Remote working: how to make it work for your business

The shift away from office-based work may have begun as an emergency response to the challenge of Covid. But it increasingly looks like the remote working model will be part of business life long after the pandemic has passed. So, what’s next for remote working – and what should today’s organizations be doing to prepare? Read on for the top tips from Devjbs.

Tip 1: Start defining your ideal future state

Once Covid hit, every business that could immediately switched to a 100% remote model. But when the threat of the pandemic finally passes, organizations will need to think hard about the remote working strategy that’s right for them and their people.

Some will doubtless choose to stay 100% remote, but the majority are likely to adopt what a McKinsey report has labelled the ‘hybrid virtual model’, with some employees working from home and some working on-site. But of course, this more nuanced approach raises a whole host of tricky questions for business leaders to resolve.

Which functions can be remote, and which can’t? To what extent will employees be able to choose their own working patterns? And what are the long-term implications of any decision in terms of real estate costs, staff morale, tech infrastructure and productivity? Finding the right answers to these questions is likely to be one of the most important challenges for organizations in the months and years ahead.

Tip 2: Understand what’s changed – and what hasn’t

It’s easy to assume that the sudden and dramatic shift to remote working changed everything about the way business works. But actually, it’s more useful to think about the essentials that will never change – and how businesses can keep delivering them in the new normal.
Take an organization’s responsibility for employees’ wellbeing, for example. Your people may no longer be in your office, but their wellbeing is still a priority. How will you ensure each of them has the equipment they need to do their work effectively and safely? Your office managers and HR support staff won’t be able to fulfil their core functions in the same ways as before – but their work will be just as vital as it ever was.

And the same goes for performance management and career development. If anything, these structures and frameworks are more important in the world of remote working than they ever were. Companies that de-prioritize them in the face of crisis are likely to be those that fail to adapt and thrive in the new world of work.

Tip 3: Make sure remote workers don’t feel remote

The annual Buffer report into remote working reveals many employees are relishing the chance to work more flexibly, but at the same time their feelings of isolation and even loneliness are increasing at an alarming rate.

A key challenge for managers in the age of remote working will be to mitigate this growing problem – and find new ways to ensure every employee can build meaningful, emotionally rewarding connections with colleagues and the wider business.

This is particularly critical for those companies who are now opening up offices and transitioning to a hybrid model. A 2017 study by the Harvard Business Review showed how easily a two-tier employee culture can develop in this situation, with remote employees feeling marginalized and under-valued compared to their on-site colleagues.

Tip 4: Trust your people to deliver

The modern office – especially the modern open plan office – often resembles the Panopticon, a building designed to exert subtle but powerful control by the possibility of being observed at any point. Offices teach people it isn’t just important to work, but also to be seen to work – leading to problems like presenteeism and spiraling working hours.

But done right, remote working could change all that forever. While some businesses may look to replicate minute-by-minute supervision using digital tools, others will follow McKinsey’s advice and “focus on monitoring the outcome-based measurements. When leaders focus on outcomes and outputs, virtual workers deliver higher-quality work.”

As a role model for the future, McKinsey proposes Netflix (currently the 32nd largest company in the world by market capitalization). A key factor in its remarkable success story has been a culture where ‘face time’ in the office isn’t required and paid time off isn’t limited at all. McKinsey’s advice for businesses looking to thrive in the new normal is bold and simple: “Netflix measures productivity by outcomes, not inputs – and you should do the same.”

Tip 5: Learn from the pioneers of remote working

Remote working is new to many companies – but not all. Some businesses, especially in the tech sector, have been successfully doing it for years. This fascinating Ted Talk by Matt Mullenweg, a co-founder of WordPress, explains why and how they built their business on remote (or, as he prefers to call it, distributed) working.

In fact, many remote-working companies in the tech sector are equally generous when it comes to sharing their insights and learnings. GitLab, for example, have published their own remote working guide, while Toptal (another 100% distributed workforce company) has created its own Suddenly Remote Playbook, which they describe as a guide to “sustaining an enterprise-grade remote environment”.

If you’re looking to learn from others mistakes and get a head start in the new world of remote working, these documents are a great place to begin.