I have been an employee and an executive, a fully remote worker and a fully on-site worker, a manager of remote teams and a manager of in-person teams. After experiencing the full range of working configurations, my belief in remote work only grows stronger with time.
As CEO, I inherited a team that was sourced locally and tends to work in the office. However, over the course of my time here, I have started building bridges to candidates in other cities. The results have been fantastic. I’ve watched our team expand and play to their strengths, without geography standing in the way.
There’s no shortage of empirical evidence that remote work, well, works. One Stanford study found that in comparison with employees who came into the office, at-home workers were happier, less likely to quit and more productive.
What’s more, remote work is quickly becoming normalized in technology-driven and agile organizations of all sizes. In 2016, around 43% of Americans worked remotely once a week. Remote work is driving the transformation of the workplace. Will you transform alongside?
The benefits of remote work are myriad, but I’ll name my favorites:
Remote work means you get the best talent for the role.
If you’re located in a huge metropolitan area, you can usually find a solid candidate or two for a role. If you’re somewhere without a bustling economy, hiring can become a painful and frustrating process. But no matter where you’re located, why would you limit your candidate pool to your local geographic area? Hiring around the country, or even the world, gives you a strategic advantage.
Remote work creates a culture of goodwill and trust.
Companies are always focused on “creating a positive culture,” and intensive resources are applied in the path toward generating a culture that’s attractive for employees and prospective employees. Remote work increases goodwill among employees — just ask the working parent who doesn’t have to commute to an office every day. Remote work also boldly makes the statement, “We trust you.” Trust and respect are cornerstones of a positive and productive culture.
Remote work is kinder to the environment, and your bottom line.
Office space is expensive, especially in cities. The same goes for air conditioning, heating, water, office supplies and the other expenses that crop up with in-person offices. Not to mention the impact of adding several commuters to the already-crowded infrastructure of rush-hour travelers. If you polled your office, you’d probably find that many of them would prefer you save that overhead and apply it to things like at-home office stipends and midyear employee bonuses.
Remote work makes in-person time more meaningful.
I would never argue that you should have a team that never meets in person for years and years. Finding the time to get everyone together, even if it’s just once a year, is critical to your organization’s survival. But relationships can be built and nurtured in person, and then kept alive through remote communication until the next in-person meetup. When you meet for a company off-site, conference or special occasion, there’s a lot of joy and bonding. When everyone can be focused on relationship building for a concentrated period of time, I’ve found that those in-person meetups become super impactful.
Remote work forces you to set expectations.
With a remote team, your hand is forced: You have to set objectives, KPIs and communication frameworks. What should your employees accomplish this week? This month? This quarter? This type of accountability is lacking in many in-person organizations, simply because it’s easy to feel like there’s accountability for just showing up. The clear directions you set for your remote team may have been less tangible were they to be on-site.
Just because I’m an evangelist for remote work doesn’t mean I don’t see the pitfalls. Remote work can be isolating and even create burnout. Let’s tackle some of those pitfalls and how to get around them.
You might not expect it, but remote work can lead to burnout. When you don’t have office mates packing up their bags to go home at the end of the day, sometimes you miss those external markers that the workday is over. What’s more, you might feel like because you’re remote, you have to doubly prove that you’re working, and you might have difficulty shutting down at night. As a leader, I’ve found that you can counteract burnout from the top. Don’t send emails at 2:00 AM, and respect vacation days and “notifications turned off” hours. Encourage your staff to slow down, and check in with them beyond just perfunctory status updates.
Encourage healthy habits.
Remote workers sometimes forget to take walks, drink water, go outside and turn away from their screens. Just like in-person offices, you can encourage employee health by incentivizing physical and mental well-being. Subsidize a gym membership, or have your team take part in a fitness challenge. Allow for asynchronous work deliverables so that people can build time into their day to hit that yoga class, meditate, take a walk or just run an errand and take a little breather.
There’s no “water cooler chat” for remote teams. Slack channels are a far cry from being able to go out to lunch with a group of peers and blow off some steam. Being physically alone can often make remote workers feel downright lonely. That’s why, if possible, managers should establish an “in the office” day or week when employees are allowed to come in and work together. For those who live across the country or the world, make sure to bring them over to your corner sporadically. After all, your team learns and grows by working together, so it’s worth the investment, even if just on a quarterly or biannual basis.
At the end of the day, I’ve found that building in a remote aspect to a team is what keeps people on that team. And there’s nothing better for cohesion and productivity than a team that sticks together.