A recent NY Times guest essay by Steven Rattner, an advisor to the Treasury secretary under the Obama administration, titled “Is Working from Home Really Working?” wondered if America has “gone soft” when it comes to work.
The essay cites Jamie Dimon’s comments at Davos. The chairman and chief executive of JP Morgan said working remotely “doesn’t work for young kids or spontaneity.” Mentoring, along with moments where colleagues can be collaborative, are some of the aspects of work that those who oppose remote work raise. Additionally, some managers and leadership simply feel that working from home without close oversight and interactions with co-workers results in less productivity.
While I can certainly appreciate the concerns of my peers, as president and CEO of IPC International, a global trade association for the electronics industry, I’ve seen how remote employment does, indeed, work—because we were doing it years before the global Covid-19 pandemic. With my background in implementing working from home, I’ve seen how companies can do it successfully.
I know that many see these issues of working from home as a white-collar luxury. However, as part of the electronics industry, I see the cutting-edge changes here right now—and down the road—in automation and artificial intelligence. The issues of remote work are pervasive across all industries and are only going to expand going forward.
Do It Right
When I look back at how IPC made the successful transition to remote work, I see clear, identifiable phases that we went through on our own journey, as well as the things we did right as we went along.
You Can’t Cut Corners on Implementation
When IPC went remote, we first did a lot of listening. We talked with leaders and employees, and we were able to pinpoint concerns—and address them. We had time to institute our policies and our expectations.
Companies during the Covid-19 pandemic had no such luxury. Your company may be wrestling with putting the genie back in the bottle as far as remote work. It’s tough to attract top talent in this post Great Resignation period. Some version of flexibility is now the expectation as people worldwide saw there was, indeed, another way to work, during these turbulent times. Here are some things to consider:
- Nothing comes for free – if you or your organization had remote work thrust upon you during COVID – it’s likely that your implementation was incomplete. Transferring an entire workforce to remote work, from tech to deliverables and expectations, on the fly will definitely result in growing pains. Cutting corners on tech or training will impact the effectiveness of working from home.
- No systems-wide change happens by luck – yes, we survived Covid (am I allowed to use the past tense yet? I hope so) – but surviving and thriving are two different worlds.
- Attitudes HAVE changed toward work – even in the hourly world. For example, many hotels and restaurants are still staffed lightly. As many as a million jobs were lost in the hospitality industry due to the pandemic. If your company thinks you can simply go back to full time in the office – you can, but you will miss out on some key applicants because across every sector, expectations have changed. Most organizations I work with across the globe don’t feel like missing out of the best job candidates is a sacrifice worth making if they can instead improve or adjust their workplace.
Here are few suggestions I have workshopped with companies to move from survive to thrive!
The Phases of Instituting Remote Work
Early phase—establish clear expectations of deliverables. Frankly, if an employee can get all of the work I hired them to do well and within two hours a day, do I care if they have more free time? Generally no, but maybe a little – if I know they are capable of more. If they are completing their work that quickly—then let’s find them higher levels of work to do (which likely means better compensation – so don’t expect a free ride for the long run, but a trial period to prove themselves before increase would be appropriate). On the other hand, if someone cannot do the job you hired them to do in the allotted timeframe, and that includes delivering while working remotely – they are not who you need in the role. It may be time to part ways. As I have advised other companies, if you cannot trust someone to work remotely and still give of their talents and energies, if you have to micromanage them because they cannot reach their deliverables without detailed oversight, then you didn’t hire the right person.
Mid-phase—test autonomy. During this phase, learn the level of each particular staffer with respect to self-motivation and initiative. Everyone is different, so don’t expect the same from everyone. Use people to their capability levels and discuss expectations and roles and train them to raise those levels. Some people, with the right direction and training, will advance in capabilities quite rapidly.
Mature phase—this is the “Trust” phase. When you have strong trust with your team—all know what needs to be done by when and regardless of venue (home, office, plane, mountain-side, etc.), we all work to get it done and meet the deadline. Some talk of four-day workweeks (famously, in 1930 John Maynard Keynes predicted a fifteen-hour workweek by 2030). I believe the four-day workweek could be better utilized as a reward for making it to the Trust phase of the relationship. Those who have shown themselves reliable and consistent in hitting the deliverables can work four days a week and would regulate the fifth on their own if they need it. A recent Morning Edition segment on NPR noted some companies report higher productivity (and employee happiness) with four-day weeks. One study of nurses moving to shorter days (six hours versus eight) to reduce stress noted “the care facilities had to hire people for those extra hours. And what they found was although there was a small increase in costs, a lot of those additional salaries were offset by lower health care costs and lower unemployment for their existing workforce.”
The Future is Now
Whether we feel “ready” or not, as I often say to colleagues, “The future is now.” While some called the exit of workers from the workforce the “Great Resignation,” I and others term it the “Great Reprioritization.” The world realized there is another way to work that reduces the stress, strain, and environmental impact of lengthy commutes and affords employees more autonomy and balance.
And despite the doomsayers thinking that remote work would result in a crash in productivity, that was not the case. In fact, during Covid, productivity increased at a significantly higher rate across many sectors.
To attract top talent, flexibility is a new but strong expectation of today’s candidates. However, this does not mean that your team’s or company’s productivity must suffer. Build toward trust and watch employee satisfaction and productivity soar.
1 Steven Rattner, “Is Working from Home Really Working?” The New York Times, Mrch 22, 2023, accessed March 23, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/22/opinion/remote-work-salesforce-meta-working-from-home.html?campaign_id=39&emc=edit_ty_20230322&instance_id=88360&nl=opinion-today®i_id=102361496&segment_id=128449&te=1&user_id=a789f62565896555378ad12c36770994.