Jul 24

Is Your Business Ready to Take Advantage of a Digital Future?

What does the workplace of the future look like? It will very likely look like your living room, or the coffee shop around the corner, or that new co-working space downtown. That is to say, the way we work is becoming less office- or location-based and more flexible.

Recent trends in work habits and workers’ increasing dependence on cloud-based technology have influenced this shift toward remote work. Recent statistics reveal how widespread it has become and points to continued growth:

  • As of 2012, one in five workers worldwide were telecommuting frequently. (Reuters)
  • Work-life balance ranked as the #1 contributor to job satisfaction worldwide in 2016. (Indeed Hiring Lab)
  • 50% of the U.S. workforce holds a job that’s at least partially compatible with remote work. (Global Workplace Analytics)
  • Business executives at the 2014 Global Leadership Summit forecasted that half to three-quarters of their full-time employees would be working remotely by 2020. (London Business School)

Yet, changing decades of ingrained thinking and practice in hiring and collaboration can make for a difficult transition. But it’s one business need to consider.

Referring to the forecast of widespread remote work by 2020, Adam King, London Business School’s Director of Learning Solutions, Executive Education, commented on the changing attitudes toward traditional workplace policies:

“Technology and some fundamental shifts in management thinking are behind this response. Leaders are learning how to enable their teams to flourish, and there is a recognition that the notion of a traditional 9–5, Monday–Friday, commute-to-the-office job is quickly eroding.”

Businesses that don’t see that erosion coming might get stuck in the mud and left behind by their competitors. And while transitioning from a brick-and-mortar office to a virtual one might seem next to impossible, it’s been done—and very successfully—by companies who see the future of work coming and want to be ready for it.

The complexities and costs of running an office—paying for property and equipment, dealing with weather and commuting problems, finding great employees who live in the area or relocating new hires—are more of a burden than you might realize. And many businesses are discovering the advantages of a location-independent structure, a choice that benefits both companies as a whole as well as individual employees.

David Hansson (co-founder and CEO of Basecamp, a fully remote company) sums it up well in an interview for a documentary on digital nomads:

“All the savings you can have on offices and so forth, that’s been one of the big drivers for other big companies like IBM, that’s downsized their offices because they let people work from home. [but] the big deal is that the quality of life for someone who gets to control their own workday, control their own work location, is immense. They become far better workers because they become happier human beings.”

So maybe you’ve seen competitors implementing work-from-home policies or have current employees asking about flexible work options. Perhaps some staff have even left for other companies that, as the New York Times article “Rethinking the Work-Life Equation” puts it, treat flexibility as “a default mode rather than a privilege.” You might even recognize the benefits of these kinds of policies but aren’t sure if they’re right for your company. If you’re on the fence, compare your situation to these clues that indicate a switch to a partial or fully remote structure could work for you.

Some employees already successfully work from home or out of the office.

Some employees already successfully work from home or out of the office.

Maybe your business already allows some flex time or has a work-from-home policy for when staff can’t make it into the office. This means that there are already some practices in place—how these people communicate and collaborate with colleagues, for instance—that could be expanded and refined to work on a larger scale.

Most work gets done online / in the cloud.

Most work gets done online / in the cloud

Particularly for companies that employ knowledge workers, most tasks can be done on a computer or phone. Web apps, cloud-based technology, and other tools of the modern workplace—from Slack and Skype to Google Apps and Dropbox—make exchanging information instant and effortless. What this really means is that the work can be done anywhere—or at least anywhere with an Internet connection.

Business is growing or space is limited.

Business is growing or space is limited.

Real estate—and related costs like utilities, maintenance, and equipment—are expensive. And many startups and other growing businesses will get to a point where their initial investment in office space starts to feel a little cramped. In that case, the most efficient and immediate solution isn’t to open another location, but to shift some (or all) staff to remote work, or at least offer the ability to work remotely. Employees have the option to come into the office or work from home depending on their preferences, while companies have the flexibility to scale their workforce up or down as needed without complication.

Competitors are embracing remote or flexible work models.

