In the August 6 Chicago Tribune, the lead story in the Business section was how there are pros and cons to having employees work remotely. This hardly seems like ground-breaking journalism, but there were some excellent points made in the article that tend to get lost in the binary, either-or discussions that usually take place around the topic.

  • Recent headlines make it sound as though IBM, Yahoo and other companies have decided having people work from home or other locations simply doesn’t work at all and have decided to have people work from approved locations. In fact, in the case of IBM, it was about 2% of the workforce that was impacted by the decision. Some people need to work together physically, others are just fine collaborating through the ether. Beware of blanket statements.
  • Flexible working arrangements go far beyond just “does work get done or doesn’t it?” There are long-term impacts on employee engagement, loyalty and turnover. It’s also clear that the decision whether or not to allow remote working shouldn’t be entered into lightly, since once an employee experiences it, the majority will not willingly go back to working in the office, at least full-time.
  • Companies like Basecamp, who operate virtually, and have since their inception, tend to trumpet all the reasons it works so well: the ability to hire the best people regardless of location, engaged workers, and no loss of productivity. Even though Basecamps CEO, Josh Fried is a renowned advocate of working remotely—even published books on it—it’s important to remember that he’s not exactly letting people wander around in the wilderness. They do extensive interviewing and training to ensure that people fit with the way the company works, and they pay for everyone to convene in Chicago twice a year.
  • Everyone interviewed is clear about the things necessary to make remote working successful:
    • Clearly spelled out (and agreed upon) deliverables
    • Processes that allow for both scheduled and impromptu communication
    • Periodic assessments of, and changes to, systems as necessary

Deciding where and how people will work best is not simple, but it’s also not all that mysterious. It does, though, take a thoughtful approach to both the work that needs to be done, and how to get the best from the people doing it.

Are your people ready and willing to work from home?

Are your leaders prepared for the changing team dynamics that inevitably follow such a shift?

Do you have the technology and systems in place to ensure collaboration and healthy team dynamics?

How do you know?

This fall, we are releasing a free assessment tool to help you honestly assess your team’s current communication effectiveness, identify gaps that may be impacting team performance and areas to areas to enhance productivity and effectiveness. If you’d like a copy of this free assessment, contact us here and we’ll send it over just as soon as it’s ready.

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