Leadership, Management

So Your Employees Can Work Remotely After All, Huh?

by Katarzyna Nawrocka

Around mid-March, businesses all across the world have decided to undertake a peculiar social/work experiment. They’ve enacted (or created for the very first time) remote work protocols. Many modern companies and startups took this step as a necessary precaution against COVID-19; others struggled to accept the new reality.

To numerous CEOs, managers, and leaders, the concept of sending their teams away from the office is unthinkable. A great number of companies believe that the office space is there for a reason. And that reason is supervising their employees.

When COVID-19 has hit Poland, a lot of my close ones braved themselves to discuss this situation with their bosses. Some came out with a decision to shut the office down for now (or at least partially) and move the business to the comfort of their homes. Others have heard something along the lines of ‘no’.

Home Office: The One Where You Do Your Chores (Presumably)

Remote work has gained a not-so-glorious reputation. No matter if it’s done at home, at a local cafe, or a co-working space - many say it’s not real. Working remotely isn’t actually working, it’s cheating. It’s pretending that you work while you actually watch TV/do your laundry/order another fancy coffee/look for funny cats videos/scroll your Facebook feed. Or do all of this at once.

Many people believe that remote work means chilling on the couch & doing nothing.

Back when I worked in a big corporation, remote work was a privilege for team leaders and managers. Whenever someone called it in, jokes spread around the office faster than lightspeed. The words ‘hangover’, ‘party last night’, ‘lazy ass’, and ‘sleepyhead’ were heard the most often.

I didn’t expect to say this, but: no wonder so many of my friends heard ‘no’ as an answer to their home office requests. No wonder this concept is so frowned upon if we made it sound so ridiculous in the first place! But does the way we speak about it actually reflect its nature?

Well, let me explain that in a sec. Bur first, let’s bust some myths.

Sending My Team Home?! Where I Can’t See Them?!

A lot of managers rely on hands-on, physical supervision of their staff - or at least keep up with the illusion that they do. The days of a supervisor slowly pacing through the room, walking between workstations, and watching every step their employees take are, luckily, long behind us. But still, the thought of sending people away from their desks, where they can’t be seen or controlled, seems unbearable. It’s like giving people an extra day off, fully paid. Remote Employee Managers admit that their teams’ reduced productivity, focus, and engagement are their top concerns. (Interestingly, they care way less about loneliness, career implications, isolation and being overworked…)

Many seem to think that offices act like cameras - they magically supervise whoever's inside. Home office obviously lacks these "features".

I’ve had a boss once who wouldn’t show up to the office for days, or come in in the afternoon. Still, they wouldn’t allow anyone to work from home because they wouldn’t be able to supervise them. That very same boss held absolutely no meetings with anyone and has never scheduled anything for the entire time I worked here. Their idea of managing people was basically nonexistent, yet they somehow thought the office will magically do the trick by itself.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but it’s not a kind of magic. If you think that four walls and a roof with some desks inside will manage your team for you, then you need to think again. In a ton of cases, it should all be about the results, not the physical presence (unless, of course, these two are tied together - if you run a store, your staff needs to be there). Being present at an office doesn’t really mean that much if your team can still deliver most, if not all, of their day-to-day tasks.

But They Won’t Do Anything!

Telecommuters don’t do the same amount of work as their colleagues at the office. That’s true.

They actually get more done!

How is this possible? If I were to answer, based on my own experience, I’d say that when working from home, we try to deny the stereotype and prove everyone that we didn’t ask for remote work because we’re hungover from the weekend. That’s why we turn on beast mode and power through our daily tasks.

While home office is believed to be a place where productivity hits zero, it actually improves the way people work! It may or may not have something to do with the amount of coffee consumed.

Studies show that, on average, home workers are 13% more productive and can squeeze more out of their day by reducing the commute time and being able to work in their own most productive hours instead of being tied to regular office time. They take fewer breaks and call in fewer sick days (probably because they have fewer possibilities to catch a cold from their colleague). Statistically, over half of telecommuters say they’re more productive at home!

How do they achieve so much in one day? Especially if their dirty laundry is right there to tempt them?!

Home Office: The One Where You Don’t Need To Chit-Chat

When asked for the reasons of their higher productivity, telecommuters mention fewer distractions and fewer interruptions from their colleagues as their #1 game-changer. Let’s face it - your team probably interacts with each other both on an official and private basis, unless you did hire a bunch of total introverts who never speak out loud. If they sit together in an office space, there’s a good chance someone will start a conversation sooner or later, let it be a discussion on their current project or a cute thing their dog did yesterday.

What’s more, some members of your team are probably more talkative than others. Some may have more things to discuss in terms of their job. Finally, it may sound harsh, but YOU may be their distraction as well. I had a boss once who loved not-so-occasional chitchat, so wherever she arrived at the office everyone was on their tiptoes.

With home office, your team stays focused on their job - a whopping 83% says they don’t even need an office to be productive! This can do wonders especially if they’re handling complicated, in-depth problems. So actually maybe you should stop caring so much about if they put their laundry on during work hours. It’ll probably take them much less time than the distractions they face at the office anyways.

The mere fact of being at the office is quite a distraction - whereas remote work offers calmer environment where it's easier to focus.

Home Office: The One Where You Benefit

Other reasons for switching to (at least partial) remote work are:

  • Reducing the time & stress of commuting
  • Reducing office politics - you know these may be a headache!
  • A lower level of office noise and the general buzz
  • Less frequent & more efficient meetings.

Overall, by introducing a home office for your teams, you’ll significantly improve their productivity and help them learn how to be more efficient and squeeze the most out of their time. What’s more - telecommuters prove to be happier and tend to stay with their current employer more often than their colleagues who work at an office on a permanent basis.

The companies that use the remote work model - even for a part of their staff or a part of the time - have also reduced their operating costs. I’m not saying you should close your headquarters forever and terminate your lease, but IBM has saved $50 million in real estate costs just by allowing their employees to work remotely.

So Is Home Office Really That Glorious?

It seems like remote work is a cure-all (or at least has definitely more advantages than drawbacks), so a) you really shouldn’t be bothered by the state of your business right now, and b) it’d not be a wise move to resign from all these benefits when the situation goes back to normal.

Easier said than done, I know. It may be hard to get your head around the concept of remote management. I’m not saying that the home office is better than the standard one (or worse). Everything has its pros and cons, but right now remote work is an absolute necessity to many of us. So, instead of wasting your energy on overthinking each second that your team may or may not waste, use it in a better way. Figure out how to manage your remote employees. Make sure to check out our blog next week - we’ll share some tips!

How do you handle your teams while working remotely? Does this stress you out or are you completely chilled?

Katarzyna Nawrocka

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