Competitors are embracing remote or flexible work models

Have any of your competitors rolling out remote work or flex time policies? Then it may be time to follow suit. If a distributed model can work in your industry (and if your employees sit at desks working on computers all day, it most certainly can) then your competitors are already reaping the benefits. And given the choice, a prospective employee (or even a forward-thinking client) might just choose them over you.

Employees are asking for more flexibility.

Employees are asking for more flexibility.

If more flexibility is something employees already want, they’ll be much more motivated to have patience through the transition and work through any bumps in the road as your company figures out what kind of policies and practices work best. This will make things easier for everyone.

Keep in mind, if this is something you’re hearing often and don’t do anything about it (or at least start a discussion about possible changes), then you risk losing valued employees to a company that better aligns with their professional and personal goals.

It’s difficult to find qualified talent to fill open positions.

It's difficult to find qualified talent to fill open positions

You’ve just sat through your third interview this week with a candidate you figured out was a bad match in the first five minutes. Why doesn’t anyone seem to have the skills and abilities you’re looking for? Could be that you’re looking in the wrong place—or not enough places. Access global talent through Remote Staff.

Narrowly defined boundaries in your hiring search—say, looking for software developers only in the biggest tech hub in your region—seriously limits your access to the best talent. Remote work goes both ways: individuals have the flexibility to decide where they want to work, but businesses also have the benefit of not being constrained by location or relocation costs. If you find your perfect candidate halfway around the world, there’s no barrier to bringing that person onto your team.

Office distractions and unproductive meetings are a problem.

Office distractions and unproductive meetings are a problem

Maybe your company fell for the myth of the productivity-boosting open office layout, and now employees complain of not being able to hear themselves think. Or maybe you’ve walked out of one too many meetings wondering, Did we actually accomplish anything here?

Despite decades of ingrained thinking to the contrary, co-located office spaces aren’t necessarily the places where workers are at their most productive. Office distractions can be relentless—in fact, interruptions (and the time it takes to re-focus) can consume nearly 30% of the average worker’s day. And according to a FlexJobs survey, a whopping 93% of professionals say they would choose a work location other than the office if they needed to be at their most productive on important projects.

A distributed team model offers a simple solution: give employees the choice to determine where they work—whether that’s at home, at a coffee shop or library, in a co-working space, or back at the company office. Though any location will come with its own distractions, having control over your own work environment can drive significant personal productivity gains.

Existing technology usage and communication practices would support remote collaboration.

Existing technology usage and communication practices would support remote collaboration

Is your team on top of their tech game—chatting on Skype, sharing files in the cloud, having video meetings with clients or out-of-office colleagues? Then you already have a great framework in place to support remote communication and collaboration.

In fact, if these kinds of practices are common within your company, then you’re basically operating as a remote team would already. Simply expanding these web-based processes and workflows and making them standard operating procedures would enable an easy transition to remote work.

Your company culture tends toward independence and flexibility.

Your company culture tends toward independence and flexibility

Independent, self-motivated people who are flexible and adaptable are the kind of employees who make the best remote workers. If you have these types of people on your team, who perform well without constant supervision, a remote work policy might be a win-win situation for your company—a welcome change for industrious team members and a boost for your business’s bottom line.

On the other hand, if staff need significant guidance and supervision, the transition might be more difficult, yet still doable with the right kind of training and preparation, plus clear standards in place around communication and collaboration and the technology used for it.

The typical 9-to-5 workday with its boardroom manipulations, extended meeting, and restricted cubicles is fast morphing into a flexible working arrangement where productivity and efficiency are the only office etiquette employers are demanding. Add to this freedom some interesting by-products; Creativity and Innovation, and we have ourselves a winner. Remote working is no longer an exception to the rule, it is fast becoming the rule for any modern workplace to attract and retain quality talent.

What started as a practical choice for low-earning freelancers is rapidly becoming a conscious choice for skilled and educated professionals from all walks of life and age groups. Not only the millennial workforce but even the baby boomers are happily embracing this brave new lifestyle.

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