There are many different reasons why companies are thinking of introducing remote work arrangements for their employees. Some are responding to punctual threats or opportunities, while others are adapting to an ongoing trend – that of workers who desire more flexibility in their work lives.
Before you start looking on the web for best practices in remote working and investing in technology that will enable location-independent work, be clear about the reasons why you’re implementing change, as this will inform how you move forward.
Why Are You Introducing Remote Working?
Are employees asking for it, in order to cut down on commuting time?
Are you cutting down on real estate costs?
Are you moving your headquarters to a new city or country and don’t want to lose the employees who won’t relocate with you?
Is this a step towards offering more flexible working arrangements, to increase diversity?
Is it part of your innovation strategy, tapping into talent pools across the world?
How you make the transition and how you communicate this to your employees should be in line with your reasons for making the shift.
Who’s Already Gone Mobile?
Once you’ve reviewed your reasons for making the transition, audit your current workforce.
Are some people already working from home?
Are some teams already working in close collaboration with suppliers/customers in other locations?
How are they managing this? What are their blocks to successful communication?
Are there teams where people are often “on the road”? How do they coordinate their work?
Is Your Culture Ready?
An aspect that is often overlooked during the transition to remote work is the effect that company culture will have on the process. Reviewing your culture (your real culture, not the one communicated by the values on your website) is an important step in planning your transition to remote.
- Is there a culture of presenteeism, where the value of people’s work is measured by how long they are at their computer? (If people are going to work away from their managers, the definition of “work” will have to change.)
- Is your organisation hierarchical where people are rarely able to take decisions on their own? (If you move away from the office, information is likely to flow more slowly. What will people need to make decisions faster?)
- Is information only being shared on a need-to-know basis? (How can you make sure that people have ongoing access to the information they need, when they work away from the office?)
These questions and more will give you some insight into the problem your people might encounter when being spread apart.
How managers adapt their own leadership style and team process to the transition will be key to how effectively team members work together.
Managers can continue to ask themselves questions about their own processes and team behaviour, using the VIRTUAL teamwork framework.
Visibility: How will we know when we’re available to each other and what everyone is working on?
Identity: How is the shift going to impact our identity as professionals and as a team?
Results: How will we know we’re on top of our work?
Trust: How will we keep maintain trust in each other?
Upgrowth: How will we keep learning together and developing as individuals?
Appreciation: How will we show that we care?
Leadership: What needs to happen so that team members can make decisions that move their work forwards? What will they need to take the initiative to improve team processes and innovate?
Incorporating remote working into an organisation is a change programme. It will affect people’s work rhythms and their identities. Before rushing to implement new processes and tools, ask yourself, your managers and your employees numerous questions. Make sure that that changes you implement are the right solutions for you.
Pilar Orti is the director of Virtual not Distant, a company offering training, coaching and consulting for virtual teams or those making the transition to remote. Check out her podcasts, 21st Century Work Life and Management Café. She's also running an open, online course in March 2017 on Leading Remote Teams.