You’ve probably heard the term “remote work” a lot lately. In the last few years the topic has become trés chic…. But working outside of an office is a very recent trend…
1729: the East India Company built the first HQ on Leadenhall Street in London
1906: Frank Lloyd Wright designs the Larkin Administration Building, the first modern office
1936: The first open-plan office building is unveiled
1980s: Cubicles gain prominence to mixed productivity results
2000s: Innovative firms and high-tech companies try to re-imagine open space in an effort to humanize offices
But, in 2020, the world of work looks very different… self-directed professionals love the flexibility and freedom of working from wherever. Pair that with the fact that we’re at a 50-year low for unemployment rates, making it harder and harder for employers to attract and retain top talent, especially in big cities.
Remote employment will be one of the main modes of work in the near future — and by taking the time to think through and prepare for this seachange now, you can set your business up for success and reap the benefits of an endless pool of top talent.
Are you remote-first, remote-friendly and remote-curious?
I like to bucket companies into three categories: remote-first, remote-friendly and remote-curious. To those who haven’t worked from home or managed someone who does, let me explain.
One of the arguments against hiring and growing a remote team as part of one’s human capital strategy is that there is a certain, je ne sais quoi that happens when human beings are in proximity to each other — and if you take that away in their daily interactions, optimal performance is jeopardized.
This may, or may not, be true. Some entrepreneurs, like yours truly, would counter that there is wasted time, miscommunications, and countless distractions when workers are forced to spend a fixed schedule together. In my experience, distributed teams tend to be more productive, more trustworthy, and less political than in-house, or hybrid teams (and studies tend to agree).
But whether you are co-located or remote, the optimal team must operate the same when it comes to how they communicate and how they support their culture and principles. This is made infinitely more difficult when two groups of people operate from a different baseline.
- Spoken word trumps written objective
- Body language can be observed or misconstrued
- Communication happens all the time, in real-time, but most is not documented
- Hallway conversations can help gather and share key information
- Drama such as gossip and rumor make up a large percentage of discussions
- The ‘buzz’ of people working in close proximity radiates and can keep employees motivated
- Everyone is on somewhat of the same schedule
- If it isn’t documented, it doesn’t exist
- There is much less body language, so us Homosapiens must rely on our written and spoken words, aided by technology like video-conferencing
- Communication happens all the time, both in real-time and asynchronously, and is mostly documented
- Distributed teams don’t have the luxury of communication arise organically and have to be intentional about when, where and how they communicate
- Drama is muted conversations are mostly focused on work
- There are often Time-Zone differences
Remote-first companies are currently the smallest of the three groups. They have no physical offices. The employees work on their own in a place of their choosing, in a home office, coffee shop, coworking space, on the airplane, the list goes on. Some remote-first or fully distributed companies may offer a small coworking space or HQ for their employees, however, they’ve made the conscious choice to orient their entire human capital from the lens of being distributed.
Examples of remote-first companies:
For remote-first companies, trust is the key ingredient in sustaining a world-class team. Employees’ competence is measured by their output (the quality and timeliness of their work), not where or how the work gets done.
This output (some people say results) flows up to the company’s larger goals, which must be set and clearly communicated by management, whether they use KPIs, OKRs or another goal-management system.
Not all companies can or will flourish being remote-first. But, if you’re serious about building a team that is distributed, you must default to remote-first, even for the folks who work from an HQ or coworking space.
This is a much larger group, including companies who have chosen to mark open roles as remote-friendly because it’s harder to either get or keep, top talent in their physical HQ. These types of companies have a combination of offices and remote employees. Usually, the majority of “the magic” happens from HQ, with a few people or specialized teams working elsewhere.
Often, firms are forced to dip their toes into the remote-friendly waters when a top performer tells their boss they need to work from home or will have to find another job (often prompted by a spouse’s move or a lifestyle change that makes it harder for them to commute). Once one person starts working from home, managers begin to see a “remote bleed”, as more and more self-driven contributors want the same flexibility.
Remote-friendly companies still have a distinct IRL culture and set of operating principles. This isn’t as difficult for an employee who spent years in HQ and then began to work remotely, as they already drank the culture-kool-aid and have built relationships in-person. But it does make it harder for a new hire just coming in. This can be partially alleviated by onboarding remote new hires at HQ and scheduled recurring trips back to the mothership.
Employees who work best in a remote-friendly environment are those who enjoy autonomy and are very self-driven. Many people feel more productive within an office structure, going to lunch with coworkers and appreciate face-to-face interactions to do their best work.
Lastly, are savvy business leaders who take note of the changing landscape. These “remote curious” companies operate almost exclusively in-office but their executives and HR leader’s interest has been piqued by the many benefits that come with employing remote staff.
Some benefits include:
- Lessened overhead
- More productivity
- A pool of endless talent
- Less poaching
- Cost savings in salaries or office space
- As well as the softer benefits involved such as trust, productivity, and loyalty
But as any captain worth their salt would tell you, the larger a ship…the harder it is to turn.
I personally believe that forward-thinking leadership teams at Fortune 1000 and larger companies should be actively thinking about what the rising tide of remote will mean for their employee base. As the workforce gets younger (because you know, that whole born and die thing) employees are prioritizing experience and personal freedom over compensation and security, unlike their baby boomer predecessors.
At Inde we’re predicting a world where larger companies, like it or not, won’t be able to compete in the future talent wars without offering partial or fully remote positions across a variety of functions. In fact, we’re betting on it.
The larger your organization is, the more difficult it will be. I believe that early-stage startups who are building remote-first now will have a stark advantage as they grow up and compete with the dominant players because of their unique human capital allocation, leaner overhead costs, and incredibly well-documented culture and operating principles.
Are you remote-first, friendly, or curious? Sign up to our newsletter Remote Pros, or drop me a line on Twitter, @marenkate.