Part two in our three-part series on the reality of remote working and how to ensure success.

 

While freedom to structure their day is a key benefit to remote workers, the lack of management oversight is one issue that clients have flagged as a reason not to embrace flexible and remote working. This is more a problem of management rather than location. ‘If your people can be trusted to do their work well in the office, then they can be trusted to do their work well anywhere’ replies one senior manager, also based remotely. Moreover, many companies are bringing this freedom in-house, when adopting modes of work such as Activity Based Working. A key principle of ABW is empowering staff to work from wherever they choose in the office each day; management should be more about setting context and expectations, being available to support, rather than hovering and micro-managing people towards doing their jobs.

 

 

AA Insurance                  - Work not tied to a desk -             BDO

 

Some organisations start with a vision of working flexibly or remote from the outset. The CEO of Manu’s company sought to attract the best talent wherever they are in the world, with Manu based in Berlin, the head office in Vancouver, and other colleagues found across the US, Asia, Europe.  Their business processes and culture are set up accordingly, right down to the recruitment process. They recognise that not all people are cut out for this working model. Employees need to be independent, self-starters. To help maintain a sense of team, regular attendance at international game conventions allows them to connect with each other and have valuable face-to-face time with clients. The rest of the year, their teams, and many clients, work remotely. 

 

But what about organisations that are primarily office based with just a handful of staff working remotely? Kate works for a large global company providing research and products to the scientific community. Working from home in England, her team is split between India and the US. Although the company does not have specific policies and practices around remote working, distributed teams across time zones and geography have been a core way of working for a long time.  A common success factor across both Kate and Manu’s companies is communication. ‘We do communicate a lot – teleconferencing, email…and we adapt our team meetings online to consider time zones and who needs to be there’ Kate emphasises. Mary, a leadership consultant who splits her time between the US and Italy agrees that ‘over-communicating and using multiple channels to do this’ is key.  ‘We recognised that not everyone engages remotely in the same way, some are most comfortable on the phone, some prefer to hang out on Facebook, some respond best to email’. As a results-driven organisation, they felt it was crucial to adopt multiple channels to achieve the highest levels of engagement possible, rather than dictate a single mode of working together.

 

 

While good communication is essential, remote workers also see a need for physical ties with their teams. Kate believes it is crucial to maintain strong links with the office, paying regular visits to the UK and US offices in order to connect face-to-face with colleagues and fulfil her need for social contact. ‘I can feel pretty isolated at times, so I use visits to the office to catch up with people and discuss issues with team members that they perhaps feel less comfortable raising over the phone’. Manu adds ‘humans are social animals, we need our tribes of family, friends and work colleagues to keep us going. You could easily go for days with no proper human contact and that’s not healthy.’ Connecting with colleagues socially as well as for work is something many remote workers make a conscious effort to do, especially when popping in to the office is not so easy. Manu schedules video calls with a couple of close colleagues in the US and Europe 2-3 times a week just to chat. Mary also organises ‘purely social’ calls with remote colleagues several times a week.

 

In part three of our series, we will discuss the impact that time management and technology have on the success of remote working.

If you’re interested in how flexible ways of working can be useful for your team and your workplace, get in touch for a chat over a coffee. 

An article by Lara Stancich, STACK Workplace Strategy and Design Specialist – currently based in Italy.

 

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