On May 12th, Jack Dorsey told Twitter employees that they would be allowed to work from home indefinitely, even after the COVID-19 shutdown ends. The response from the social media community was overwhelmingly positive. It seems that many people believe other companies should quickly follow suit.
Not so fast.
Although views on how productive we can be working from home have dramatically changed for the positive over the last few months, many companies may overreact, according to Mike Goldman, author of Breakthrough Leadership Team. He has over 30 years of experience consulting and coaching companies that include local entrepreneurs and Fortune 500s, and suggests that while some companies can make it work, many are not ready for this shift. Let’s look at both sides of the argument.
Some advantages are:
- Talent – Companies are no longer restricted to local talent. In a remote environment, you can hire the best person, no matter where they live. This could 10x to 100x the number of qualified candidates for a position.
- Collaboration –Companies have improved their ability to collaborate with anyone, anywhere through the use of new tools (Zoom, Mural, etc.) and better remote facilitation skills. This will improve both productivity and innovation by better leveraging brains both inside and outside your organization.
- Flexibility – Working remotely gives individuals greater flexibility to deal with personal or family needs during the day. Flexing your schedule to see your daughter’s school play, or take your son to the doctor becomes significantly more manageable when you take commute time out of the mix.
- Commuting – Speaking of commuting, individuals will save significant time and money by not having to travel back and forth.
- Environment – Again, speaking of commuting, this will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the environment. For example, people in Punjab, India say they can see the snow peaks of the Himalayas, a view that for decades has been blocked by air pollution.
Some disadvantages are:
- Balance – The division between work time and personal has blurred during the shutdown. Working from home has made it more difficult to feel “turned off” from work truly. The result is that people have replaced commuting hours with more work hours.
- On-Boarding – It will be more challenging to engrain your culture on newly hired team members. Onboarding is about more than filling out paperwork and getting your new laptop. It’s also about starting to build relationships with team members. This typically happens by creating memorable moments and compelling group experiences. This is much harder to do remotely.
- Culture/Relationships – Casual conversations build strong bonds on your team. Working from home means no chatting in the hallway or having lunch together. There’s value in the culture that results from laughing, crying, and sweating together as a team. Your lifestyle is the personality of your organization. We don’t yet know how prolonged remote work will impact that personality.
- Distractions – For many people, home distractions make it hard to focus on their work. From young children to home deliveries to problems with your Wi-Fi, people are having trouble focusing for long periods. The constant starts and stops throughout the day can dramatically decrease productivity,
- Burnout – We’ve all felt Zoom fatigue. It takes more energy to focus on an online meeting and stare at a computer screen all day. We’ve also lost the time between sessions (hallway time) and commuting time that gave us essential minutes to wind down.
Both sides of this argument need to be weighed seriously before taking action to have long-term effects on individuals, your company, and the entire world community.
Whether you’re thinking about permanent remote work or not, here are some actions your company can take to better leverage the advantages and cope with the potential disadvantages:
- Master Self-Leadership – You can’t manage others if you’re not managing yourself. Consistently exercise your mind (learning), body (physical exercise), and spirit (meditation). The challenges of working remotely make self-leadership more critical. It brings to mind a great interview with the Dali Lama. A reporter asked him how long he spent meditating each day. “One hour,” he said. When the reported asked him how long he spent on days when he was swamped, he replied, “on those days, I spend 2 hours”.
- Double Down on Culture – Strong leadership teams is using this time to live their company’s core purpose and core values. Those nicely worded plaques on the wall are put to the test during times like these. It’s all too easy to dump your purpose and benefits during a crisis. Great companies will show they mean what they say, and their culture will be even more influential because of it.
- Triple the Volume and Quality of Internal Communication – Smart companies have shorter, more frequent communications with team members and clients. It may be focused on brainstorming an idea, checking on the status of a project, or just checking in to see how someone is doing. We’re learning that what we’re doing out of necessity actually works better.
- Become a Great Coach – Your team needs your coaching now more than ever. Leaders need to become experts at asking the right questions to help people unlock their potential. This is especially difficult, and especially important, during times of uncertainty. The quality and frequency of coaching are critical. If you don’t have the time to have quality coaching conversations with each of your direct reports weekly, you may have too many people reporting to you.
- Be an Evangelist of Your Vision – It’s straightforward to spend 100% of your efforts on immediate tasks focused on survival. It’s essential to bring your focus and communications back to a compelling 3-year vision for your company. Team members need to feel inspired by a brighter future. Help them understand that while the tactics might have changed, the vision of the future and desire to make it happen hasn’t.
Some say that this pandemic hasn’t changed the future of work argues Goldman, it has merely increased the velocity towards that future. That may be true. However, speed isn’t always a good thing. Speed may cause us to miss critical lessons that enable us to evolve into that new future healthily. After a few months on lockdown, let’s not assume we’re smart enough to bypass the lessons we might have learned over the next several years.
By: Benjamin Laker
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