Is it Time to Ditch the Office?
Remote work… Determining whether it’s a viable option for your business, and doing it right!
A few weeks back, we discussed a number of HR priorities for 2019. One of those was the ever-increasing trend towards flexible work arrangements–not just to suit employee preferences, but also those of the employer. While there are numerous ways to provide flexibility in the workplace, one we’ve seen more of over the years is remote work. Whether your organization wants to move towards that model as an overall framework or, more likely, your employees are asking for that alternative, what’s the best way to navigate it?
It’s important to first determine whether remote work, for some or all positions, makes sense for your business. This will of course depend on your industry and the type of work your employees do. Clearly, jobs on an assembly line or construction site or that require greeting walk-in customers on a daily basis don’t lend themselves to such an option. On the other hand, positions such as software programmers, editors, writers, accountants, graphic/CAD designers, consultants and architects may. But while the roles may indeed be viable for working remotely, is your workplace and culture? It’s critically important for leaders to carefully consider whether such working alternatives fit with the culture they have (and/or wish to create) and how they’ll maintain and continue to foster that culture.
Consider the following case study:
A small project management consulting firm with a fun and collaborative culture has a great office in downtown Vancouver. They have a flexible space to collaborate in, as well as host client meetings. Their office is accessible to coffee shops and great restaurants and it’s a “come and go” kind of hub for all. The firm’s leaders are intentional in how they build and maintain their culture and regularly have fun team get-togethers in their office, such as Friday craft beer o’clock brainstorming sessions, sushi lunch & learns, and the like.
But over time, they find that they’re spending more time travelling to their clients’ offices who are too busy to come to them, or going to job sites and then working remotely from coffee shops to be more accessible for their next meeting. Soon, it becomes difficult to schedule group meetings and they’re rarely all together in the office at the same time. Meanwhile, Vancouver office rent continues to skyrocket. So while they’re all still intentional about fostering their culture, it’s making less and less sense for them to maintain their current set-up. As a result, they make the decision to move towards a remote work model.
After deciding, in theory, that your culture may in fact lend itself to remote work (for some, if not all of your employees), below are some of the subsequent operational factors to consider.
Remote Work Guidelines
If, like most organizations who allow some form of remote work, you plan to maintain an office space and simply allow some positions to work remotely on occasion, it’s critical to have clearly written and communicated guidelines. These should outline, at minimum: the circumstances under which remote work is acceptable (e.g. types of roles); approval process; requirements to be available during business or core hours and have appropriate materials on hand; expected work hours; effective workspace; managing home/family interruptions; and, ensuring security of company documents and property.
If some or all of your employees will work remotely all or most of the time, in addition to the above general guidelines, you should also include a solid schedule/appendix to their employment agreements, which outlines your expectations. This would expand beyond the more general policy points noted above and include other factors such as: office equipment (if provided by your organization); requirement for home office; occupational health and safety and other liabilities; the need for appropriate insurance; etc.
Shared Meeting Spaces
If your entire office is moving towards remote work (as the PM firm above did), you’ll want to consider how sharing and collaboration will continue. One such option is to have a shared office space that you meet at on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, or as needed. This can also serve as an option for hosting meetings with clients. There are plenty of great shared spaces across the Lower Mainland (and beyond) that are designed to meet the needs of every situation.
Staying Connected via Technology
If one of the reasons you moved towards a remote work model is because you find it difficult to convene as a group in the same space, there are several other ways to stay connected. Technology in this area is improving all the time and options such as GoToMeeting and Zoom are both easy to use and cost-effective. You can still have regular meetings at a regular time… all attendees simply join by video and/or phone conference. Where access to files, documents and other shared work goes, if you haven’t already done so, simply move to the Cloud! Gone are the days of needing VPN access or emailing files back and forth; with cloud access, all you and your employees need to do is log in and you’ll all have access to everything you need.
One of the concerns employers often have in moving towards remote work is how to ensure they don’t compromise accessibility and availability to clients. Smart phones, laptops and tablets aside, with the use of VOIP phones, it’s also possible to maintain reception and direct extension set-up where calls still come in to a live person and get directed to your employees’ home offices. The necessity of this will depend on your business, as in many organizations clients simply use the cell number of their contact, or reach out via email.
There are of course other, finer details to consider if you decide to go all-in with remote work, but the factors above are the broad strokes you’ll want to consider. Once again, the place to start is asking whether it makes sense for your business today and in the future–and whether it will foster the type of culture you want.