Many of us – in business, government, education, and non-profit organizations – have gotten a crash course in working remotely the past few months. Remote work comes in a variety of styles:
- Fully or mostly remote workers – “virtual company”
- Mixed – some remote workers, some in the office. Whether remote may be determined by function or functions can be mixed.
- Hybrid – workers come to the office 1-3 days a week or one or two weeks a month.
Since March I have worked in a virtual university, as all classes, recruitment efforts, and internal or external meetings have been online. Friends and relatives of mine have also experienced the mixed and hybrid version of remote work.
Despite well-publicized examples of firms that tried and backed away from remote work (e.g. Yahoo and IBM), we have all heard for years about the benefits of remote working for an organization:
- Higher morale for some employees and an attraction for some candidates,
- Drawing talent from a larger geographical area,
- Reduced commutes giving employees time back and companies “green” credit, and
- Savings on office space in high-rent cities.
In some cities, such as San Francisco, Seattle, NYC, Boston, Chicago, etc., the savings from reducing the usage of high rent commercial real estate and the escape from a crushing commute are apparent. In smaller, more affordable locales the cost and commute savings may not be as significant as the ability to draw talent from a larger geographical area.
From my own experience and other’s comments, it seems that many of us have learned:
- More about the sharing tools: Slack, Teams, Zoom, Hangouts, Docs, etc.
- The importance of a dedicated workspace at home,
- That some employees enjoy and thrive doing remote work…but some not-so-much,
- The difficulty of managing as usual, and, of course,
- To put cool backgrounds in Zoom, Skype or Teams, so we look like we are at the beach.
Some personal takeaways from my sudden move online for teaching and graduate school recruiting:
- Humility. I think everyone finds it humbling to watch themselves lecture on video.
- Staying personal. My students said that they liked my class better than most after Spring Break. When I asked why, they stressed the week synchronous session with the class, and two scheduled some sessions, one individual and one small group.
- Variety. I learned to mix short recorded lectures, synchronous sessions, guest talks, and reading / discussion boards.
- Online does not save time – especially if you are trying to stay personal.
- High learning costs upfront. I pray they are one-time investments!
- Remote can be effective – if everyone is committed to making it work.
I am curious to hear from you about your crash course and what you learned from going remote in you organization and industry:
- What were the “biggest pain points” from the experiment in remote for you personally and your organization?
- What seems promising about remote work going forward in a “normal” world?
- What are the deficiencies of the remote integration tools you used?
- What is the perceived benefit for drawing from a larger area vs. easier job switching?
I would urge all of you to take a moment and fill out a short survey about your crash course in remote working!
The results will be used in a local panel discussion for entrepreneurs and will be summarized in an upcoming blog post. (The survey is estimated to take 4 minutes…)
For me it was not a crash course as I have been working that way for years now. I found the discussions now very interesting because of the focus on video, chat, Slack etc – the focus on synchronous communications. I believe the key to satisfying remote work is that you can work more asynchronously (without interruptions): Sending documents, crafting thoughtful, delayed responses, and having less – but much better planned – (online) meetings.
What I learned:
– Video calls drain battery!!!
– It is soooo easy to slip into “Multitasking” mode, and get distracted by your inbox, while on a call.
– Skye for Business doesn’t work on all laptops. And you can’t mix Skype for Business and regular Skype users in the same call.
– Older colleagues are not, necessarily, the most technically challenged.
– Pain attention to what / who is behind you.
– Students see online as inferior offer, even though it takes so much more time and energy for us to prepare and run a session.
My employer adopted a “no-emails and no-meetings on Friday” policy which is really, really good. I hope that we can keep this when we are no longer in lockdown (I am in the UK).
When you say, let’s meet at x, specify “where” – eg., Skype, Skype for business, WhatsApp, Microsoft teams…
Something else that I learned: remote working shifted the costs (internet, electricity, getting a new laptop, camera, …) and emotional labour of making things work to employees. At least, in some institutions.
Thanks for your thoughtful reflections. I have done a couple blog posts and a panel presentation, but don’t see a paper from this. But it is interesting to me!
Good point – asynchronous should be a big help to productivity and globalization. But in talking with managers and people new to remote work they stress communication and culture building that they believe can only be built with synchronous interaction, preferably face-to-face.