Remote work is rising, this is an established fact. Everyday more and more companies are turning to remote work as it is proving to be superior to traditional brick and mortar models. Its benefits are evident to a lot of executives now and that is why even giants like Twitter are embracing this model.
Making remote work, work, however is not easy.
For the company to operate effectively using remote work, a sort of uneasy understanding has to be reached between management and employees. The remote worker commits to doing her/his best to achieve the company’s goals while the manager trusts the employee to do this effectively without physical face-to-face supervision, no matter the distance.
This is not easy to attain and maintain, it requires a comprehensive culture that employees can look to for guidance. Creating such a work culture is however difficult for most companies, especially if majority of their workers are remote. This is because for most companies, remote work is a fairly new model. It still needs a few kinks and fixes to work. Also, it is not possible to transfer the habits and attitudes of the traditional physical office to remote work, it doesn’t work with distances.
The History of Work
Human beings always group themselves into hierarchies to get things done. This is the unfortunate truth of nature, not only for human beings but for most organisms. This means that for almost every employee (except bosses) there will always be someone above you. Someone to report to; which is not necessarily a bad thing. We all need a little accountability to get us going, I know I do.
Human beings figured out that the best way to ensure that something will be done, done right and on time, is to monitor how it is done and its progress. This is the historic job of the foreman. He/she will carry out visual checks and an occasional verbal exchange with employees to ensure everything and everyone is running smoothly.
For the most part this system worked, almost too well. With the invention of the moving assembly line workers became more productive than ever before, going on to revolutionise virtually every industry.
However, this all happened in the early 20th century, it worked then, but emergent technologies and breakthroughs in communication, electronics and a lot more are rendering this old model obsolete. The traditional 9-5 office model does not suite the modern economy any more. Work is increasingly becoming more complex while the old system has devolved to become more of a control system.
Today most managers are only concerned with two things:
There is no recognition for process, for quality or even the state of the employee, all that matters is to see the employee at work.
This had led to the creation of certain model deviances. One rooted in France and has spread all over the globe is known as presenteeism. “The important thing is to be there and above all to be seen in the process of doing something.”
It doesn’t matter what is being done and even if the task is finished. What is important is to be seen doing the task, at least until 5pm. Not even the quality of the work matters, your mere presence is enough for your employer.
While this may have worked somewhat for the traditional office, remotely it doesn’t work anymore.
Remote work cannot be monitored
These old monitoring systems as stated earlier depend on the audio-visual presence of employees. When employees are not present in the office the system collapses. Even with a screen, camera and more recently AR/VR meetings there is unfortunately no way of replicating the face-to-face experience in the office.
Managers are thus left with two options.
For many managers supervision is essential to their process and no matter the circumstance there must be someway to monitor their employees. Their only option therefore is to sort of extend the office experience to the office.
How do you do this?
One way is by using very intrusive tracking apps to monitor your employees’ activities, at least on screen. COVID times especially, saw an explosion of these apps as managers desperately tried to ensure their employees are working, or at least seen to be working.
There have even been reports of some employers imposing that their workers’ cameras be left on at all times and permanently while also connecting employees to chat rooms.
This might work for a short time but poses a few longer-lasting issues for the workforce.
Clearly these are effects that most managers want to avoid for their workforce. At the end of the day, every manager wants their workforce motivated, engaged and connected to the team. The old model does not provide these for remote workers. A new one is needed
2. Change Approach to Management
The new model requires an injection of a bit of stoicism, a simple observation: you can only control what is controllable. To make remote work work, managers will have to stop controlling the means and instead focus on the result. In other words, managers should only do things that have an impact.
This is nothing new. Result oriented culture has been in existence since the 90s. It has since grown in popularity and more companies are turning, or at least trying, to adopt this culture. It is however easier said than done and will need a complete rethink and disruption of traditional management principles.
For fully or partially remote companies, a result-oriented culture is the only way to go. When there is no way to physically monitor your worker, it is best to give them more freedom and flexibility to determine their own working hours; provided the work gets done.
This does not mean that the manager becomes an inspector of finished works, rather the method changes.
This is a real paradigm shift for the traditional manager who will have to mover from a ‘command & control’ structure to be something like a “lead & help’ manager. A new model will require a new type leadership; servant leadership.