The Right Tools
Regardless of location - our team have the right tools. Computers, Desks, Phones, and anything else required to create a comfortable work environment.
Without uninterrupted focus, nobody is productive. We work and communicate completely asynchronously, reducing flow disruption and ensuring as many uninterrupted focus hours per day as possible.
Any time, any place
Our staff are trusted to manage and maintain their own productivity. This enables working any time, any place via self-motivation.
Work isn't everything. Work shouldn't be everything. We work hard to encourage informal communication, and regular meetups.
Remote Work Today
What follows is a few micro articles about Remote Work, based on research and experience from our own business, our employees, and other businesses that we've worked with. We present pitfalls, scenarios, and solutions for Remote Work within this, and hope you find it to be an enjoyable and informative read.
Working 9-5 is not for everyone. Spending hours commuting every day, reducing time that could be spent with families or doing more things that they love, is not great for employees. The possibilities enabled by remote work are endless, it's not simply a case of moving a desk from an office to a bedroom. It's not being able to take a morning to "work from home" to meet an appointment and having to work later. Remote enables a completely different way of living.
For employers, the cost savings, ability to attract and hire better talent, and productivity increase (when done right) is unparalleled by any other strategy. Being able to distribute your team also helps with BCDR and expanding your team's reach by working anywhere, any time, and asynchronously.
Without effective planning and remote procedures though, the results can be unfavourable.
From a survey of over 1000 US Businesses, 45% of them forced to work remotely during the pandemic have experienced a productivity loss. Further, 39% of them will mandate that all employees must return to be in the office full time, with another 37% proposing hybrid or a choice. Ironically, the survey also found that IT businesses, the ones best placed to handle such a shift, were the ones that were most critical of remote work.
We fully acknowledge that there are many businesses that really do need to operate in person, and even specific roles that require face-to-face interaction. There are even certain types of teamwork that may benefit by being in person, however they tend to differ from what the average business owner thinks they are.
The primary issue with businesses experiencing a productivity decrease is that they were unprepared, they didn't have it ingrained in their culture, and they struggled to adapt to the very fast-paced changes that needed to be implemented.
The pandemic answered the question of whether emergency remote can work for businesses but didn't solve the problem of how to make it work sustainably.
We've taken a little time to analyse the why's.
Without any form of prior Remote Work policies or procedures in place, a lot of businesses went the "work from home" route. This unfortunately has its own problems, with most managers expecting to see their employees "online" at all times as they would be during the normal workday. Employees in turn feel an exacerbated need to improve "digital presenteeism", a pressure to be seen as online and working.
Further, without Remote-led processes, teams' days became fragmented and disrupted with far more time spent on co-ordination activities and meetings, and much less time on actual focused productivity and work. It's the remote version of micromanagement, and sitting behind people's desks.
Our own poll of a number of our clients found that managers and executives had less than an hour per day of productive output, with their remaining time spent in meetings frantically attempting to keep tabs on their workforce. By extension, staff at these levels worked longer days to produce far less work.
It should be made clear at this point that these results are not generally the fault of management nor employees, both groups of which tend to be otherwise inexperienced with remote work in a sustainable form. This is unsurprising with a recent Eurofound survey detailing that less than 2% of EU employees worked remotely in 2017.
Aside from the day-to-day activities of pandemic-remoting, other issues around unpreparedness were evident including the lack of a suitable work environment for employees in their homes.
Before we discuss how we can beat this, let's see what this would look like in an office.
It's 9am, you've just spent an hour or more driving or public transporting into the office. Maybe you're a little exhausted from your commute, need to have a coffee. Not so fast - your team has been called to a morning meeting in the boardroom at 9:15am.
That's out of the way after half an hour, but you still need the coffee. Someone needs your help though, so they call you in to the boardroom. 15 minutes on, the other project you're working on has an all-hands meeting. Back into the boardroom with the team for half an hour.
Forget the coffee, let's try to do some work. You forgot, you sent a quick question to your boss on email the other day. There's a 30-minute meeting scheduled. You and your boss are in the boardroom again.
Daily Team Meeting time, just to make sure everyone's still motivated and productive whilst being remote. Then you promised to explain how something works to another member of the team, so we're back in the boardroom.
Roughly just after midday, not a single minute of work has been completed. But you've been in the boardroom with your colleagues, and are feeling totally engaged (sorry, sarcasm).
Let's see how we can change this synchronousity.
If you're reading this as an employee going through the same, after a number of these days you've probably had more meetings about why output has slowed and "nothing is getting done".
Does the above seem farfetched? Because of all of the meetings scheduled, or because this hypothetical is always sat in a boardroom?
Honestly, we wish we had made it up, but we haven't. It's a result of synchronous communication being enforced in what should be an asynchronous environment. Every time the hypothetical is in the boardroom, think of them sat at their home desk, camera on. Does it change your feelings?
The Remote Approach, and something that we embrace at Cedita would be to question the necessity of meetings. Not in a forceful or aggressive manner, but simply understanding and challenging the requirement. It's not against the culture to go synchronous for important blockers or decisions, of course, but they're generally rare.
We've put together a short list of things that should never be synchronous, and instead are perfect for asynchronous communication:
- Status Updates ("Stand-ups" or "Weekly Catch-ups"); instead, favour discussion templates
- "Just so you're aware" pieces; instead, favour documentation
- Feedback on ideas; instead, favour structured feedback discussions or areas
- "Here's how this works" demonstrations; instead, favour documentation
- A meeting to discuss part of another meeting; instead, favour minutes and discussions upon them
Remember, "let's have a call" can be one of the most productivity destroying things that's said.
