As a consultant, I have been working remotely for over five years. My day does not always consist of waking up at 7am to be at my computer for 8am. Sometimes I volunteer at my children’s school and sometimes I wander IKEA for an hour when I only needed one item. I almost always drop my kids off at school and am there to pick them up and I also often turn my computer back on after they go to bed. I am in control of my time and responsible to my clients to deliver the product and/or service that they have purchased. Some weeks I work 20 hours and some weeks I work 60 hours, either way I deliver on the scope that I sold to my clients.
So why does the rest of the corporate world have to work any differently? Before I went out on my own to build a consulting firm, I worked in Oil and Gas and over the span of 8 years, worked for two international energy firms, arguably two of the largest energy firms in the world. My job was in stakeholder relations and corporate social responsibility. Neither of which required me to be sitting in an office next to anyone, but rather out in the community or working on applications, business development or community investment initiatives. Yet, the requirement was that I sit in an office in downtown Calgary for eight hours a day. When budgets were cut, my travel to the communities in which I was supposed to be engaging was cut. Yes, there were meetings that were valuable that I had with various teams within the organization, but these could have been done over video calls or scheduled for a day when I would be in the office. For a period of two years, I had one boss that was flexible and allowed his staff to work from home occasionally. No one took advantage of this, but it allowed some of us to be more present for family things, work part of the day rather than taking a whole day off to attend to personal appointments or the ability to work safely at home when the roads were bad. When that boss left and a new one replaced him, that flexibility was removed and the culture on the team felt it. There was a distinct lack of trust implied in this “ruling” and the sentiment amongst the team was unanimously disappointed.
When did we become a society that does not trust our employees unless they are working in the office next to us? When did the measurement of performance become one measured in hours in a seat rather than on deliverables? What I do believe is happening now is that those that performed while sitting in a seat in an office, are equally or exponentially performing now while working remotely and those that “filled” a seat and “appeared” busy in an office, are likely floundering and showing their true worth in the organization. Having said that, it is also the responsibility of the organization to ensure their staff have the tools and the understanding of their deliverables to be successful. How many of us have worked in a job where we showed up everyday, added some valuable input into meetings and plugged away at things we did not truly understand their relevance with no true understanding of what was expected of us. And how often do people live in that world for years and years? I believe more often than any of us would like to admit.
By shifting job descriptions, performance metrics and objectives to more deliverables based, we can truly allow our teams to operate remotely and ensure they have the tools they need to be successful. This all starts with a solid and clear corporate or community strategic plan. One that has achievable key results. With the corporate/community strategic plan, each business unit can then develop their business plans which directly align to achieving the strategic plan. These business plans depending on the size of the organization can be broken into smaller department business plans or team business plans. With these business plans, updated annually, every person in the organization should have measurable objectives that support achievement of the departmental and/or unit business plans which we now know support the organization’s strategic plan. These objectives are measured annually through performance reviews. Sometimes you may need to break the objectives into smaller tactical plans developed either by staff or in collaboration with staff which again gives them deliverables upon which they can succeed and be measured against. All of which may be able to be done remotely, either a portion of or wholly. Now I know some of you are thinking, well there are a whole bunch of little things that I do that support the organization that may not be a tangible deliverable. These deliverables and objectives do not stop you from being an active member of the team, but what it does is give meaning to the things you do and clarity around the things with which you will be measured.
Now consider the above and consider working remotely…oh wait, most of you are likely already doing this as you have been mandated to do so either by the government or by your employer. Now imagine you have full clarity on your role and can achieve clear deliverables. Imagine how efficient you could be if you knew you had three deliverables that needed to be done in a week and you had the ability to do those at a time which was most convenient for you. I bet that a large portion of the workforce would work faster because the trade off is their own free time, time with family, time with friends. And we begin to put a value on deliverables rather than time, which is where I believe this isolation period will lead.
Now, aside from the time and deliverables aspects, think about the savings in space. For larger organizations, think about the number of boardrooms you have and the constant fight for that space. Think about the amount of offices and the constant discussion about office space and who gets what office, when you need to expand to a larger space. If we put a per square foot cost on space, I bet with even 10% of the workforce working remotely the cost savings would be astounding. Now think about the environmental impacts of having 10% of the population off the commuter roads everyday. Think about the energy costs, and even the small consumables. In an economy that is declining rapidly, these are real cost savings now and cost savings into the future.
So, where my ramblings are leading…take the time now to work with your teams and identify clear deliverables while they must work from home. Do an assessment of which of your teams or team members could continue to work from home when isolation measures are lifted. Do a cost analysis of what each office costs and see if this cost savings could help your organization weather the storm. And in the future, look at corporate growth differently. Look how you can grow without growing overhead. Look for those with capacity to take on more deliverables. Right size to those who can deliver rather than those who can look busy in a seat for 8-10 hours a day.