June 17, 2020
The first place most organizations will go for answers to the remote work dilemma is into the arms of technology vendors. They will make the assumption that a new tool, or the enhancement of a current one will be the key to maintaining a productive workforce despite the continued existence of physical distance. After all, Zoom (arguably the most infamous beneficiary of the pandemic) went from 10 million daily users in December 2019 to more than 300 million in April 2020. In reality, there are sequential steps to take well before any new technology is introduced to the equation.
The culture question
The first step is more introspective, as organizations would benefit from a candid evaluation of their culture that may or may not be a strong foundation for a remote work environment. A dispersed workforce presents unique challenges that will quickly test the foundation of trust between employee and employer. Ryan Malone, founder of digital marketing agency SmartBugMedia finds this counterintuitive. "You've invested all of this time in vetting them," says Malone. "Why would you now say I don't trust you, because I'm not staring at you?” Would your organization be able to quickly adapt to this new degree of independence and autonomy, or would there be a temptation to revert to surveillance tactics to validate effort?
Will anyone be in the office
Mark Zuckerberg (CEO of Facebook) recently suggested that as much as half of his workforce could be working remotely in the next decade. But some roles truly require the dexterity and diplomacy that can only occur in person. In fact, a recent study by the University of Chicago suggests that two-thirds of all jobs cannot be done remotely. Marissa Mayer made headlines early in her tenure as CEO at Yahoo when she demanded that employees come into the office in order to facilitate those impromptu hallway discussions that can lead to improved connections and occasional innovations. So before we all rush home to set up shop, some additional discussion may be warranted.