Learnings From Our Mass Experiment in Remote Work

Great talent lives all over—not just commuting distance from a company’s headquarters. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many teams knew that flexible working policies can be important factors in recruiting and retaining top teammates. Hybrid-distributed teams—where some members are remote—were increasingly common. Now, every member of a team who can work from home is working from home. 

Altogether, separately, has been a great equalizer in the workforce.

This rapid and complete shift to remote work has bred intentional connectivity and empathy among employees. From work-at-home veterans to first-timers, we’re all on a level playing field, working and tuning in virtually from separate locations. This experience has been a great equalizer among previously hybrid-distributed teams. Office workers might previously have enjoyed greater one-on-one time with managers than their remote counterparts, just by their presence in the same building as supervisors. 

With these differences eliminated, office workers have greater insight into the challenges to working from home, increasing empathy and understanding for those who remain remote when we ultimately return to physical workspaces. 

Remote working means more intentionality.

Remote work also breeds a sense of intentionality. Water cooler conversation and brainstorms don’t occur by happenstance, so teammates must be intentional about creating moments to connect with coworkers. As physical walls dissolve, however, so do intangible office boundaries. Teammates can bring this same sense of intentionality to re-creating the boundaries that occur naturally in an office space. 

Each morning, my team gathers to share and collaborate on the day’s events, and now these moments have become even more important for us. We’ve intentionally created some casual connection time at the start before we talk about business, and we’ve added a little more formality to facilitate an opportunity for everyone to talk about their most important topics. I’ve also found increased value in reaching out to other teammates for open conversations about whatever is top-of-mind at that moment, providing connectivity that used to happen naturally in the hallway.

This shift to working from home also demands growth from leaders within an organization. Supervisors can no longer rely on someone’s physical presence at their desk or in a meeting to determine whether they’re engaged, and relentless micromanagement becomes even more intrusive in a remote work setting. Leaders can embrace this opportunity to rely less on direct supervision of specific tasks, and instead use outcome-based goals that encourage employees to think about the impacts their work will have, while adapting how they accomplish their work. While this shift may push managers outside of their comfort zones, it can unlock creativity and innovation that is more satisfying to your employees and more valuable to your customers and company. 

Accessibility is critical to remote productivity. 

It is critical, especially in a remote setting, that employees have access to the right tools to do their jobs effectively. Even subtle things, like the capabilities of a video chat software, can have big impacts on the individuals using them. The cost of using the right tools isn’t just about upfront savings—leaders should pay close attention to any additional friction as a result of using less-than-ideal tools, which could ultimately cost more in the long run. 

As our transformation services team has shifted to more virtual teaching, mentoring and coaching, one of the main gaps that we found was being able to visually illustrate and connect on the fly. What used to be frictionless with whiteboards and sticky notes was central to our valuable interactions. We landed on a virtual whiteboard tool with a simple interface and minimal ramp-up for new users, and it’s been a game-changer for us. Much to my surprise, this has often been a great replacement for the whiteboard, and in some cases, the interactions have been more valuable than they were in person.

While this grand remote work experiment will eventually end for many of us, hybrid-distributed environments are likely here to stay. The pandemic has forced us to reorient the way we think about remote work – we’ve broken the belief that it can’t be done effectively. We’re discovering many things we’re doing remotely are of the same caliber as doing them in person.

Though under less-than-ideal circumstances, the mass shift to remote work brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has provided great learnings. Remote work can be effective. Providing employees with more flexibility, allowing them to choose the way they work best, often produces higher job satisfaction with better results. Leaders and employees should carry these learnings with them, even as some of us begin to return to physical office spaces and others adapt to permanent work life at home. Remember to be intentional with your time and empathetic to the different challenges that remote workers face. 

Mark Wavle is the national lead for Agile Enablement Services on Insight Enterprises’ Digital Innovation team. He has more than 10 years of Agile experience as a practitioner, Professional Scrum Trainer, Scrum Master and Agile Coach and has worked in a variety of industries, including healthcare, marketing, insurance and retail.

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