Remote work is increasingly considered a positive change for jobs that can accommodate it. Employees seem to be at least as productive as usual, if not more productive. They no longer have to waste time on a commute, and the higher morale from the arrangement has a lasting impact on both performance and retention.
But most teams making the transition from a traditional work environment to a remote one -- whether they're forced to do it out of necessity or are choosing to do it to cut costs -- get something critically wrong: They merely take work as they knew it and try to do it remotely, rather than building new remote work principles and policies from the ground up.
Here why this approach is inefficient:
Not all traditional systems function well in a remote environment
First, not all of your systems, policies, or approaches will function well in a remote environment. The perfect example here is the large-scale meeting. Meetings, in general, aren't great for overall productivity, but the large-scale meeting, with a dozen or more participants, can only practically work in a traditional office environment. If you try to move such a meeting to a remote environment, you'll encounter one of two major issues: You'll either have so many people talking over each other that you won't make real progress, or not enough people will participate and only listen.
Systems made for remote work often get ignored
Similarly, some of the systems that are either made for remote work or do exceedingly well in a remote work environment tend to get ignored. For example, there seems to be a genetic factor that determines your peak productivity time; in a remote work environment, many people have the opportunity to work the hours they choose, capitalizing on their natural predispositions. However, newly transitioning offices often attempt to keep a stranglehold on the rigid "9 to 5" hours they've had in the past, simply because it's what they've always done.
Previous flaws are baked in
If a business is unwilling to make major changes to its approach when transitioning to remote work, any previous flaws inherent to its operations will be baked in. If you take the time to rebuild from the ground up, you'll have the perfect opportunity to critically analyze, and hopefully fix, the long-term issues that could be holding your organization back. For example, let's say your company has historically relied on email as a primary medium for assigning tasks and following up on them, backed up by in-person conversations and check-ins. This isn't feasible in an environment where people can't physically drop in for a brief conversation, and when people may be checking their email at different times; it was never a productive system in the first place. Instead, this is the perfect opportunity to try out a project management platform.
The spaghetti code effect
Spaghetti code is a term in programming that refers to code that is unstructured or difficult to maintain; it's often the result of making patchwork fixes over and over rather than fixing the code "correctly" from the ground up. If you're constantly making little tweaks to your current processes as a way to shoehorn them into a remote work environment, you'll end up with a system filled with inefficiencies.
That said, there's a reason why so many businesses choose the patchwork approach, and it's not pure laziness: The patchwork approach takes far less time and effort. If you want to rebuild your operations from the ground up, you'll need to invest dozens of hours of upfront work, and after that, you'll spend weeks, or even months experimenting to see if you can tweak things to perfection. If your organization is only transitioning to remote work as a short-term measure, this investment may not be worth it.
That said, if you want to get the fullest benefits from remote work, or if you envision remote work as the future of your organization, it's important to rebuild. Don't be afraid to tear everything down and restart from first principles.