Before the COVID-19 crisis, The current economic situation has therefore forced companies to set up remote work without prior preparation and without concrete training for the technologies used or for management and remote collaboration
Any crisis situation represents an opportunity for a rapid evolution of previous inertia because it forces the urgent adoption of new behaviours.
However, remote work is only the tip of the iceberg. There is a much deeper issue at stake, which concerns the working model and modalities. These must be more transparent, oriented towards achieving clear objectives, and face a management less centred on micro-management and more oriented towards a climate of trust and empathy.
Consequently, facing these logistical constraints, cultural and organisational changes are being implemented, which allow developments that might have seemed risky or premature under normal circumstances. Organisations that successfully meet these technical and cultural challenges, demonstrating a significant capacity to adapt while anticipating the potential long-term benefits, will be able to ensure their business sustainability and have a unique opportunity to gain long-term competitive advantages by implementing more flexible cultural models.
4 reasons why remote work provides long-term benefits
It improves the workers’ quality of life and stimulates teamwork.
Remote work often comes with a reduced number of journeys. This implies potential savings by eliminating transport costs. On top of this comes savings in time devoted to travel, which in turn results in more time for personal life and therefore an improvement in work-life balance. Finally, offering the chance to work from home (or from a nearby location) to a certain extent (up to two days a week, for example) reduces the stress level induced by the fact that some people find it difficult to combine personal and professional schedules.
It increases productivity and reduces fixed costs.
It is necessary to understand that measuring productivity in terms of time spent in the office is a largely out-dated concept. Presenteeism shows its limits when it comes to coordinating teams remotely, particularly through management based on negotiated objectives. Thus, being able to work remotely reflects the upheavals in today’s society in the digital revolution and impacts the way we consider work. This practice, because of its benefits on the quality of life of workers, makes it possible to empower teams, to make them more autonomous, and able to take decisions. This practice, thanks to its benefits on the workers’ quality of life, makes it possible to empower teams, to make them more autonomous, by entrusting them with a certain part of decision-making. Thanks to these elements, employee motivation increases, except in exceptional situations such as the one we are currently experiencing (to ensure this motivation, social links between employees are essential, especially when there is continuous isolation). As a result, these factors can improve team productivity by more than 13%, according to a study conducted by Stanford University researchers in 2017.
It helps to improve mobility in towns and cities and reduces pollution levels.
In Spain, according to 2006 Movilia survey data from the Ministry of Development, 30% of all trips in Spain were work-related. This percentage even reaches 40% in large metropolitan areas. Thanks to remote working, overall CO2 emissions related to private cars – around 16% in Spain – would be considerably reduced. But not only that; if you could work from any location and have flexible working hours, you would be able to travel outside of peak times, saving time and having peace of mind. Similarly, it would be easier to work at times better suited to clients, partners and colleagues, or to choose means of transport according to convictions or resolutions (e.g., cycling outside peak traffic hours or when the weather is calm).
It encourages the use of new technologies
With which employees are becoming familiar and are beginning to understand the implications benefits of sharing methods. The technological transition is thus accelerated, and current circumstances may make it possible to develop new technological tools.
In other words, remote work leads to significant gains in productivity, efficiency, flexibility and improves employees’ quality of life – a factor influencing their motivation to work – if it is well structured and adapted to the needs of collaboration, organisation, commitment, autonomy and responsibility.
However, to achieve such results, it is necessary to fulfill certain requirements.
5 requirements for successful remote working
Trust and maturity
when a relationship of mistrust prevails, a relationship based on authority and control, abuses, excessive supervision, or “sabotage” practices where one pretends to be busy while making the minimum effort are practices that appear and can even become widespread. Creativity and innovation are then strongly limited due to employees’ non-involvement: briefly, if I do my part as requested, there is no need to worry about something else. Creating a more inclusive working model, based on self-management and trust in everyone’s responsibility, allows employees to adjust themselves to the professional issues, to commit themselves to their peers and to the expected results. More autonomous and free to manage their time, teams release a certain amount of flexibility providing more propositions. They are led to improve their working methods and aim to create a culture of maturity that encourages innovation as a factor of excellence.
