How To Create A ‘Remote Work’ Strategy For Your Office

I’d like to start this article by introducing you to a friend of mine, Gracie, the founder. 

Gracie listened to all the podcasts, read all the blogs, and followed all of the conversations around remote work.

She was well aware of the benefits of remote work, but struggled to make the leap. After all, she knew how to do collocated work and feared that, if she switched, she would loose traction and put her company at risk. In her mind, it was all or nothing.

It wasn’t until one day, a soon-to-be mother who managed the customer support team, asked our founder if she could come back to work after she had the baby, but work from home. Gracie then came to the realization that remote work did not have to be a dramatic shift if they were not ready for it.

In our last article, we discussed the reasons why you might consider setting up a remote, or distributed, workforce. In this article, we’ll explore how to go from thinking it’s a great idea to having a plan in place to make it happen. We want to understand the various configurations of utilizing remote workers and then understand what the indicators are for being ready to put the strategy into motion.

3 Remote Work Configurations

First, let’s consider the various forms a remote work force can take. Also, keep in mind, when we refer to remote workers, this includes both location-independent employees and freelancers/contractors who don’t regularly work within your company’s office space. That said, here are three forms having a remote workforce can take.

  1. Fully Distributed – there is no office or central dedicated space for employees and/or contracted workers to work from.
  2. Flexible Hubs – a space (or spaces) is allocated for employees and/or contracted workers to work from, but it’s not required that they do.
  3. Blended – there is a central office in which employees and/or contracted workers can work from. In some cases, certain employees might be expected to work from the office some, if not all, of the time. In other cases, employees who prefer to have dedicated space to do their work might utilize the office space (because, many people really do prefer having an office to work from).

There are great examples of companies that have had great success with each of these forms. Famously, Automattic—the company behind Word Press—is a fully distributed company with over 900 employees working from nearly 70 countries. Basecamp, the massively popular platform used by distributed and co-located teams alike, has a head office in Chicago that no-one is expected to use. Lastly, Amazon continues to grow its remote workforce in areas such as AWS (Amazon Web Services).

3 Indicators Your Ready to Embrace Remote Work

While it’s true that going ‘remote’ isn’t quite as scary, or complicated as one might think, there are some things that are really important to have in place before you set your team free from the office. In the ‘Extra Resources’ section, you’ll find a complete list of questions to ask, but here are the top three questions we believe you need to be able to answer for the benefit of your business and your team.

  1. Are there high level of technology support in place?
  2. Is the organization set up to utilize appropriate virtual communication tools? (i.e. Slack, Google Docs, Zoom, Sococco, Virtual Office.)
  3. Has the organization developed a meaningful way to talk about progress and performance relevant to specific contexts? (Do not mistake presence for progress)

Being able to communicate effectively is key to making a distributed team effective. Part of that communication needs to be in setting expectations and providing 360 degrees of feedback. Without these things in place, distributed teams become toxic and stagnation or failure become inevitable.

What’s the Best Fit?

So how do you choose? We are going to make the assumption that you’ve gone through and have already decided that your business will work as an either partially or fully distributed company. Here are three questions that will help you decide the form of remote work your company could take.

  1. Is location important to my product? – If location is important, than having an office—even if you don’t expect people to use it 100% of the time—can be a really strong asset. Some companies are routed to a geographical region or culture, and having a physical anchor acts as a reminder of your customers.
  2. Are there any functions within my company in which ‘remote’ poses significant and unnecessary risk? There are some job functions that demand a level of accountability and/or oversight that can’t easily be achieved with a remote worker. For example, if you’re running a moderation team responsible for reviewing potential private postings from children, it will be important that there’s accountability, both for the integrity of the team and the safety of the child. It may be that there is a way to do something remote, but the effort of setting it up may prove to be more effort than it’s worth.
  3. How might my operations budget best be spent? – We want to be clear on this, do not consider a remote workforce as a cost-savings strategy! If you save money on office space, use that money to invest in the individual office space of your remote workers. If the work your team is doing could benefit from being remote but also from getting together once a quarter for a week of togetherness, then make that a financial priority and take the leap.

Once you have decided which form of remote work to apply to your company, or at least feel ready to try, the next step is understanding the sort of people you need. We’re quite conditioned to hire people who thrive in a co-located work space, but, when we add the dimension of remote work, we also need to consider a person’s ability to perform the necessary work PLUS their ability to do so in a distributed manner. We will dig more into that in the next article.

Extra Resources:

Baseline Questions to Ask Before Going ‘Remote’:

  • Have we considered how often specific roles need to physically be in the office?
  • Are there high level of technology support in place?
  • Is the organization set up to utilize appropriate virtual communication tools? (i.e. Slack, Google Docs, Zoom, Sococco, Virtual Office.)
  • Is there a communication protocol in place?
  • Are there appropriate security protocols in place?
  • Are supports and guidelines in place for setting up a home office?
  • What on-boarding process is in place that includes discussion regarding ‘common’ office hours, or available hours for meetings?
  • Is the practice of servant leadership encouraged at all levels of the organization?
  • Has the organization developed a meaningful way to talk about progress and performance relevant to specific contexts? (Do not mistake presence for progress)

Read More of Roberta and Nathan’s Work

 


 

Roberta Sawatzky is a business professor and consultant, with 30+ years experience creating environments where individuals and teams can perform to the best of their abilities. Her current research is directed towards remote workers and how they can best be supported. Nathan J. Sawatzky is a researcher & business culture consultant with a particular interest in technology and its impact on society. Past experience includes Disney, Two Hat Security, and Facebook.

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