This Week in HR, we return to the topic of remote work. I continue looking to this because many companies find themselves behind the adaptation curve on managing workers remotely, driving strong business results, etc. Fear of remote work and slow adaptation may result from failure of the imagination.
What if you could see into the future, though? What if you could see how remote work will change the world over the next decade, and more importantly how you and your workforce will change?
Let's grapple with some of the more practical concerns so we can imagine the possibilities beyond the rules and challenges of distance.
Life First / Work Second
The rise of remote work will lead to the re-prioritization of what is important to them, as people organize work around their lives. The realization that workers are more than their job will lead to deeper purpose in other areas of life.
I came to this realization years ago when I worked remotely and I was authorized to work from the hospital to care for my mom over 5.5 months. There was no disruption in my work to my recollection (with one exception, when I was on a planning call with colleagues and had to clumsily exit the call when a doctor came in unexpectedly to update us).
There's nothing like being more in control of your schedule and making family and other important parts of your life dictate your work, instead of the other way around. The company I worked for was innovative, a game changer in Legal Technology, and it was to their credit that they accommodated my circumstances. While my mom convalesced with my and my sister's company, I was rolling out an international recruiting practice for my company. It was a profoundly productive time in my career. And I think the two conditions – prioritization of family and deeper purpose in life and high-quality work – are inextricably linked. There's synergy when things are healthy on all fronts.
Focus on Outcomes
Companies will begin judging performance by productivity and outcomes instead of hours worked or who you drink beer with outside of the office. By focusing on outcomes, employers help people make time count, instead of simply count time. That type of trust and empowerment makes employees more productive.
The need to pad out your 8-hour day will evaporate, replaced by clear tasks and responsibilities; workers will do what needs to be done rather than wasting their time trying to look busy with the rest of the office.
Work when You Want
Offices are instantaneous gratification distraction factories where synchronous work (work done in tandem with others' work) makes it impossible to get stuff done. Think asynchronous work tools – these will be increasingly crucial features of employee management, long adapted by companies with employees spread out across different time zones.
More Priority on Health and Well-Being
25 EXTRA DAYS! A lack of commute will give workers 25 extra days a year to do other things. I could do the gym at lunch time if I’m not worried about showering and rushing back to my desk to sit another four hours in an enclosed office space. Afternoon runs, taking time in the morning to read, meditate, or spend time with family before beginning the workday: These are just a few examples of how many are using remote work to better take care of both physical and mental health.
There may be cultural loss in the diaspora, but there will be other inherent cultural advantages, such as increased DEI. Think mothers who could work from home, but wouldn’t take a job in the office. The most diverse and inclusive teams in history will emerge. Inclusion based on contribution and outcomes will be easily inferred when supervisors and managers are no longer worried about jiving with employees that look like them, who are instead focused on the work.
I wrote about burnout, and how business as usual, expecting hours rather than outcomes from remote workers, can lead to token work, longer hours, extra productivity, phrenetic energy. Remote work challenges are real. While most companies worry their remote workers aren't putting in enough hours, the real problem is the opposite.
Budgetary discretion will free up, too, allowing employers to gather employees for retreat conferences and meetings. More and more companies will seek out purpose-built destinations that allow for entire teams to fly into a campus for a synchronous week, likely staffed with facilitators and educators who train staff of how to maximize effectiveness.
Writing to Survive
Whereas documentation can be among the highest risk areas not only in terms of HR compliance, but also for knowledge retention, process uniformity, etc., it will become increasingly crucial and second nature for remote workers.
This is another cultural shift that remote work will only speed up. Email, Slack, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp and other messaging services are already out there, but they're not perfect. New tools will emerge, designed to fit specific company needs.
Here’s what you do: Reimagine the work you’re doing. Think of the positive aspects of this shift; it’s happening one way or another. And take a risk. This is a net positive, I’m sure of it.