The COVID-19 outbreak is testing the status quo. In less than one month, the way we do business has dramatically changed globally. Nearly every company is now requiring all employees with the capability to work from home to do so. Some experts have suggested this is accelerating the arrival of a new era of work; while current adaptations are seen to be temporary, many of these changes will carry forward even after the pandemic has passed. With that in mind, let’s consider what we already know about remote working.
“Look at those who’ve succeeded with remote working, and it becomes clear that it needs two things to thrive, and both boil down to good communication.” – Nigel Davies, Founder of Claromentis.
A recent Zapier study of US knowledge workers (people whose work does not require them to be on-site for customers or production etc.), working primarily in a professional setting using a computer to do their job, found that 95% want to work from home. 74% would be willing to leave their current job for the opportunity to do so, and 26% have quit for a job that does allow it. Another Forbes-cited study in the UK found that 71% of workers that have the capability to do their job remotely also want to work from home, naming better work-life balance, greater productivity, reduced transportation costs, and time-consuming commutes. Surprisingly, over 30% of those surveyed would prefer the option to work from home over the perk of unlimited vacation time. And yet, only 32% of workers in both the US and UK are allowed the opportunity.
There are proven financial benefits to companies with a remote workforce. According to PGI, full-time tele-workers save companies on average $10,000 per employee annually on real-estate costs alone, 63% decreased absenteeism and 25% lower turn-over. Most importantly, 77% of respondents report greater productivity with 30% accomplishing more in less time. Almost one-quarter of remote workers are even willing to work longer hours than they normally would on site.
When there is solid evidence to support a remote workforce, why is it that some companies still refuse to make the transition? Especially when it’s been proven that workers do their job with the same efficacy? I believe it ultimately boils down to a lack of trust. Employers fear lost productivity, assuming their workers struggle with time-management and the discipline to ignore the distractions of home. There is also anxiety about losing their competitive advantage with teams not being able to come together for face-to-face interaction, ultimately hindering innovation. I also believe that the main pillar of trust is communication, and when we improve communication inside of our organizations, we build trust and do better work together.
For all the benefits that flexible working brings, and the new ways of working offered by technology, none of it can happen without trust. – Adam Henderson
As companies are now forced to transition to a remote workforce given the global pandemic, it is critically important to establish and nurture a culture of clear communication. I would offer that it’s time to radically prioritize it. Technology allows us to remain connected, but our efficacy depends on how we share information with each other. Whether we lead others or individually contribute, we build trust with those we work with by being accountable to agreements and commitments we make to one another. Working remotely requires that we communicate thoroughly and then follow through. When we rely on someone and they aren’t accountable, trust is eroded.
So how do we build trust and accountability amongst geographically disbursed teams? Most importantly we need clearly define specific deliverables: who will do what by when. When working with remote teams, there is no such thing as over-communicating about roles, responsibilities, deliverables, timelines, budgets, etc. Make sure all team members are aligned on a course of action, understand their role in the greater outcome, and then hold one another accountable.
Accountability with remote teams relies on every member having access to the same information at the same time. Scheduling regular weekly meetings in combination with frequent, shorter “stand-ups”, preferably on a shared video platform, can help prevent the miscommunications and waste that result from assumptions and expectations left unmet. By setting and sticking to clear meeting agendas and scribing thorough notes with defined follow-ups, remote teams can create a system of accountability that everyone can commit and adhere to.
These unprecedented times are forcing us all to adapt in new ways. On the upside, we may have the opportunity to learn a lot. Perhaps working remotely provides new opportunities to successfully balance work with life, manage our time effectively, improve productivity, reduce our carbon footprint, and save time and money. But before we can achieve any of those things as a remote workforce, we must first ensure our teams are committed to cultures of robust communication, trust, and clear accountability. After that, anything is possible.