Remote work is on the rise as company after company is announcing that their work from home contingency plan has now extended into a semi-permanent or permanent workplace flexibility model. But is the distribution of a workforce the same as operating as a fully distributed company?
As a remote work thought leader who has been building and operating officeless companies for almost a decade and a half, I can confidently answer that it is not. Asking a workforce to start working from home offices is a workplace transformation, but not virtual organizational development. In other words, it is only allowing remote work, not adopting it.
The difference between allowing and adopting remote work lies in the company’s consideration of the ripple effects of workplace transformation, such as protocols, policies, and tools.
This more sustainable development requires a comprehensive change management process that encompasses these six categories:
Virtual collaboration requires a different skillset than in-office work, yet many employers are expecting the same output and performance from their teams as they did when they were co-located. To successfully nurture the sustainable autonomy that remote work requires, companies need to support their teams through the transition from working together in proximity, to working together in the cloud. This includes updates and adaptations to all elements of the employment lifecycle, including talent acquisition, onboarding, offboarding, learning and development, sponsorship, performance analysis, and more.
Without the ability to physically supervise, many managers are worried about how to measure the productivity of their workforces. In a virtual work environment, monitoring the wellness, output, and engagement is still possible, but requires different tools, habits, and training. Otherwise, leadership can easily fall into traps like micromanagement, unethical monitoring, discrimination, or isolation.
Many companies believe that culture development is on hiatus while teams aren’t able to interact with each other in an office. However, it’s important to remember that proximity doesn’t ensure connection, so leadership must intentionally design channels, activities, and engagement expectations that will help unify their teams and create a sense of belonging. If unprepared for the transition to a distributed work environment or neglected while working remotely, workers often succumb to common work-from-home risks such as isolation and burnout, which inhibits productivity and retention.
For the past 50 years, occupational health and safety regulations have reduced workplace-related injuries and deaths by nearly 75% due to the strict enforcement of environmental standards. However, those criteria are currently not legally enforced in home offices, which increases risk of danger for professionals and liability for employers. It is essential that employers collaborate with employees to ensure their home office conditions have adequate features to support sustainable health and productivity, such as natural light, compatible equipment, ergonomic seating, and a hazard-free workspace.
Sure, your remote team is using some communication tools to replace in-office conversations, but are you using the right tools? An incomplete software stack can hinder productivity and output for virtual teams. Instead of falling prey to opportunistic marketing campaigns, it’s critical that each company carefully determine what functionality is missing from their current toolkit, identify tools that match the habits and culture of their team, and design an adoption plan that will minimize disruption.
Without a comprehensive remote work policy, remote workers are at higher risk for miscommunication, discrimination, isolation, and legal breaches. By asking employees to agree to certain performance expectations, accessibility terms, qualifications, and working conditions, employers will reduce the risk of future lawsuits and minimize unnecessary costs.
So, yes, you may be working remotely, but are you thriving as a distributed team and a remote-first organization? Probably not. But by working with an experienced and qualified remote work consultant, companies will have a higher risk of sustainability and success in their virtual organization development.