Update july 2021 : Teleworking is no longer mandatory and many people want to get back to an office.
"Experts" change opinion from what was said early 2020..
This is what I wrote April 2020.
Will teleworking be the new way of working ?
In these days when companies have to implement work-from-home to help battle the Covid-19, many “visionaries” predict that the traditional office-based work will not come back.
Usually their arguments are “better work-life balance”, “open space office don’t work” …
Drawing on my experiences, I’d like to put things a bit in perspective and add some advice and caution.
Personally I like working from home : good coffee, I can work in poloshirt, the temperature is perfect, lots of fresh air, my chair is superb and my IT is as I like it.
What is my experience ?
At Sun Microsystems in Belgium we implemented flexible office in 1996. Insurance companies had to be forced to include homeworking in the policies. I was country manager for the last adaptation.
9 years of regional responsibility, with people in 11 areas … I had to learn to do remote management. Always with “accountability” for the financial results too.
For several years I worked at strategic level for a specialist company in office space management and -out of curiosity- I picked up a few interesting books and learned from their projects.
As part of my coaching I work with several people in different countries to help them to provide leadership in their organisation.
I learned a long time ago that different people need different environments to perform at their best. Not a question of worth, intelligence or competencies… a question of how we are wired.
What have I learned ?
Not-in-office-working (teleworking e.g.) is NOT a matter of technology, it is a matter of strategy. The technology to work remotely or do videoconferencing makes it easier to implement, but it is not a magic wand. Using IT to force people to adopt is setting yourself up for failure. Not utilising IT to support / enable is silly and makes it more difficult than it should.
Noisy big open space offices have never worked and only amateurs will implement it. No professional company will advise you to do it. Cost is always an important part however …
Some people can not arrange their house for good remote work and they are stressed to combine work-kids and blocking the kitchen table until dinner.
Middle managers are the resistance and for understandable reasons : they are instructed to get results (KPIs and usually just financial numbers) and then are asked to let their teams free (NWOW, flat organisation) to have an attractive company. Not an easy position. Kind of in between the hammer and the hard plate.
Young people are not that different… they are more outspoken than us :)
So what to do to make remote working work for your organisation ?
Have a clear vision translated into a clear strategy, so that managers can set correct goals for people to work towards making that vision real. Strategy maps, SMART goals are some of the tools to translate a mission / vision into real objectives. Some of them will be hard $ cause you need to pay the bills (and the shareholders). Get somebody to challenge you !
A mission is what gets you (and the others) excited to get to work. “Being the preferred supplier for our customers” is not a real mission but a poster to put in the restrooms. Find the words that send an electric shock through your spine !
A vision is what achieving the mission looks like for you. When others share that, they can find out how to help you get there. Be willing to adjust your vision as long as the mission is achievable.
When you create workspaces (offices, satellites or even home) take into account the job itself but also the profile of people. Introverts and extraverts have different needs to be effective.
Use a practical profile-assessment that can be used every day so that all can adjust the interactions and the place to work.
Having concentration areas, project spaces, conference areas (to discuss, not to fall asleep) or break-out rooms cater for different needs and may suit different people at different times.
Do take into account that office space is not cheap. If you have to pay rent, adding 20% space costs money… at some point somebody will compare costs versus financial benefits. Be realistic.
Consider using shared spaces close to your employees (e.g. 4 people in same region in an office-room) : gives them social interactions, reduces travel and still is remote working with an office-feeling. And remember : not everybody likes to work with a noise-cancelling headphone all day because “co-working” is THE thing to do.
Develop managers to become leaders who give real objectives (not tasks) linked to the vision and strategy. Give them the opportunity to learn to adapt their style to the needs of people and not the other way around. Just an example Empathy is a buzz-word : it means different things to different people. “Accountability” is very vague. Enable them to work with ambiguity whilst providing coherence and stability to their teams.
As a CEO : what can you do ?
Build a vision across all departments. Communicate in clear words that people can understand.
Share your values : they are the boundaries.
You now have given a compass.
Build a true leadership team. Dare to question yourself. Get of the pedestal (your team will put you back if you deserve it).
You now have others working with you.
Make an organisation and a workspace that allows this leadership and “shared ownership” (sorry for the buzz-word).
Use IT to support and enable, not to dictate or drive.
Take a deep breath of air.