The buzz around the words “remote work” has become a lot more prominent after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our previous understandings of “normal.” The world has however been moving towards remote work for already some time. Are business leaders ready to rise to the occasion and leverage this challenge?
The strong social momentum for working outside your home has its roots in the industrial revolution. The 1900s saw the beginning of the rise for what we now know as the “9-to-5, modern office routine.” Nonetheless, ever since the dawn of the first personal computers and the development of greater connectivity, we have slowly been moving in the opposite direction.
Previously, the trend has perhaps been slowed down by the concerns for employee productivity and negative impact on company culture. Indeed, even with the brief “return to the office” that many countries experienced/are experiencing, the same concerns saw daylight yet again. But what we witnessed in March, is still seen as the tipping point in the remote work trend. Hundreds of millions of people were sent home to work in the matter of a few days and weeks – with no long-term preparation nor transition period.
Although we are now seeing attempts of a slow return to the office, followed by a retreat back home, for many business leaders around the world, the past six months have opened their eyes to a new world of work.
Overcoming the Real Obstacle of Remote Work
The struggles around remote work are manifold. As with many things, so are its benefits. Let’s start with the first. The number of self-help articles on “Tips for working from home” represent how often these struggles are expressed as personal ones – ranging from motivation to the creation of personal routines. It is true that with such a transition, personal struggles and adjustments will definitely play a big role.
Nonetheless, when it comes specifically to remote work and its impact on the company, we should actually start from the company perspective. If employees are struggling to get their work done effectively, if team productivity is taking a hit or if “company culture” is seemingly no longer existent – the problem is that the company has not yet become a mature remote business.
The idea that your company can progress as a remote business illustrates that after overcoming the initial struggles, you can seize a whole new world of opportunity. This brings us to the benefits. Becoming a company that acknowledges the value of remote work illustrates a degree of flexibility that is crucial in surviving the unpredictable turns that the modern world presents. Even outside times of crisis, we are operating in an extremely fast-changing environment. Being ready to accommodate different employee needs and changing circumstances, adds to the success of a modern business.
Assessing Your Remote Business Maturity
So, how do we go about increasing remote business maturity? This can be operationalised in the Remote Business Design model, which illustrates how businesses evolve.
This model helps assess a company’s stage of remote readiness. It also provides a basis for your business to progress through the five levels from physical manifestation to a virtual organisation, outperforming traditional businesses. The further your business goes on the remote maturity stages, the more important cybercapacity – comprising cybersecurity and privacy – becomes.
Depending on the digital maturity and available resources many vacancies, which have traditionally required a physical presence, are also innovating. It appears that in the future, physiotherapists can, for example, benefit from physiorobots for the initial mobilisation of patients. Or hotel check-in staff can benefit from self-check-in or even welcoming robotic creatures to replace their physical presence. The world is indeed changing, but for now, our focus remains mainly on the companies, for which going fully remote is already a possibility.
Stage 1 – Ignore: The starting level is where many companies were situated before March – business leaders were resistant to remote trends due to a lack of trust and digital capacity. Hence, there was little to no deliberate effort to go remote. This stage is characterised by working structures, where work happens on company equipment, in company space, on company time. Employees do not have remote-friendly tools at their disposal and may have to use clunky IT-systems to access basic work resources like email or their daily calendar.
Stage 2 – Unfreeze: The second stage could be described in terms of the events following the initial shift to remote in March. Companies accepted that work is going to happen at home for the foreseeable future, yet denied that this means deeper structural changes. With hopes and attention on the end of this pandemic, many companies chose to simply replicate their office flow in a “remote” setting, mostly leading to fatigue and poor results. Adoption of tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams was carried out, but everything remained synchronous. Everyone had to be virtually present during all traditional “work hours” and employees’ working days were often full of interruptions.
Stage 3 – Experiment: Fortunately, some companies also found themselves progressing to further stages. This can be described by the recognition that their current state is an unproductive replication of the physical environment and that effort should be put into better adjusting to the new circumstances. This requires making actual changes, which can nonetheless, at this stage, be described as random and fragmented. Business leaders may start to invest in better equipment — from a good chair to solid audio gear — and may try to create more robust asynchronous processes in order to replace meetings.
Stage 4 – Align: When the beneficial results of those early investments start to appear, this is when the company progresses to stage four – the sweet spot. This can be described by processes going mostly asynchronous, giving everyone the space they need to produce their best work. Leaders evaluate people’s productivity by what they produce, not how or when this is done. Trust emerges as the glue that holds the entire operation together. Leaders begin shifting to better and more deliberate decision-making, and they empower everyone to weigh in on major conversations.
This stage is a crucial one. It is at this point that the transition from stage one to increasingly more advanced stages starts bearing the most fruit. It can be characterised by:
- An increase in team members’ retention
- Investment in effective and needs-based online training and coaching
- Remote working setups become superior to any office location
- Real-time meetings present an opportunity for team quality time and are therefore respected and taken seriously
- Meetings have clear agendas and pre-work or post-work
- Differences in time zones are being managed with ease
All in all, this is when the truly diverse team feels included and valued.
Stage 5 – Actualise & Maintain Momentum: The last stage represents the vision for your organisational culture, which is to remain in continuous definition and redefinition processes. Stage five is when your company consistently performs better than any in-person business could by being effortlessly effective. It’s when everyone in the company has time for wellness and mental health and when everyone brings their best selves and highest levels of creativity to do the most valuable work of their careers.
As mentioned above, at this stage of maturity, cybercapacity is the most important out of all other stages. Only with a strong foundation of tightly secured processes is your business able to thrive with remote work.
On top of that, we must recognise that this process requires continuous renewal. If we accept that the world in which we operate is in a continuous state of transformation, we should also accept that once we reach a certain stage, there will be new circumstances which will require us to adapt again.
Organisation Development Through Going Remote
When you progress through the five stages of becoming a truly virtual organisation, you begin to perform better than any in-person company. In our constantly changing world, this is a genuine opportunity. This stage of success is reached when your business processes are fully digitalised, the cybercapacity of your team is fluent and collaboration takes place with ease.
The overarching valuable impact of reaching the final stage is not only remote work focused. It also means that as a leader, you have created the conditions, in which everyone in your company has time for themselves – their wellness and mental health as well as their personal life outside of work. Even when things “return to normal,” the effects of building up a remote business will carry on into any other circumstances. This is because at its core, remote work is about flexibility and leveraging the tools we have at our disposal.
Maybe some people prefer to get some office time for various reasons and prefer a “return” once that is possible again. But given the flexibility of your business design, this means that the needs of every single person in your team are considered. Inclusion in such form can only be of benefit for your business. When your people are able to bring their highest levels of creativity and presence to deliver their best work, they delight your clients and help grow your business.
As an entrepreneur, you will repeatedly experience times of crises. Unlocking a remote work culture, which is tightly based on a strong cybercapacity and reflected in your brand communication is vital for business continuity in times of disruption.
Get in touch to further explore how this applies to your business specifically: