If you're still requiring your team to show up in the office every day, then you might have a business problem that has nothing to do with remote work.
Maybe you're change-averse. Maybe you're operating in a culture that prizes process over product.
Or maybe you just don't have the skills to manage a remote workforce.
There's no shame in that. After all, most MBA curriculums today likely don't include classes on managing employees through computer screens across time zones -- although that likely will change soon, because of our pandemic experience.
One of every four professional jobs in North America will be remote by the end of this year. In the not-too-distant future, we probably won't even call it remote work. It will just be work, because it will likely be the norm, not the exception. If you're not on board with this new reality, you may not be a dinosaur, exactly. But you may be flirting with extinction.
Sure, there are some professional jobs that likely won't go remote, especially in the fields of health care, manufacturing, retail, and construction.
But make no mistake. Remote is now the default workplace for professionals.
Managing a remote team does require a specific skill set; it's not just a matter of sending your people home with a computer and Zoom access and hoping for the best.
Remote is a new atmosphere of work, and it's up to you to adapt.
Start by setting clear expectations, and make sure they're consistent and equitable for everyone. Remote work, and the flexibility that comes with it, can't be a perk reserved for your team's privileged few. It should be equitable across the team.
With no water cooler to gather around, you'll have to get creative in fostering camaraderie. In my team's early remote days, we had Zoom happy hours and trivia nights that entire families participated in.
I instituted a practice of one-on-one chats between team members -- not necessarily about work and preferably with a colleague they don't otherwise connect with regularly. It may not quite replicate the water cooler, but it's a start.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury describes organizations creating "remote communities of practice" so geographically close workers can get together periodically, and "virtual meals" with managers delivering pizza simultaneously to the homes of far-flung team members.
If there is one thing the pandemic taught us, it's that, eventually, we all crave human interaction. So, when it was finally possible, I brought my whole team together at our headquarters. It felt like a homecoming. I saw team members who had communicated online for two years cry and hug when they finally met or reconnected in person.
The notion of what work can be done remotely is evolving, along with ideas about punching a clock, hunching over a desk in an assigned cubicle for a prescribed set of hours. It's all irrelevant if the work gets done. If a team member has to pick up kids from school at 3:30, or another has to drop a fur baby off at doggie day care at 9:30, but they get their work done, where's the harm? Adopt that attitude and you'll build a culture in which people will feel more empowered than micromanaged and productivity will soar.
When I started at my company, in the darkest days of the pandemic, my team consisted of six people. Now we are 35. We grew because the work didn't suffer when we went fully remote. Quite the opposite. And in bringing on those 29 additional people, we were able to recruit from a nationwide talent pool, rather than being limited to geographic area.
One of the few credible qualms about remote work revolves around inequity. Remote work isn't an option, obviously, for service workers, who typically earn lower wages. The causes of the economic and cultural inequities that divide workers today are complex and varied. But the solutions probably don't involve a forced march of professionals back into the office. What's more, technology and the notion of what work can be done remotely is evolving, along with ideas about what constitutes a workplace.
The pandemic didn't start the remote work movement. It just put a foot on the gas and raced us farther and faster down that road than anyone imagined. In the process, it showed us the benefits of remote work. It taught us that working outside the office can be good for workers, and good for companies.
Because at the end of the day, it's about the work, not the workplace.