• Catherine Neville

Can you trust people to work remotely? (OF COURSE, YOU CAN.)

Covid mandated that the global corporate community figure out – on the fly and FAST – how their teams could work from home. However, long before the global pandemic changed our world, employees were advocating (pleading, in some cases) for work from home policies and more flexibility. They wanted – simply – to improve the quality of their lives while effectively delivering on organizational expectations.


With only a few notable exceptions pre-Covid, most corporate leaders and SME employers dragged their heels on this issue. The reasons for that reluctance can be boiled down to four key sticking points:

  1. They could not envision how their organizations could successfully run without in-person oversight.

  2. A large segment of leaders/managers did not TRUST their employees to work and deliver at the same level as in office.

  3. Some were concerned about real and perceived inequity of application of remote work.

  4. Most did not have the technology to support effective remote work.

What they did not know, but what those who most successfully navigated their teams and companies through Covid learned, is that effective remote working is all about TRUST and PLANNING.

 

As a strategic advisor and executive coach for many years, I have seen the writing on the wall related to remote working. In fact, I implemented it more than 20 years ago as President of an organization. Was it perfect ? No. Did we learn how to make it work for most people? Yes!


In the past, some organizations would proudly declare that they had work-from-home (WFH) policies but would leave the remote work decision to individual leaders. However, that approach is difficult to support as it results in inequity across the organization and in a have/have not perspective between departments or individuals. Alternatively, some companies would launch remote work org-wide with only some standard policies (restrictions, usually) in place, but without a plan or system to track performance. Such an initiative was doomed to fail.


Today, the old theory that little can be done effectively from home has been thrown out the window and, ironically, it is all due to the global pandemic.


Information technology had to jump-evolve during Covid, delivering ten years of new applications and ways to work in less than two. That technological investment by many organizations resulted in a silver lining that:

  • enabled teams to assess and identify those things that could be done effectively but remotely,

  • realized savings in the company’s carbon footprint and space costs due to a smaller group of employees (or none) on site at a given time, and

  • improved work-life balance and employee satisfaction for many employees.

Employees in most corporate environments now have the technical ability to work remotely from anywhere and to do almost anything at home that they could do in an office.


So, what is needed to take this new normal to the next level?


TRUST

Evidence has shown that most employees can be trusted to deliver to identified outcomes when working remotely. In addition, numerous studies by top firms reveal that the majority of employers believe that productivity was the same as or higher than it was before the pandemic, even with employees working remotely.


This result is reflected in employees’ own assessments of their work, as seen in a Statistics Canada Covid report from April 2021: Working from home: Productivity and preferences. Based on the results (broken down by both age and gender), 90% of those newly working from home (meaning, it was a new situation due to Covid) reported being at least as productive at home as in the office. More than half (58%) reported accomplishing about the same amount of work per hour while roughly one third (32%) reported accomplishing more work per hour.


So, while some elements of work do not perform as well if done 100% remotely (i.e., innovation, creativity, social connections, individual discussions on performance, customer-facing roles etc.), most do. The solution for many organizations is a hybrid blend of remote and in-person work depending on the role of the individual – with trust being a fundamental foundation.


Some elements to consider within a full or hybrid remote work environment:

  • To facilitate leaders managing and maintaining a successful shift to partial or full remote working, it is critical to promote and instill a fundamental trust of people across management. This is cultural and not a quick fix. Some assessment activity is necessary to determine where you are now and where you need to get to for management to be effective in a remote or in-person environment.

  • Performance criteria/measures should be developed/vetted with representation from employee groups (plus input from all employees via a survey).

  • Transparency is a critical component of trust…that and communications. This should be built into your implementation plan and communication strategy, as it would be with any transformation initiative.

And the question about those who do not deliver on expectations, despite efforts? Those team members should be fairly and effectively performance managed as they would be if they were working onsite.


PLANNING

As with any new and important project, initiative, or deliverable, it is critical to build and effectively implement a plan-do-study-act (PDSA) approach (based on the Deming Wheel/continual improvement model), incorporating effective measurement systems.


As a consultant, I guide clients to define and apply the principles in order to successfully implement any initiative – it is no different for remote work.


For example:

  1. Reflect on the existing culture and experience of the workforce with remote work.

  2. Determine the approach to remote work (e.g., fully remote, hybrid, role specific).

  3. Determine the criteria for participation in remote work.

  4. Develop the performance standards/goals.

  5. Document the process(es).

  6. Identify how and when things will be measured and monitored.

  7. Confirm how the results will be studied/evaluated to inform plans at established milestones.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? WHAT DO YOU NEED?

Remote work in one form or another is here to stay and with it, the ability to attract and retain workers in these challenging times. We know you want to provide your organization with the best opportunities and an environment to succeed.


If you don’t think you are quite ready to make the leap, we can help you assess where you are and how to move forward. Contact us if you would like coaching and support to build trust within the team and implement excellence in your planning cycle.


Contact Catherine for more information.

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