As recently as 10 years ago, the idea of working remotely had a fairy-tale quality to it. Although companies did exist - mine among them - that allowed their employees to skip the commute and work virtually, it was still more of a novelty than a trend. Since then, however, the practice has gained real traction, with the non-self-employed work-at-home population increasing by 115% since 2005 - a whopping ten times faster than the rest of the workforce.
Today, according to a recent Gallup poll, 43% of all employees telecommute, either partially or fully. But the last few years have seen the rise of another interesting trend - the reversal of some corporate giants' remote work policies. Companies such as Yahoo, Aetna, Bank of America, and IBM all cite issues with remote worker productivity, as well as a lack of the kind of impromptu in-person collaboration that leads to innovation.
So what of the much-touted benefits of a remote workforce, then? Wasn't working virtually supposed to increase productivity and innovation?
In my decade of experience as CEO of a company with a remote team, it does that - and more. Higher employee satisfaction - and the lack of a time-wasting commute - leads to increased productivity and better results for clients. The fact that hiring isn't limited to one geographical area means that people can be hired based purely on talent and qualifications - which gives top creative minds a chance they wouldn't otherwise have to collaborate and innovate. The problems those corporate giants are seeing with remote work seem to me to have less to do with telecommuting itself, and more to do with the way they structured and managed their virtual workplaces.
One shining example of a company getting telecommuting right is performance marketing agency PartnerCentric. The reason it works so well for them, when others are bowing out of the space? CEO Stephanie Harris has structured her company from top to bottom with remote work in mind, using policies, processes, and tools specifically designed to elicit the best possible performance from each remote worker on the team.
PartnerCentric's telecommuting set-up has 3 integrated pillars that all support and build off each other. Any company looking for answers as to how to find success with a team of virtual workers would benefit from shaping their workplace around the following three essentials:
For Harris, a strong and cohesive company culture is a non-negotiable in a successful remote workplace. Based on PartnerCentric's core values - professional intimacy, improvement, expertise, and responsibility - their workplace culture is a vibrant mix of relationship development, continual learning, constant communication...and fun.
"We're always challenging each other to perform at even higher levels, in a spirit of teamwork and shared responsibility," Harris explains. "One way we pull everyone's efforts together into a single group focus is to work towards team rewards, where each person's contributions are necessary, and everyone cheers everyone else on to complete their own tasks, so that the entire company benefits."
That strong company culture creates an openness and a level of friendly communication that makes everyone accountable to everyone else for their work. It's not a matter of micromanaging employees to ensure work gets done, but instead, a team attitude that simply won't tolerate anything less than the highest levels of productivity - and a transparency that would bring any slacking off to light instantly.
"There's a reason fitness gurus tell you to choose an 'accountability buddy' for workouts - having that transparency there, along with the encouragement of a friend, keeps you motivated and working harder than you would on your own," Harris says.
But even the most well-oiled teams can start to lag behind if it's always the same old, same old. That's why Harris implemented "Deep Work" time every Friday from 10 am to noon. It's a timeslot employees dedicate to personal development and continuing education, and the takeaways each team member gleans are then shared with everyone during the weekly company meeting.
"Our continual efforts to improve benefit each of us individually, of course, but also our company and our clients," Harris explains. "Sharing what we've learned each week leads to exciting conversations and innovations that never would have occurred otherwise."
So while companies like Yahoo and IBM may feel remote work isn't getting them the results they wanted, PartnerCentric wouldn't have it any other way. Their 3 pillars of culture, transparency, and improvement allow their remote team to work more closely together than most in-office teams, and the results they get speak for themselves. By leaning in to the remote workplace, and being strategic and mindful about how they structure and manage every aspect of their business, even those giving up on remote work might be pleasantly surprised at what their teams can do.