined by presence or hours. Rather, it is defined by results. The decision to shift to a virtual office isn't right for every company, but for those that are exploring the option, it is crucial that everyone is marching the same path and judged not on their attendance but instead their output.
Using tactics like OKRs, will help your company and each team plan a strategy for success and then deliver measurable results.
Problems can manifest quickly, however, with technology and the resultant "always on" culture. To avoid issues, establish protocol dictating when team members are expected to be responsive or online. Teach teams to set and communicate clear timelines and deadlines so as to better ensure that requests don't feel like constant infiltration.
It's also smart to ensure that managers engage in regular weekly check ins with their team members. Establishing the appropriate layers within an organization can ensure that 1:1 communication is feasible regardless of where the team is located.
An "office" does not have to be restricted to the same four walls. Companies that embrace this idea and execute it correctly can find themselves in a clear advantage to retaining and recruiting better talent and increasing success.