Founder owners care about their employees. We would like nothing more than to provide every perk and benefit imaginable. The reality is we are running a business (i.e. profit matters), and most companies outside of Google and Facebook can’t afford it.
Flex time and the opportunity to work remotely is often cited as a perk that can actually reduce payroll. In reality, working remotely can have a significant negative impact on an organization, and a company needs to put in the effort to structure its organization before pursuing flexible working environments.
I say company not employees because much of the work to enable remote work needs to be done company-wide. Your company needs to have the systems and processes in place to ensure your team’s performance does not slip while employees work remotely.
My business partner Nick is a fan of saying, “working remotely is more productive for the individual and less productive for the group,” and he’s right. Many of us can get significantly more work done without the distractions of the office. Janice from accounting asking to play ping pong and Frank from payroll looking to go on a Poké-walk are not helping you be productive. Quiet solitude has its merits.
On the other hand, communication and connection to work break down when out of the office. Working from home still has all of the aspects of home. Your chair is your chair. Your fridge is but a short walk away, and there is always a show or book to catch up on. Seeing your cat stretch to soak in as much sun as possible may provide a sly smirk, but seeing Joseph struggle to overcome a tough client challenge can build a strong bond between co-workers. Residing in the trenches also has its merits.
How Companies Earn Working Remotely
Having communication processes in place should be the entry level requirement to flex time and remote workers. At our company, we are working hard to increase Slack adoption so our team can better communicate around client work and better connect with each other. Topics include everything from movie recommendations and ping pong to internal company departments. While there are way more GIFs than I ever imagined, Slack has helped keep our remote workers connected to our culture.
We have also been more selective in our communications tools. We are migrating from join.me to Dialpad due to its analytics and Salesforce integration. Tracking how our operations and sales teams use screenshare software gives our managers an extra data point to measure remote workers vs. office workers. We can evaluate average number of meetings and length of meetings to better inform future decisions around remote employees and flex time.
Measuring the added value of flexibility is also hugely important. Going through the effort of providing the option to work remotely needs to pay dividends in areas such as increased employee morale. We measure the impact of our flex time through 360 surveys via SurveyMonkey. Employees often rate flexibility as the top reason why they enjoy working at our company, and increased flex days is a frequent request on how we can improve. Our employees are invested in and value remote working.
As we establish better communication and measurement through adoption of these technologies, we can provide greater flex options to our team including taking on more remote worketers.
Roll Out Remote Working Slowly
Not trying to do everything at once is key as well. As a company, we want to get to the point where we offer nearly unlimited flex time to our employees and are able to offer employees the opportunity to work remotely. We started out small with 12 flex days for every employee to test how the company performed with flex days. We built a guide to using flex days and had all employees sign it, and we stressed and re-stressed accountability for completing tasks on time.
We increased flex days to 25 only after the team successfully managed their 12 flex days. We also added two remote workers. One had earned the trust of the organization having worked with us for multiple years, and he had to move out of a management position in order to work remotely. The other remote worker is in the sales department, where remote work is more common.
Going forward, we plan to continue to increase our flexibility. Unlimited flex time is still a consideration, but we are strongly considering confining flex options. A 2016 HBR article discussed having unlimited flex time outside of specific “work in the office if you physically can” days. This is appealing to the management team as we have team meetings on Mondays and Wednesdays each week.
The main takeaway from our remote worker and flex efforts is you have to try it in order to know if it’s going to work or fail in your organization. We ran into some issues initially with missed due dates and folks being unavailable during flex, and we will no doubt run into issues with our remote workers. As we succeed and as we fail, we are able to adapt our strategy by experimenting different tactics and technologies. We are a long way from complete flexibility and a global workforce, yet we can see an iterative path to get there.