Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
When the Blizzard of ’78 hit Massachusetts, I worked for a large computer company just outside of Boston. As the storm gained momentum, management closed the company and sent us home. My 45-minute commute took three hours in white-out conditions.
The governor declared a state of emergency, ordering people to stay home. The blizzard continued for 32 hours, leaving behind 27 inches of snow.
Employees were at home, but almost nobody was working from home. Everyone had a land line; nobody had a laptop or cell phone and Wi-Fi was a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye.
If colleagues needed to reach you, they couldn’t email, text, Skype or Zoom. Remote work wasn’t possible because the technology didn’t exist.
A Virtual Disturbance in the Force
Coronavirus jump-started the work-from-home movement on a huge scale. The pandemic forced businesses to embrace a remote employment model that had been limping along. With a world-wide health crisis forcing physical offices to close, an idea dragging its virtual feet became a mainstream solution.
A decade ago, most employers opposed the idea of employees working remotely. One major concern was loss of productivity coupled with the inability for management to actually see work being done.
This outdated model is full of fear and mistrust, rooted in old-school management. There weren’t many leaders of the pack. Organizations stayed on the fringes, supporting a controlled, limited remote office.
Covid-19 caused employers to provide remote office options and enhance the IT operations needed to support one. A pandemic and mandated social distancing forced businesses to invest in full-blown strategies for enablement. Many of us—employer and employee—are figuring it out as we go.
Work-from-Home: A Virtual Office
A modern workforce is a mobile workforce. Businesses that want to attract high-performing employees need to accept it and invest in technology, teleconferencing and HR policies to support isolated workers.
Pre-Covid, many employers were reluctant to support this concept. Progressive companies offered a work-from-home policy a few days a week, or as an exception for certain groups of employees. The idea of remote-any-time employees was too big a risk.
But a pandemic with the power to temporarily—and in some cases permanently—shut down businesses means the virtual office is the best option to keep companies running.
It ultimately comes down to the trust managers have in employees to get their work done when they are not seeing them in the office every day. It’s important to let go of outdated management practices but remain involved in team productivity. It falls to everyone to make sure telecommuting is not being abused.
Misconceptions About a Remote Workforce
Allowing employees to work from home or closer to home is a plus for work-life balance, family cohesiveness and the environment. There are fewer distractions and research indicates remote employees work an additional 1.4 more days per month than in-office employees. That’s an additional 17 days a year.
When the model works successfully it’s because managers invest in productivity by creating and monitoring goals. Fear-based management uses attendance as a measure of commitment and productivity.
Employees also play a role in their success by developing a strong, conscientious work ethic. Working from home means acquiring good habits regarding business and personal time, office communication, reporting and record keeping. The digital world makes all things possible.
The biggest misconception about working from home is that it disrupts the face-to-face social connections necessary to productive teamwork. Coronavirus normalized video conferencing to maintain social connections between employees and laid that myth to rest.
A Changing Workplace Model
When we moved to Florida, I became a contract consultant with a home office. Prior to that I worked for a generous company supporting a work-from-home model. My CEO believed remote workers are as productive as their office-based counterparts. I structured my workday around Boston traffic and often worked from home until the highways were clear. My manager had complete faith in me, allowing me to determine my work schedule and location.
Adopting a remote working policy is the sign of a progressive and successful company. When done correctly, it saves money by reducing the need for expensive office space. Workers are given the freedom to manage their programs and calendars. When employers and employee uphold the terms of satellite working it’s a win-win model.
Micromanaging has no place in a remote world. Managers and team members must develop a strong sense of trust. Employees must be disciplined, self-motivated and strong communicators. There will always be slackers, no matter where the office is located.
Welcome To The New World Order
Companies have laid off or furloughed over 10 million workers as of May. There are 33 million jobs at high risk and nearly half the jobs in the United States have been directly affected by Covid-19.
More than forty million Americans have filed for unemployment. In the grand scheme of things, allowing employees to work remotely is the least of our problems.
A survey of more than 1,500 workers from benefits provider Unum found flexible and remote work options were the second most-desired non-insurance perk, above gym memberships and sabbatical leave. Remote options offer increased employee satisfaction and retention and that increases company loyalty.
Employers are being forced to admit that jobs once done on site can be done remotely and just as well.
Work-from-Home: A Fast-Track Solution
Covid-19 has fast tracked remote offices. Colleagues from a major telecommunications company tell me they will not return to the office for the remainder of this year. If they must go in, they will require permission, PPE, and full safety measures.
Too much has changed for the workplace to ever return to the way it used to be. Remote working is here to stay, so let’s get it right.