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We know you're probably tired of COVID-19 being plugged into every article you read or conversation you have, so we're not going to dwell on it too much, but bear with us: The pandemic changed the way we work, forever. Even those companies who will return to traditional office spaces sometime in the future (though who knows when that will be plausible) will be full of people who already have previous experience working from home. And the data indicates that they'd rather keep it that way - in a survey conducted by Owl Labs on the state of remote work in 2020, 77% of respondents agreed that, after the pandemic, having the option to work from home would make them happier.
So, it's settled. Most people want to continue working remotely in the future, and many business leaders, after realizing the benefits are mutual, have decided to embrace this new era of work. Great! Here at GroWrk, we've been preaching the advantages of remote working since before the word 'pandemic' became firmly established in our collective lexicon. Though we're happy to see this massive shift take place, we do have to wonder: How will companies fare in the long term, if they make a permanent switch to remote without first modifying their approach to work itself?
If the way we work has become outdated, it only makes sense that the way we think about work has become outdated as well. Having fully or partially remote workers isn't just a matter of where team members are logging on from - it's a matter of what mindset they've adopted, together.
Both have a heavy connotation of verticality; of giving and following orders. But today, with the global workforce embracing remote working, society is more empowered than ever before, and individualism - defined as "the habit or principle of being independent and self-reliant" - is thriving on every level, personally and professionally.
People simply don't approach work the way they used to, waiting for the CEO to indicate what needs to be done, and how. Business leaders have also seemed to realize that collaborating is more productive than having a one-way conversation. Now, the focus is on what every person can bring to the table.
Words matter, and it's important that they reflect reality. If a company is conducting itself as a mostly horizontal organization, then 'teammates' is a better suited term than employee or co-worker for those you work alongside. Here at GroWrk, we strive to remind ourselves through the way we speak that we are all in this together, regardless of title or status.
Remote teams function best when there are no blockers in the decision making process. If each task cannot be executed without the approval of a manager or CEO, then there will be significant productivity gaps. Remote workers should be entrusted to "be their own bosses" and move along an assignment on their own until the absolute farthest point when feedback is required.
By leaving the business crucial decisions to the company founders and everything else to your remote teams, you are able to reduce the friction that is caused every time an employee is waiting to get approval to complete an important project. Productivity has shown to increase when there is a decentralized decision-making process.
Because - let's face it - it's a drag, and no one liked doing it back when offices were the norm. Punching the clock means you have a set timeframe for work, and someone is likely keeping track of how well you abide by it.
Is work really still something as formulaic as X amount of hours a day, though? With the exception of manufacturing or service jobs, it's likely that a job in this day and age requires different skills and time investments at different moments.
In an essay for Harper's titled, quite fittingly, Punching the Clock, David Graeber explores why this rigid model of work - in which people are sometimes just putting in their mandatory time, with not much to do - drives them to feelings of being useless and, thus, depresses them. Old-school bosses who were sure their subordinates would jump at any opportunity to slack off were completely wrong. It turns out, people want to feel like they're making meaningful contributions to the world at their jobs, not just getting a paycheck to dilly-dally away. And actually, maybe even the word 'job' is growing obsolete. Fulfilling a role, rather than showing up to a job, may be a better way to refer to work in a company where teams are telecommuting.
One of the main tenets of remote work is flexible working, or asynchronicity. Although asynchronous work sounds complicated it is just the opposite of synchronous work. Instead of everyone working at the same time in the office, people complete tasks or move projects along at their own pace. Think about leaving a post-it note for your spouse or roommate to clean the dishes. The task still gets completed but doesn't require you to wait and watch them do it. Well, depending on how lazy the person is.
Though there's valid reasons for being generally available during a certain time frame of the day (after all, collaborating with others in real time is often the best way to work), remote companies shouldn't focus on how everyone on a team is spending every moment of their daily lives. In an AMA session with WeWorkRemotely, Darren Murph, GitLab's Head of Remote, put it best: "Due to our bias towards asynchronous workflows, we don't require that people work a rigid set of hours. Instead, we measure results rather than inputs."
Managers should trust their remote team to complete the tasks by the deadline assigned to them. I mean, that is why you hired them, right? Some tech startups that are pre-market fit take this a step further and avoid putting complicated metrics attached to their employees' performance. Instead of weekly tracking of OKRS, such as leads generated, it makes more sense to evaluate if they completed and got feedback on the project that will generate leads. Once they complete the project, then you can measure its results for the next month. Your employees will feel less pressure to hit goals that may not even be attainable at your stage of growth.
These suggestions probably ring a bell to anyone who's worked at a tech company, but it's important to remember that tech is always ahead of the curve and, for many other industries, remote work was unheard of up until this year. Also worth mentioning is the fact that:
Despite a widespread commitment to horizontal work models and a results-driven mentality, tech culture has come under fire in recent years for not being sufficiently inclusive, operating in an echo chamber due to a lack of diversity, and promoting an unhealthy work life balance. The criticism is valid, and many companies and HR leaders have started addressing it by analyzing their work culture through a new lens
Perhaps other industries can learn from the mistakes of tech. A diverse team isn’t good because it’s politically correct — it’s actually shown to increase profit, reduce team turnover, and allow for better and faster decision making within a company. By allowing people of all walks of life and geographical locations to telecommute, remote work can create a more inclusive and, therefore, diverse workplace. The flexibility it offers can also be used to promote a healthy work-life balance.
Companies should implement a hiring model that allows for anyone from the world, regardless of location to apply for their open roles. You are opening yourself to a much more skilled and diverse talent pool, rather than relying on the expertise of one specific geographic area. HR professionals should also consider the transferable skills of workers from industries. By limiting each role to only those that have worked specifically in the industry of your company, you are propagating the same white-washed workforce that always had access to those opportunities.
Another way to embrace the different lifestyles and capabilities of a diverse team is to reevaluate meetings - how many are conducted, who is included, and what purposes they serve. We've all seen the memes about "meetings that could have been an email," and if workplaces are ready to accept the fact that filling in time with unnecessary tasks isn't necessary outside of a 9 to 5 in a traditional office space, then they're ready to let go of this dynamic, too.
'Meetings' is probably not even the best term for video conferencing in the remote work era, actually. They call to mind a bygone period of stiff work models, and don't really fit in with an asynchronous approach, that usually goes hand in hand with a document that can be later referenced by anybody on the team who might need it.
This document can be a "source of truth" that remote workers use to reference whenever they have a question. It could also be used to update on any progress or blockers that a team-member might have without calling a virtual meeting. Outside of all-hands calls, in which general subjects should be discussed in real time, people working from home should feel trusted and empowered to keep track of everything that pertains to their role. It is not necessary to be video conferencing 4-5 times a week when each team-member has the same power in the decision making process.
Moving forward, we should all seek to actively question and change the ways we've come to think of work. The pandemic was a kickstart to working from home, but it's definitely not the end of the story. We will look back on how we used to work 5 years from now and laugh about the 2 hours of commute we spent everyday to get to the office. We will tell stories of the overbearing manager who watched people work like a hawk. However, companies should take the initiative and provide their employees with the resources to make the transition faster. We must adapt to the present, making conscious efforts to evolve along with our surroundings.