Many companies are now considering or have migrated to include remote employees as part of their workforce. This migration is not unlike that of outsourcing, seen abruptly around the turn of the century, where service quality and expectations dramatically changed from what US customers had been experiencing. The author of this article works at home full time since 2000 managing diverse cyber security teams in both full and part time capacities, sharing insights into critical truths everyone should consider before supporting remote employee work.
What are Key Benefits for Your Company?
Obviously, it is more affordable to enable full time remote work, compared to providing commercial office space and equipment for employees. But what if you already have a mature commercial environment and are now considering remote employee work on one or more days of the week for various employees? How does remote work factor into employee maturation, incentivizing, performance, motivation and retention? What individuals, roles or groups will be considered for remote work at your company and why?
Make sure you have carefully mapped out exactly what the benefits are for your company. Then go one step further – measure the benefits. For example, survey employee satisfaction before implementing a work at home on Friday type program, and then survey them after implementation to see if satisfaction has changed. This must be customized to your business goals and the roles of individuals participating in such a program. A wise manager maps metrics back to financial gains for the company to show value, such as showing monies saved due to productivity gains, employee satisfaction and retention, etc.
Will This Negatively Impact Clients?
We know that your employees will love to work at home – in most cases – but will it negatively impact the client experience? Take for example a call center that decides to outsource agents working out of their own home. The dog barks, the kid cries, the doorbell goes off – all of these situations promote a negative customer experience where calls are disrupted and their confidence is potentially eroded. Ensure through company policy, training, quality assurance and other measures that the client experience is always professional with desired outcomes.
Consider the Role
Some roles work well within a remote office while others do not. Low skilled tactical jobs, like answering calls for fixing a printer and following a script, can be done from commercial and fully remote options. Accounting and back office type jobs also work great remote in most cases. Sales, who are often in the offices of prospects and clients, also don’t often need an office but may need the ability to walk through a commercial venue operated by the company to seal the deal. What doesn’t work well is when lots of people management is required, like a team lead or people manager over a help desk team or executive people leader.
People leader jobs normally require face to face (F2F) relationships, personalities and connections – that can only be fostered by the most excellent managers who are deeply involved in their operations and know their people. The best managers are heavily invested in each person, know them well, and have the relationships from F2F interactions that motivate and lead them to collective success. Think of the continuum as people leader/maturation/growth of staff and then that of technical/independent/process-oriented roles as you make a decision that makes the most sense for your organization.
Consider the Team
How do you think a football team would perform if players practiced at home all week and then showed up to the game on Sunday? In heavy team environments, or high-stress chaotic situations like a blue moon war room crisis situation, it may be best to order pizza and dig in at the office instead of relying upon remote options. If it’s a team related function with heavy interdependence, remote office work should be minimal in most scenarios.
Consider the Person
Some people are highly responsible and dependable performers. Others are takers who lack due diligence or are low performers. If you have an at-risk low performer who is unproven in their career, they are a high risk as compared to someone who has a long history of proven excellence working at home. Each individual should ideally be vetted for meeting company policies and readiness for working at home. Junior staff often benefit best from F2F interactions with more senior staff members. Companies may want to provide partial remote office opportunities, rotating out senior staff members, who help mentor and train more junior employees. Avoid the blanket “you can work at home” option for all employees.
Some jobs that are highly complex, such as being a strategic thought leader or developing a complex cyber research lab, benefit greatly from a remote home environment. Instead of being wrapped up in daily operations, budgets and people leader needs – or that drop-by cube visit from a colleague – complexity leaders can be thinking and staying focused as they innovate and develop. Remote office workers have much more control over when and how they communicate, such as messenger, email, etc., outside of scheduled calls. This type of control can often lead to much higher levels of productivity from proven and effective remote employees.
R&D agile development is one of the latest buzz words in the industry and a risk as you consider complexity leaders. I would caution companies against remote R&D operations. While individuals may qualify for remote work, interdependence, communication and relationships amongst agile developers is critical. Compared to traditional SDLC environments, agile is the short and fast methodology that is more likely to lead to serious problems without gaps filled in by tight interdependent teams who know each other very well F2F.
Consider the Rate of Change
Fast change/paced environments are much harder to manage as policies, procedures and people can fall apart, resulting in higher turnover. It’s easy for the tower of blocks to topple in such an environment. These types of environments, such as an urgent war room crisis, require F2F operations for that time period.
Remote Workers Need Motivation Too
Nothing stinks more than hearing about office parties, tickets to the game, or other benefits for employees in the office while a remote worker gets nothing. It’s easy to say, “You get to work remote, what’s your problem?” but this is the wrong attitude and wrong way to treat a remote employee. It’s critical to know what motivates each employee, no matter where they work, and cater to that. Say for example, a company provides multiple commercial site motivates, send a pizza to a remote worker and let them know it’s coming ahead of time; mail a gift card; unexpected delivery of a company blanket. Figure out what works and include them instead of creating division that can lead to them feeling excluded while remote.
It is best to approach your remote office support with a strategic plan tied back to company efficiently and benefits for employees that best benefit mutually with the company for such a program. Be ready to make adjustments, monitoring it closely as it evolves, to ensure success. Collect metrics and manage that element of the job to show value to upper management. Use it as a way to recruit and retain high performing employees. Ensure you stay in touch with each individual, no matter where they work, to motivate and encourage them. Remote managers may even want to travel to geographic regions to throw party/celebration and thanks with employees in the area, periodically. Get creative, think outside the box, and most of all value your greatest asset, your people.