Not long ago, the CFO of a fast-growing $150 million company with 80 sales reps was planning to move to a bigger, better location. I suggested that he not move everyone into the new space and, instead, arrange for some of the reps to work remotely. I was shocked by his answer: “No, because I don’t trust them.” (I didn’t ask how the reps felt about him, but trust usually goes two ways.) There are still far too many business leaders who believe that if they can’t physically see their employees, the employees aren’t working.
These companies hold onto this belief despite the fact that the data show exactly the opposite: Remote workers are more productive and more satisfied than those tied to their desks in the workplace. In addition to finding that remote workers work four more hours per week than on-site employees, Gallup reported in its 2017 “State of the American Workplace” that 43 percent of U.S. employees now work virtually at least some of the time. This number continues to rise in big part because younger generations demand more flexibility. Remote work options help you attract these workers, and also help you retain the 35 percent of employees that, according to Gallup, would change jobs for one that would allow them to work off-site full time.
Although not every position and industry is suited for remote work, if it makes sense, allow it—and encourage it. Even doctors examine patients remotely now! Consistently, research shows there’s no longer any justification for not hopping on this bandwagon. Happier, more productive workers are reason enough, but you’ll find many other benefits once you start down the virtual path. Or as Gallup puts it:
“The one thing leaders cannot do is nothing. They cannot wait for trends to pass them by, and they cannot wait for millennials to get older and start behaving like baby boomers. That won’t happen. This workforce isn’t going to acclimate to the status quo.”
Ask: “Why do we do what we’re doing?”
I suggest you start moving toward a more flexible workplace by understanding why you do things the way you do. If your answer is: “to attract the very best people out there and keep them,” you may need to revise how you go about trying to achieve that objective. I can tell you that the people you want are looking for flexibility from you—and that usually means the choice to work remotely at least some of the time. Instead of offering choice, if your solution is to control where and how people work, people will walk away. Never forget that we’re in a candidates’ market and that most of those candidates are in a different generation than you. Today, it’s the company that needs to change, not so much the worker. Here’s how we answered the “why” question at TalenTrust in 2003 and why we’ve never looked back.
When I founded TalenTrust, my goal was to be intentionally disruptive. Why do it? To ignite sustainable change in the staffing industry I love, through forward thinking and new practices. This meant walking our talk so that we could experience the same challenges our clients were living and prove the value of the solutions we ourselves tried before recommending them. One of those solutions was being totally remote from our inception, becoming an early adopter of the trend we saw coming. Although we can’t claim to have substantially moved the needle of an entire industry, we know from our own experience that the increased flexibility many companies are creating in their HR practices, especially remote work options, offers great benefit to both employees and employers.
Companies across industries and sizes consistently report these benefits by going remote:
• Increased productivity
• Decreased overhead
• Better ability to attract top talent
• Reduced turnover
• Higher engagement levels
• Fewer sick days
• Smaller environmental impact
While employees are happier with a virtual option because they:
• Feel more freedom and flexibility for themselves and their families
• Are able to increase their productivity and output
• Feel more valued
• Have a greater sense of overall wellbeing
Trust and Communicate
The decision to become more flexible is an important milestone—and a difficult mind shift for traditional leaders, especially successful ones. Managers trying to effectively oversee remote workers fear loss of control, reduced productivity, and threatened security. More companies are proving every day that the benefits of remote workplace options far outweigh any challenges, which can be easily addressed through practices that build trust and improve communication.
Lack of trust is the biggest barrier to introducing remote work options to your culture. Trying to control remote employees with time sheets, diaries, and updates only undermines trust and motivation. Don’t micromanage. Let employees take responsibility for meeting mutually agreed-upon targets. Set clear expectations and goals, develop action plans, and evaluate their performance based on the results. Why should you care where and how they get the job done? Allowing employees to do it their way is the point. If they think better while walking the dog or doing the laundry, participate in a meeting from a coffee shop, or start work at noon after being up all night with the baby, as long as you get the outcome you want, let them be.
I believe it’s impossible for employees to leave their personal lives at home when they come to work—even though workers were expected to try in years past. Of course, they weren’t successful, they were only hiding their problems. Working remotely enables employees to show themselves as the whole people they are—and allows employers to know them more deeply. There’s no better way to build trust.
With the digital transformation came mobility, and the tools to communicate well. Frequent communication connects remote workers with their teams and counts more than ever. So does transparency. Using whatever technology is appropriate, you can still effectively discuss workloads, job satisfaction, professional development, and personal goals. You can also build relationships and community, participate in meetings, and celebrate successes. Email, text, tweet, chat, and video conference in combination with phone calls and at least one annual face-to-face meeting to create effective overall communications. Being remote doesn’t mean being disconnected from teams or from being part of the company culture.
One of Gallup’s most striking findings is that only 21 percent of employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work. Could companies improve on that statistic by adding the option to work remotely? Emphatically, yes! We’re all different. Let individual productivity and satisfaction be your performance drivers.
Kathleen Quinn Votaw is CEO of TalenTrust. Her first book, Solve the People Puzzle: How High-Growth Companies Attract and Retain Top Talent, debuted in February 2016. Her firm has achieved several awards including recognition from Inc.5000 in 2015 and 2016. She speaks frequently and advises CEOs on trends in talent and how to be strategic in developing a people strategy. Kathleen has served on several nonprofit boards including Colorado Companies to Watch and ACG-Denver. Reach Kathleen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-838-3334.