15 Mar 2022
By William (Bill) Burke
Should all employees return to the office? What about a hybrid approach, with some working from home some of the time and others back in the office? Or, is there a better solution?
Responding to the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders are looking at all options to help build companies (and cultures), maximize efficiencies, and determine the best path forward for teams that have experienced the benefits (and sometimes the difficulties) of lockdown-driven "work from home" policies.
The result? Companies that have permanently embraced remote work.
Many of these companies will continue to maintain an office where employees are welcome to work, if they choose. Some label this a hybrid system, but there's a risk that this approach can inadvertently create "classes" of employees with those who work remotely becoming less "seen"-and therefore less valued-than those at the office. To avoid this inequity, one solution is to view every employee as a remote worker all the time.
Especially for software companies, a remote-first policy can be seen as analogous to mobile-first web applications: the app is developed to work perfectly on mobile devices but also possesses the ability to gracefully fall back to working well on desktop devices. In much the same way, companies are creating a platform that trusts their employees to make the best decisions on where to work.
A lot can be learned from initial adopters. Following are some experiences and best practices of those who jumped in early.
Making Remote-First Work Sustainable: The Leaders
Pandemic lockdowns made clear the immediate productivity benefits of remote work. As lockdowns began, it became important to look closely at the advantages and disadvantages of remote, especially measuring the savings and a robust hiring pool with the isolation and potential for a lack of boundaries that come with working remotely. Getting a scope of the complexity of the issue is a great first step to establishing your own policies.
Remote work can provide unique insights into working with others by meeting your teammates on their terms, in their environments. You can save yourself a lot of trouble by establishing ground rules that emphasize flexibility (hours and locations), recorded knowledge, universal and easy access to documentation, asynchronous communications, and results. Among many valuable lessons learned is that through remote work you can learn more about your team faster than you ever might in a quick conference room discussion.
How teams socialize and work together are often vastly different. A successful transition requires a company to view asynchronous work not as a pandemic-driven fad but as the future-and a competitive advantage in the market. One challenge is balancing team camaraderie with an organizational culture that can satisfy and develop key performance indicators (KPIs).
Ultimately, remote-first work helps create a more sustainable future. Greenhouse gas emissions are reduced when commutes are eliminated, and carbon footprints are smaller in a home-office setting versus commercial and industrial spaces that must use more energy to maintain constant lighting and climate control. Also, less paper and plastic are consumed.
Strong Relationships and Asynchronous Work
The key to implementing a successful transition to asynchronous work is communication. Prepare everyone by conducting a survey of your team to find out what they need to move forward; this will help make the shift to remote-first work a largely positive experience. Overall, employees tend to report a better work-life balance and improved communication compared to when everyone commuted to the office every day. As with any bold initiative, there will be growing pains; consider establishing a group of volunteers who will work to help resolve emerging issues and develop recommendations for the path forward.
Relationships will benefit from minimizing meetings and maximizing connections through more intentional strategies. Examples include a weekly (and random) pairing with a fellow employee just to chat and get to know each other, and non-work-focused Slack channels.
Scheduled meetings will often be asynchronous. To empower team members, look for a clear agenda, expected action items, and enough advance time so participants can respond across time zones and their life responsibilities. And to reduce distractions, aim for a clear expression of deadlines. Some things need to be resolved immediately, but the "urgent" label is used too often. To ensure teams focus on the correct priorities, use detailed documentation of all processes; include a verification process by which the original author is periodically prompted to "verify" that documentation is up-to-date so all users benefit from the latest information.
Embracing and Optimizing Remote-First Work
Be realistic. You will not solve all the remote-first challenges; it's an iterative process. For a variety of reasons, some candidates can't relocate, while current team members who must move (e.g., a spouse/partner starting graduate school in another location) don't have to leave the company. To make a successful transition to remote work, company leadership must be fully on board and leading the charge.
William (Bill) Burke, Ph.D., is the Founder and CEO of Virtual Peaker, which offers an adaptable, self-service energy management platform designed to turn any utility into one that is modern, customer-centric, and decentralized.
Virtual Peaker | virtual-peaker.com
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