Planning and organisation
what happens when a member or part of my team is not free? It becomes obvious to anticipate and plan when you are uncertain about the employees’ free time. This is why it is fundamental to prepare oneself so that teams are more preventive, and their agenda is structured and shared. Planning is an exercise that can be complex due to differences in peoples’ activities. However, this can be improved with time and experience: one plans, then adapts and adjusts according to the rules and exceptions. The intention is thus to anticipate the different situations that may arise in order to internalise and manage them so that they do not compromise the initial objective. Everyone’s activities can be self-organised, but the times for collaboration and communication need to be established in a clear and consensual manner, for example through “core working hours”, i.e. time slots during which everyone must be available for meetings or individual calls. However, consensus must take priority, considering the individual circumstances especially in situations such as generalised confinement.
One of the effects of remote work that needs to be taken into account, and to be minimised as much as possible, is the potential isolation of professionals from the rest of the organisation. Most of the information spread in an organisation is informal in nature: it takes place in the cafeteria, canteen, photocopier, during breaks, at the exit of meetings, in corridors, lifts, etc. These places of interaction and socialisation are constant sources of information for employees who can resolve doubts, clarify instructions, understand a context or some results in another way. For this reason, it is necessary to provide employees with all possible means to guarantee a culture of continuous communication. While formal communication is most effective when it is transparent and clear throughout the organisation, it is essential to provide time and means for informal collaboration within and between teams.
Implementing an offshore mode of work without a culture focused on defining and negotiating objectives with team members is risky. A culture based on expected results and not on the hours spent on a given task is much more appropriate and facilitates the work of both management and staff, sharing a common vision and making everyone accountable. To achieve this, it is essential to provide timely and regular feedback. By planning and defining individual and collective objectives in a coordinated manner, professionals benefit from a certain degree of autonomy. They can adapt more easily to the challenges of their work, warn when deadlines need to be redefined, request the necessary help in time, and finally commit themselves more diligently.
Functional technological tools
with regard to technological needs, a basic kit is essential for remote work. Many professionals already have the necessary tools, such as computers and mobile phones. However, external connection must be guaranteed for most of the software used. For example, it is necessary to guarantee access to the information stored in the cloud so that everyone can consult files without the risk of information being lost. In addition, it should be possible to work on a document online with several people at the same time in order to move forward in a coordinated manner without having to wait for a colleague to finish his or her share. Finally, the technical software associated with each job as well as the collaboration software allows for coordinated teamwork. It is thus fundamental that employees are perfectly capable of using these tools in order to avoid any risk of confusion, stress linked to the misunderstanding of their use by being separated from their peers, or simply to avoid that a lack of communication prevents the good advancement of the activities to be carried out. To do this, promoting the technological training of professionals beforehand, or if necessary, during a period of remote work, makes it possible to guarantee standardised use and an understanding of the good practices that will ensure a high standard of work.
Therefore, cultural aspects seem to be the most critical issues for successful remote work or flexible ways of working.
An organisation that needs to develop or keep on working by relocating its teams should therefore start to analyse objectively and rigorously these five fundamental principles: management based on trust, coordinated planning of the activities and time for formal and informal meetings, communicating transversally while ensuring maximum transparency, organisation and evaluation of work based on negotiated objectives and employee empowerment, and finally, the most important element, making sure that all employees have the hardware and software tools to carry out their activities.
The crisis we are going through and the changes it generates within organisations can lead to profound changes in the ways of working, both in terms of individual productivity, organisational and cultural changes. They can permanently transform ways of thinking, collaborating, evaluating, negotiating and coordinating activities, while increasing the commitment of each employee to common goals. Productivity measured by the hourly attendance rate, by which employees’ tasks are constantly monitored, will thus become obsolete and evolve towards a more flexible model, where a culture based on trust and oriented towards results prevails. In the near future, organisations able to implement a model that respects the fundamental principles of success in managing remote teams will be able to benefit from an increase in their performance and ability to adapt to future changes.
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