Once this is understood, let's see how routines can be broken.
Scenarios are great explainers - so let's imagine two co-workers on the same project one of which starts at 9am (A), the other at 1pm (B). They like to know what everyone's been doing the day before as well as any challenges, which could be called a "Stand-up".
Synchronously, and unfortunately typically, a daily meeting is scheduled for 1:30pm for 20 minutes. This is normally associated with employee A wishing to start later to "align" to B, but that wouldn't match their office shift hours, and they can't start so late at 1pm. This leaves employee A potentially unable to work productively (through any blockers) until B's arrival.
Asynchronously, at the end of their respective days both employees A and B fill out a short yet structured and informative template of their day, a rough example of which is displayed below.
- What has progressed / been completed today?
- What will be achieved next?
- Are there any blockers requiring attention?
When employee A starts their workday, the information they need could be responded to at a high level, pending further discussion later if needed. The same is true of employee B, and you can easily see how this can be extended to X team members.
In a truly remote world - this doesn't necessarily have to be different start times. Without a fixed routine, and full flexibility and control over their work lives, employees are choosing when they work meaning that start times and end times can vary greatly. There may also be team members on entirely different time zones, meaning that a synchronous update may not even be possible.
With time difference, the way that performance is measured must also change.
How do you measure your employees' performance and success - are you just happy that they're sat at their desks working from 9-5 day in, day out? We hope the answer to that is no, but if it is you may wish to stop reading.
At Cedita, and other companies, remote or not - performance is measured in terms of results, not time.
We asked one of our most productive team members to give us an overview of one of their work weeks. We then shared it with a couple of our clients which we involved in compiling this section of our site, and we would like to share it with you.
One word was most common in feedback from non-remote management members that we've shown this, which was "anxiety". We call this a typical week.
The gaps in work time have allowed for: Rest and recovery; spending time with friends and family; doing the school run when necessary; taking long hikes; and whatever else is needed to become productive.
In a significant number of businesses, the amount of hours worked does not correlate to the amount of output produced nor levels of productivity. This is the motivation for companies (or even countries) pushing for less hours or the elusive "4 day work week", and such understanding is a key pillar of allowing Remote Work.
Think: Do you want your employees to work 35 hours each week in a fixed regime, or do you want them to perform tasks A, B, and C in a week. Which goal has more value to your people, and your business as a whole?
Given the above calendar, let's talk about hybrid work (that's some remote, some in the office).
Putting pandemic-remote to one side, when the offices open again we predict a large number of companies offering a "hybrid" solution to their problems, and their employees' potential new found freedoms or happiness through working remotely.
These companies will be allowing a "work from office" or "work from home" situation, one of which is not "Remote Work". It risks the loss of any productivity gains from Remote Work, by adding little benefit to employees' lives, and is essentially returning to the old office-centric culture with a little remote bolted on.
We said earlier that pandemic-remoting can increase stress with regard to "digital presenteeism", and this form of being in the office is truly centred around the concept of presenteeism, the ability for people to see that you're busy working.
You also have to consider the employees working in-office, vs those working at home. Can in-office video meeting attendees effectively drown out background noise and speak clearly? Are remote employees missing out on being in the office?
There is no one-size fits all approach to transitioning from pandemic-remote, to hybrid, to remote. Different businesses will require transition periods, they will require coaching of employees (remember, some may be eager to get back into the office), and will need a complete shift in culture.
A few tips, in no particular order and in no way required to be implemented wholly to make remote work, are: Hire a Remote Evangelist, someone who champions the new culture; Close Offices, whether that means giving them up entirely, or temporarily; Have management work remotely at all times; and empower your employees to work remotely, comfortably.
It's time to have a break and see what we've discussed.
The intention of these mini articles is not to tell you how to do remote work within your organisation, but to research, discuss and inform. Cedita works effectively and more productively as a Remote business, but it was not an easy change for a lot of workers that existed at the time of transition, or even for some new hires.
There is far more to consider when going all-remote than what is outlaid here, too, so please don't go shuttering offices tomorrow morning.
Here's what we want you to take away from this:
- Pandemic-Remote is not Remote Work; it's enforced working from home, generally with little more thought, less productivity, and more meetings.
- Remote Work Works; we've done it for years.
- Remote Work is not Work From Home; it's an organisational and personal culture change.
- Remote Work is not Hybrid; it's all in or not.
- Implementing remote work is hard if you're coming from an office-based business; but totally worth it.
- Start challenging the need for meetings; written communication is far more valuable than verbal in most cases.
- Focus on results, not the amount of or when hours are worked; different people can perform the same task differently.
- Finally, dream of the benefits of being able to hire anyone, anywhere, at any time.
We also know that employees of Pandemic Remote businesses will read this and maybe have faced some of the challenges we've presented, maybe questioning whether your employers have done remote and done it right.
We've devised a simple (though not foolproof) test, just ask yourself the following:
- Can I leave my desk in the middle of the day for 4 hours to go spend time with my family?
- Have I spent more time today in meetings than on uninterrupted work time?
- Do I feel connected, engaged, motivated, supported and empowered to work remotely for my employer?
We hope you've enjoyed what we had to say, and if you need help transitioning to remote, we're here to help.