Remote working has been subject to much scrutiny with CEOs such as Yahoo!’s Marissa Meyer, asking all employees to return to the office in a bid to improve collaboration.
IBM has also recently restricted remote working, but has still been at the vanguard of minimising email culture. Both received equal amounts of support and dismay in the business world. However, in stark contrast, Wordpress has shut its entire San Francisco warehouse because their employees no longer turn up to the office. So, who is right and who is wrong? What can we learn and apply to our own organisations when it comes to remote working, collaboration and effectiveness?
Remote workers have always suffered from a lack of visibility - and occasionally trust from managers, yet studies have shown that staff who work remotely are highly productive compared to those who work in the office.
Being physically present harks back to the industrial age where workers were factory-based, clocking-in and clocking-out. Without the person turning the machine, pressing the buttons, answering the phones or dictating the ramblings of an executive onto the Pitney-Bowes, nothing happened. Presence equaled productivity.
However we no longer live in the industrial age, we are in the knowledge age where the internet is the dominant platform for life. It has enabled unprecedented change allowing people to be constantly connected and, in theory, never having to conform to the old ways of working. But we do still conform to the Factory-age, strangulating the ability to be more productive through complete misuse of technology.
Even though efficient collaboration is achievable given the technology available today, remote working is still resisted or derided rather than embraced. To improve productivity and collaboration, change needs to be inculcated into everyday organisational behaviour and not just aimed at remote workers.
Reliance on email needs to be reduced. McKinsey estimates that 28 per cent of the working week is taken up by writing and responding to email. Despite the ability to improve collaboration, email is so badly used in corporates that it’s become a hindrance, with an average of over 120 emails received per day with the average worker checking their email over 70 times a day (Source: DMR). This instant stream of communication impacts your ability to concentrate, your memory and attention (Harvard Business review 2016). Silicon Valley thought leaders suggest switching your smart phone to airplane mode in the evening giving the recipient a choice about responding right there and then. This reduces the always-on culture that has eroded our time to think creatively and differently about life and work.
VW has gone one step further by unilaterally turning off the corporate email servers out of working hours. This is hard to do in a service industry but not if you have a strong enough relationship with your clients and it’s baked into your culture. I’ve personally been using an app called 'Email' by EasilyDo to combat inbox overload. It’s intuitive interface easily lets you swipe emails to delete, enable follow up, snooze to a time when you want to tackle it and identify VIP senders so you can literally sort the wheat from the chaff. It’s enabled me to feel less of a slave to the inbox and freed up so much more time.
Tools such as Slack can dramatically improve collaboration and the effectiveness of working remotely and internally. Slack is really helpful when collaborating with co-workers and clients as you can adopt a different tone. There is no need for the lengthy intro and outro that may be just a pleasantry but also eats into time, time we no longer have. When it comes to email effectiveness, you could also ask colleagues to stop using/abusing ‘cc’. Keeping people ‘in the know’ just adds to the firehose of information.
Everyone needs to take advantage of the global resource pool. The days of needing to build an empire and having all employees in one central location is outdated. Since we started up 18 months ago, we have worked with creatives, technologists, designers, strategists, community mangers, PR experts and VR specialists from as far away as New York and Auckland and as near as just up the road from us. We spend a lot of time working in client offices using tools to reduce the need to rely on email and stay in touch with colleagues delivering different parts of a project - wherever they may be.
We are living in a world where time is precious, and people are constantly fighting to cram more things into their day. If we work smarter, in or out of the office, collaboration will be so much easier and the workforce will be happier and more efficient.