“Remote work doesn’t work for us” – some people actually make such statements. They even reach out to me to challenge my approach towards working. “Nadia, it’s not the same as office work”, “We loose personal connections”, “We can’t be spontaneous anymore”, “People are tired of the pandemic”. Goodness, stop this nonsense! I keep repeating the same thing over and over again – if something truly and sincerely makes sense, you don’t have to endlessly convince anyone to believe in it. The point is that some companies haven’t done their homework at all. They don’t understand their people’s working preferences and needs… not to mention lack of company-wide productivity data or long-term, operational business goals.
If you try to implement remote work overnight, you’ll fail massively.
If you believe that your team handled working from home during the pandemic quite well, that’s great. But it doesn’t mean that they are ready to work the same way forever. Whatever served its purpose in an emergency setup may not be sufficient and scalable enough in the future. That’s why I can understand that many people react enthusiastically in terms of company events, office days, real life team meetings etc. They look forward to interactions with others which is completely understandable from a social and psychological perspective. However, this doesn’t mean that they’ll prefer to commute to the office on a daily basis. It’s all about making meetings a meaningful experience rather than going back to the “old normal”.
Why flexible working fails in many companies
As you’re reading this – you may be part of an organisation where remote work is already failing. You may now think “Nonsense – this isn’t about me”. Well, surprise – the fact that your company said “yes” to working from home is just the beginning. There may be a lot going on inside of the business which doesn’t make this type of working truly productive and pleasant. Check out the main problems that I’ve identified throughout the past few months:
- Confusion between remote work and work from home
This is a standard situation. I can’t keep stressing it enough that remote work is full freedom. Work from home is just a location change. Both can work quite well but we can’t use them interchangeably. If we do, we will eventually get confused.
- No proper toolkit company-wide
In other words – chaos. This happens when you use Google Meet, Zoom, MS Teams and Skype for business at once. You send e-mails with Excel attachments rather than use real-time document collaboration. You don’t check Slack too frequently as your team also has a Messenger group. Consequently, you all get lost.
- Lack of personal boundaries
“Curiosity killed the cat” – you know this saying, right? You keep checking e-mails 24/7, your laptop is always open on the kitchen desk and you may even have FOMO (fear of missing out). You do all this to keep track of everything. In the end you loose track of your personal life. …I can smell burnout on the horizon…
- Too many online meetings during the day
It was easy to chat with someone in an open office space, right? YEAH, let’s try to do the same online! You are late almost every time, clicking different links to join an endless list of meetings. You should work asynchronously instead. But well, this requires mutual effort that your company should support.
- Not enough company-wide training
We don’t know what we don’t know. You aren’t 100% satisfied with your current “remote” work experience but you aren’t sure why. You sometimes have ideas but your colleagues don’t follow. That’s a classic one, trust me. The entire company should have the same level of knowledge about remote work so that you can all collaborate effectively.
- An outdated mindset that lives in the past
“This remote work is happening because of millennials” – says your boss. I recently heard that one company’s CEO asked people to work from the office on Mondays and Fridays as “this way employees won’t take a longer weekend”. Seriously? This way, hybrid or remote work will never work. It’s not about registering physical or virtual presence but tracking goals instead.
There’s no magic pill to make remote work, work
“Nadia, tell us how others do it!” or “Can you show statistics that remote work is effective? I need to show this to my boss”. Yes, I get these statements quite often too. Such examples can be inspiring and we can use them as benchmarks. However, we won’t be able to implement them just like that. Flexible working isn’t going to serve business objectives if we can’t measure its efficiency. If we have no personal context or internal data, we can’t introduce ideas just like that. It’s all about change management and a “start, stop, continue” approach throughout the process.
What’s also important, is the personal attitude and the spirit of accountability. My observations are that as human beings, we’re generally being taught to fit into social patterns since the moment we’re born. We’re being told what to do on a daily basis – when to get up, when to eat, where to go etc. When flexible working kicks in, it’s crucial to shift from a reactive approach towards proactivity. Employees shouldn’t wait until they get very clear company guidelines about each an every single minute of their schedule but they should be able to estimate and plan time on their own while focusing on personal needs. I’m mentioning this as I come across many opinions from different people that nobody told them how to get things done if they’re not in the office. This is a clear indication about the role of company-wide leadership as a crucial component towards the transition to new ways of working.