In this week’s post, I wanted to address a topic that our cousins across the Atlantic have pretty well put to bed, but in Europe and Asia, remains a tricky and sensitive subject: remote working. Wherever you chose to work right now, at some point in the near future, ALL roles and tasks delivered by human beings will be doable remotely. So why do so many companies and their bosses still struggle so much with the concept? And what does it suggest about their attitude and trust level of their workforce?
My first role where I was able to work from home was actually very early in my career. Working in a global call centre, there were times when a customer would call in (for example, a Russian speaker), and there would not be a Russian speaker available in the office. The old (but very costly) solution was to call AT&T language line – they would find a native speaker to act as translator 24/7 – but charged a very premium rate as a result. So where there were native speakers (French, Spanish, German, Russian) who were not on shift, a plan was agreed to call the individual at home, paying an on-call charge plus per event fee so the remote colleague could translate live. Not only was this much cheaper than AT&T service, but as the colleague understood internal process and procedure, it was quicker for the customer. Win – win all round!
Fast forward 20+ years and I feel a sense of despair to read in SaaS business job descriptions “option to work remotely up to one week per year” or “occasional working from home permitted” listed as a perk!! The dramatic shift away from being tied to your desk by paperwork, landline phones and bulky computers has removed the need for physical colocation. With spiralling costs of rent and other overheads of running an office in many cities, together with progress in remote security and data control, one might assume that more business are looking to embrace remote and home-based working as a progressive and creative way to expand their workforce and engage those already within the business.
And yet, despite the ever-dwindling number of managers who have never worked with remote / international teams, bosses still believe that it’s better to have all their team m working in a single location. For the most part, the “reasons” fall under the following:
Trust: “if I can’t see you, I don’t know what you are doing” – The bad boss assumes that their teams cannot be trusted to deliver their job unless they are physical within the boss’s line of sight. Treating your most important asset as if they are untrustworthy, unreliable or even like children is a very poor reflection on a business culture. This is a shameful and dated attitude displayed by weak and controlling managers!
Competence: “if I can’t see you, I don’t know if you are doing it properly” – Remote or home working from the get-go requires a particularly robust mindset and business structure, so may not suit all businesses. However, increasing flexibility as a new employee demonstrates their ability to deliver their job feels like a no-brainer. A good boss will have a clear view on an individual’s understanding of their role, and managing knowledge and skills transfer does not necessarily need to be done face to face.
Teamwork: “if I can’t see you, I can’t build a relationship with you” – My generation is still not 100% there yet when it comes to remote video conferencing, often still preferring a phone call instead. But millennials are more than happy to show their faces, and share their emotions on video calls. This is important for remote and home workers, because seeing each other’s faces fills the gap for meeting in person. We should also follow our younger employees lead in leveraging technology to support the growth of teamwork and team spirit.
Security: “if I can’t see you, I can’t check that everything is safe and secure” – Whether the security concerns are related to legal and regulatory compliance, or physical security of work data and devices, all these issues have long ago been fixed when business successfully outsourced work to third parties. Both onshore and offshore work has been transitioned to other companies to handle, so it has been in the third parties interests to ensure compliance and security at every level and stage to maintain the ability to supply the service. If another company can (remotely) do a task for you, then your own employee can do that same tasks from home with little or no extra effort!
Beyond the savings made by a business, remote and homework offers many benefits to the business through a happier and more engaged workforce – flexibility, lack of need to travel, ability to accommodate personal and family commitments, and even allow those with certain medical challenges the ability to take up roles they might not have done.
Whilst some business may have had their fingers’ burned in the past with remote offices, remote workers or flexible working, perseverance and confidence in ability is key. The USA has successfully proven just how well this can work, so time for those of us in Europe, Asia, or wherever we are based to catch up and embrace this modern way of working fully.