Work from home father and son.
This week, due to the Coronavirus, Microsoft, Amazon, and Twitter are all encouraging workers to stay home. Globally, there is a renewed emphasis on remote work. Are organizations and employees are prepared to work remotely? In the age of innovation, as a topic of our future of work, we often envision remote work as an idealist scenario where you can achieve the ultimate work-life balance. Realistically, remote work is a conversation that needs to be explored in-depth, practiced over time, and embraced by each individual of an organization. Just like the Coronavirus, in our future of work, remote work can present an opportunity for all of us to think about what it truly means to collaborate and how it can improve our organizations.
“Coronavirus introduces new challenges for businesses who aren’t used to supporting a remote workforce or even doing the majority of their work digitally. One of the most important things is for employees and employers to understand that ‘we’re all in this together, and have shared responsibilities’ to make remote work productive.”
When you dive into remote work statistics, you will find that in countries like the U.S., there’s a 159% increase in people who are working remotely from 2005 to 2017. Remote working jobs are no longer customer service jobs. They are in sectors such as Computer and IT, Medical and Health, Sales, Education as well. According to the APA, there’s also an increase in job satisfaction while working remotely.
With such a strong argument for remote working, why are we not seeing more people working remotely?
In our future workplace, more computer programming, artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, and engineering jobs means that we should anticipate more technology workers to want to work remotely. But, currently, most remote workers have mixed feelings about remote working. Companies also found mixed results in their experimentation of creating teams with more remote working team members. According to Laurel Farrer, President of the Remote Work Association and CEO of Distribute Consulting, there are 6 myths that people have about remote work.
“There are both right and wrong ways to implement remote work. If you’re holding back because you’re only looking at the wrong examples, you are going to miss out on many rewards.”
Are Tools and Software The Key to Remote Work?
Companies are increasingly in the position to offer tools to make remote working possible. The Google suite of tools, Microsoft suite of tools, Slack, Zoom, and Skype are all putting the remote work option in reach for most businesses, even small and medium-sized businesses.
“For millennials, they value salary, flexibility of work schedule and then location. There’s a dog fight for talent amongst employers. Already, employers are finding themselves offering that as a benefit, that flexibility of remote work, set your own work hours and location. Things are already moving in that direction. On top of that, we are in a renaissance of tools that make people effective at working remotely. The necessity of physical proximity has been greatly reduced.”
But, not all software and tools are created equal in this universe of remote working tools. Often, even with the proliferation of software in employee’s desktops, many employees still report disconnection and burnout. Companies are taking a second look at the way that they implement these tools, how they are used, and fine-tune the tools for more effectiveness.
Companies that have successfully transitioned a bulk of their employees to the remote work option generally asked these questions: Are we offering the right tools? How can we do better? Maybe there’s a bigger issue that we are not addressing.
“Technology itself is not the silver bullet. Technology is an enabler. I think an important element that people don’t talk about, is this notion of workers wanting to feel informed. Organizations must give people the confidence, transparency, and information needed to be empowered. Tools alone don’t solve that. When we work with our clients, we look at the question of “Do people understand the context of what it means to work remotely?” Once we have that, then we integrate tools so that they can be effective.”
Business Workflows and Remote Work
In the last 20 years, due to the explosion of information, many industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, finance, etc.. are left with complex business workflows that manage information. These workflows allowed businesses to enforce standards, transparency, regulation and optimize for efficiency. But, at the employee level, most employees relied on means of communication that are often suboptimal and inefficient.
“The challenge is that the average person has not been able to optimize their work to their advantage. The process is often too complex and has required IT at every turn. The time and the cost to deliver it has been too long. So, people have settled for the old way of working.”
When remote work became an option, it highlighted a need for employees to feel informed and connected to the workplace. A flurry of technology such as the Google suite of tools, Microsoft suite of tools on the Cloud enabled employees to collaborate. But, the problem with these tools is that they didn’t optimize employee’s communication or processes. Instead, employees were still stuck in their old workflows, the same ones they used in the office. With each email sent, each report created, the repetitiveness of these workflows can create a feeling of disconnection in their work. Most remote workers feel disconnected not because they don’t have adequate tools or means of communication. Rather, the problem lies in the need to optimize workflows to eliminate inefficiencies. Inefficiencies can lead to employee disengagement.
The Right Tool and What That Means for Employees
To solve this employee disengagement, companies that provide personalized productivity solutions embarked on a mission to get to the root of this problem. Over time, these companies started to understand that fixing the source of employee disengagement by helping them with tools that optimize their workflows ultimately led to employee empowerment.
