Work has changed. The traditional 9-to-5 office job is fading as remote work becomes more popular. But remote work comes with its own set of challenges. To make it work, you need to do remote right.
I recently spoke with Barbie Brewer, Chief People Officer at Safe Security, about how to succeed with remote employees. Barbie has seen first-hand the pros and cons of remote work. After being diagnosed with a rare tumor and going through a divorce, the long commute to the office became unsustainable.
Fortunately, Barbie was able to join GitLab, an all-remote company at the time. The experience opened her eyes to the possibilities of remote work. Now, she’s a vocal advocate, but also recognizes the very real pitfalls companies face.
The Benefits of Remote Work Go Beyond Individuals
Giving employees flexibility is a great perk. But the benefits of remote work extend beyond individuals.
Remote work is a boon for diversity. People with disabilities, who previously struggled to stay employed, are now thriving in remote roles. Workers with family obligations or health issues can still be productive. Parents no longer have to balance school plays and soccer games with rushed dinners and long commutes.
There are also huge gains for local communities. When talented workers can stay, instead of fleeing for mega-hubs like Silicon Valley, the economic ripples are felt by all.
Remote work allows companies to find and engage talent anywhere. Barbie gave the example of fantastic recruiters she worked with in Nigeria and Ukraine. Their communities benefit when skilled professionals earn good incomes locally.
The economic impacts even stretch to schools, doctor’s offices, restaurants, salons, and more. Remote workers engage with their own communities, keeping dollars local.
Why Hybrid Work Fails
Many companies, however, are still resistant to full-time remote work. Instead, they are embracing hybrid models that bring workers into the office a set number of days each week.
Brewer claims that hybrid can be challenging to manage.. Employees tend to mentally bifurcate their weeks between focused “work” days at home and collaborative “office” days. They may delay meaningful conversations until the next in-person meeting. Though some interactions do benefit from physical proximity, the reality is most knowledge workers only need that face-to-face time occasionally.
Hybrid models also increase proximity bias. Subconsciously, we favor those closest to us. Without conscious effort, hybrid workers may end up engaging more fully with their office-mates, even digitally, compared to equally vital remote team members.
How to Do Remote Work Right
Thriving as a remote organization takes work. Leaders must intentionally design practices and policies tailored to distributed teams. Virtual water cooler meetings can recreate the serendipitous encounters that spark creativity and bonding. Consistent check-ins ensure remote workers get needed facetime with managers. Subtle cues during video calls, like lingering on slides or music playing afterwards, smooth discussions.
Remote leaders should also regularly evaluate systems for bias. Are in-office employees unfairly favored for plum assignments? Do remote workers feel comfortable speaking up? Anonymous feedback tools can uncover latent concerns, but being able to speak up increases context for the feedback is a sign of a healthy culture..
Most importantly, remote leaders must champion a culture of trust and autonomy. Micromanaging remote workers, and most workers, breeds frustration and burnout. Set ambitious goals and give employees flexibility in achieving them. Assume positive intent instead of monitoring keystrokes.
Why Now Is the Time for Remote
The pandemic rapidly accelerated remote work, but often in far-from-ideal environments. Lonely at-home workers lacked the community connections that make remote work thrive.
As we enter a post-pandemic world, companies have a chance to do remote work right. For leaders unsure where to start, focus on communication, connectivity, and culture. Maintain open channels for genuine interaction, combat bias through intentional inclusion, and trust your employees.
Remote work may not be the right fit for every company. But for knowledge-based businesses, the benefits are too great to ignore.
Remote is here to stay. But implementing it effectively requires intention and adaptation, as Brewer said.
In my own experience, hybrid also works well when done right – I have to disagree with Brewer there. Most of my over two dozen clients chose a hybrid model, and when done smartly and with intentionality, hybrid models overcome the problems of proximity bias and related problems.
In either case, leaders must champion inclusive cultures of trust and equip teams with the right virtual tools. Workers should embrace the opportunities, while being mindful of potential pitfalls. With conscientious effort on all sides, distributed teams can collaborate seamlessly. The corporate world may never look the same again, but that could be an excellent thing. We now have a chance to reimagine work in ways that benefit businesses, communities and employees alike.
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Dr. Gleb Tsipursky was lauded as “Office Whisperer” and “Hybrid Expert” by The New York Times for helping leaders use hybrid work to improve retention and productivity while cutting costs. He serves as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. Dr. Gleb wrote the first book on returning to the office and leading hybrid teams after the pandemic, his best-seller Returning to the Office and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage (Intentional Insights, 2021). He authored seven books in total, and is best know for his global bestseller, Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters (Career Press, 2019). His cutting-edge thought leadership was featured in over 650 articles and 550 interviews in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, USA Today, CBS News, Fox News, Time, Business Insider, Fortune, and elsewhere. His writing was translated into Chinese, Korean, German, Russian, Polish, Spanish, French, and other languages. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox. It also comes from over 15 years in academia as a behavioral scientist, with 8 years as a lecturer at UNC-Chapel Hill and 7 years as a professor at Ohio State. A proud Ukrainian American, Dr. Gleb lives in Columbus, Ohio. In his free time, he makes sure to spend abundant quality time with his wife to avoid his personal life turning into a disaster. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, follow him on LinkedIn @dr-gleb-tsipursky, Twitter @gleb_tsipursky, Instagram @dr_gleb_tsipursky, Facebook @DrGlebTsipursky, Medium @dr_gleb_tsipursky, YouTube, and RSS, and get a free copy of the Assessment on Dangerous Judgment Errors in the Workplace by signing up for the free Wise Decision Maker Course at https://disasteravoidanceexperts.com/newsletter/.