Do you work with a remote team in some way? If not, it's likely you will be working on or with a virtual team in the next five years. A recent Forbes article cited that remote work has doubled over the past decade and predicted that half of the workforce will work remotely by 2020.
So what’s the big deal?
Many of the people you already know of are inspired by the vast potential of remote work: Bill Gates, Michelle Obama, Michael Dell, and C-level execs from PIMCO, Microsoft, Amazon, and General Electric to name a few.
But are you on board with why this is so significant? First, you might be neglecting a lot of talent because other companies are hiring remote. This can and most likely will have impact on positive engagement, retention, and culture, especially in a startup. Many experts say that companies need to adjust or suffer the consequences – a failure to adapt some remote work policies is really ignoring workplace demographics. According to a March 2017 update in a RemoteCo article by Adrianne Bibby and Ann Rozier, 37 percent of American workers have already worked remotely, with over a third of the workforce overall preferring this flexible arrangement.
If these stats haven’t caught your attention, maybe the severely reduced overhead costs will.
Tell me what I don’t understand.
Let’s take a moment and think about the term “remote work”. By using this phrase, we assume that there are two main categories of workers: those who are centralized and those who are not in “the beehive”. Perhaps a business is transitioning outside of its original confines and into a new district where sales managers (beehive) and reps can hit the ground running. Maybe a business separates its physical or hands-on workers from their managerial peers (call center and dispatch model). Lastly, work could be cheaper or expertise might only available in certain geographic areas.
Yet this simplification of centralized and “other" might apply less in today’s businesses climate. Today’s workers don’t need a central location deemed headquarters because they can store information in the cloud, which fosters innovation. Furthermore, information in the cloud has been flattened in terms of hierarchical access, so now both managers and their direct report can open the same dashboards and read the same reports in real time. In short, because information is location-agnostic, tasks are also increasingly location-agnostic.
What separates the winners from the people who just haven’t figured it out yet?
As someone who is inspired by DIY cooking, working remotely is a lot like homemade beef jerky: if it’s too flexible, it’s probably not well done and frankly not safe. If it’s too rigid, it’s going to crack at some point and just not going to be enjoyable. If it’s just right, however – it’s healthy in small doses and keeps you satisfied and energized.
If you’re a remote worker, it’s important to understand the balance between industry, your function, company values, and specific team traits. Four additional considerations:
1) Align your Industry and function
There are some industries and functions that are growing quicker than others when it comes to remote work. The tech industry, for one, has caught on to remote working at quite a rapid rate, which is encouraging for people who take Bill Gates’ recent advice for the job market to focus on science, math, and economics. Other industries of focus include travel, mortgage & real estate, pharmaceuticals, and education.
Even if your company doesn’t fall into those industries, your specific function might. Many companies’ recruiting and human resource functions are taking place widely outside of the office. Marketing, accounting, and training are also taking off in this field.
2) Align your company values
If you had to name three or four companies where everyone wants to work in the last four years, what are the odds that Facebook, Apple, and Google are on your list? What do they all have in common? These companies, shockingly, do not offer flexible work.
However, companies whose mission statement is customer-centric can benefit a lot from offering flexibility and there are certainly companies that you would recognize on Forbes Top 100 Companies Offering Remote Jobs and Fortune’s 50 Best Workplaces for Flexibility: Amazon, IBM, US Department of State, Motorola, Cigna, CVS Health, and Accenture.
3) Align your team
Unlike an office environment, when you’re working remotely, you aren’t going to get to have that face to face time at a moment's notice. You could, however, investigate which video conferencing software matches your business objectives with this comprehensive review from PCMag.
When you’re working remotely – either as a manager or employee – communication is key. Aim for conciseness and be proactive in your wording. When choosing whether to email, call, or videoconference consider the other person’s schedule and the best manner in which to get across your message. Always remember to tailor your message to the person who is receiving it by keeping their personality and previous responses in mind. Lastly, don’t forget to be direct and clearly state your boundaries. Beef jerky, after all, sometimes needs a little extra kick.
4) It’s all in the delivery
If remote workers pay attention to prioritizing, setting realistic goals, and tracking KPI’s a remote workstyle can have huge advantages by giving workers the freedom to work when and where they are most productive. But be careful to learn the tricks of the trade, there are some practices you will want to avoid, like exhibited this viral video from 2014.