One of these companies that provides personalized collaborative work management solutions is Smartsheet. Smartsheet is currently used in 84,000 companies in 190 countries. It’s a solution that allows each employee at any level to optimize their workflow.
multiple-device-views on Smartsheet
Photo from Smartsheet
Companies that use Smartsheet report a much better, seamless transition for their employees to remote work options as needed. These companies not only use remote work as an option for business continuity, they also use remote work to retain employees and create innovative organizations.
So, how can a personalized collaborative work management platform be this effective in turning disengaged employees into empowered employees that will proactively seek innovative solutions?
It is designed to be an easy to use platform for any employee to optimize their workflows and share the results of the work with their own team without help from IT or any coding at all. It gives the power back to employees at all levels to “build something when you see something.” It allows employees at all levels to enroll anyone into their creation and share it across the organization.
Due to the frictionless way that employees can share their ideas, creations and optimizations to be used across the organization, collaboration started to mean empowerment instead of disengagement.
“Last year, I flew out to North Carolina to visit an agriculture and biotech company. The business had a policy that you should report safety incidents when you see them. The process around that was you fill out a form and fax it to a number and someone will take action on it. The safety manager in this company saw that and decided to digitize this workflow and optimize it. Once this process was put into place, the number of safety incidents reported increased 5 times. The speed at which safety incidents were addressed increased by 60%. The exciting part of this is that this safety manager did not have to rely on IT to enable that process. All of the time that used to be spent on dealing with manual processing is re-deployed in new innovation.”
Building an Innovative Organization Can Include Remote Work
In our age of innovation, most organizations realize the need to innovate. According to Forbes, innovation is often crucial in being able to stay competitive long term in the marketplace. Innovation doesn’t just mean technology innovation. It can be company culture innovation, process innovation, management innovation, data innovation, and much more.
Companies who have not embraced remote work often have a fear that the innovative organization that they built can not be sustained from having a sizable amount of their workforce working at a remote location. The truth is that building an innovative organization from top-down is a dynamic process.
It often involves people at all levels of the company. But, the fundamental narrative across the board with innovative organizations is the culture. The company culture has to include employees who feel connected to the organization and want to contribute value. In a Gallup research study, job flexibility engages remote workers and drives performance. These employees can become innovative employees. When you build an innovative organization with employees who are empowered by innovative employees, then the organization starts to look like a true innovative organization.
“Very often innovation is viewed at a company as an “inside-out” motion. The inside is the kernel of people who carry titles with ‘strategy’ or ‘innovation lead’. While these roles are very important, the ability to innovate from an “outside-in” standpoint may be even more valuable. How do we get people who experience ‘customer reaction” or people who work in factories to surface and take action on the things that they observe? If you don’t provide the tools for that and enable that, then you have the danger of 1) the signal for innovation not reaching the source 2) the signal being transformed on the way to the source. A signal loss can change the idea entirely and alter the impact of the innovation. Companies that value both “outside-in” and “inside-out” innovation have a distinct advantage.”
Building a Healthy Company Culture Can Include Remote Work
According to Deloitte, employee engagement contributes to a healthy company culture and vice versa. A healthy company culture is one where empathy and inclusivity are values of the organization.
The real value of employee empowerment and engagement in such an organization results in empathy and a healthy company culture. Due to the increased impact of their work through optimization and innovation, employees can feel empowered enough to re-connect with their team, their coworkers and the organization. These empowered workers are excited to help others and to be empathetic to others.
Even working remotely, as long as the right tools are in place to help employees to feel empowered, they will connect with their work in a way that allows greater empathy.
“One of the really pronounced benefits is that when you empower someone who previously thought they were unable to improve, you create an unlock moment for them. The reaction that person has and the change in their confidence level is significantly greater. The great thing about when you convert people who were previously unable to take action is that it makes them feel proud. They feel a greater connection to their work. We read these studies of how people are disconnected from their work. What if you can drive affinity? What if you can drive pride? These people are proud. They are excited. And guess what? They also want to help others feel those same things.”
Remote Work is an Opportunity in our Future of Work
In the age of innovation, when you realize that an innovative, empathetic and inclusive organization is the winning recipe for organizations, then remote work starts to look like a huge opportunity.
Remote work allows companies to enable each employee with the right tools to optimize their day to day processes. Even one day a week out of the office might allow each employee to see their work in a new light. With the right tools, employees can feel engaged and empowered. They can be innovative and empathetic.
If companies are willing to give remote work a try, then the right implementation taking account of employee empowerment is a must. This includes deploying the right tools, establishing the right processes, and integrating inclusivity into the organization.
In turn, companies can be transformed into innovative, empathetic organizations in our future of work.