Founder @ Human+Business. Content marketing @ Reedsy, Writer @ Truth Cartel. Startups & tech.
Remote work was first thought of as a trend. Today, that has changed substantially — especially during the coronavirus outbreak — and companies are also increasingly transitioning into remote, distributed teams, regardless of whether there’s a crisis or not. In reality, 70% of people globally work remotely at least once a week, as seen in a study by real estate company IWG.
Remote work sounds sexy, but it’s potentially more demanding.
The “remote work revolution” isn’t just creating distributed teams within conventional incumbents, it has also given rise to fully remote companies such as Buffer and Reedsy. Teams live in Slack chatrooms and see each other face-to-face once or twice a year. Work is done in the comforts of their own home or desired workplace.
Remote work sounds sexy, but it’s potentially more demanding. With physical presence, sense, and emotions out of the window, manging remote teams can be tougher. Without proper execution, remote work can be more unproductive than working together physically.
Yahoo is an exemplary example: in 2013, the company forced employees to come back and work at the office, curtailing their previous remote work attempts. In 2017, IBM did the same with a harsher ultimatum: it’s either you return to the office, or you pack and leave for good. Social media photography app Timehop also failed in their remote work experiment.
One of the biggest problems with remote work is the lack of execution, stemming from a lack of good planning. Typically, companies imagine it to be the same as working in the office: the only difference is the travel to the workplace and being physically there at their desk. Instead, that’s replaced by pyjamas on a swivel chair.
To make things easier to manage, companies will also impose “core working hours” or “main online hours”, just so they can mimic the previous operating hours in the office. Having ‘everyone’ online at the same time during the day can seemingly make things easier to manage — especially when you communicate to everyone at the same time — but it’s a lazy remote work policy that makes no sense.
Not all distributed teams work in the same time zone. Unless the time zone difference is similar to how Chicago is 2 hours ahead of Los Angeles, it’s absurd to expect someone living 16 hours ahead to be awake at an ungodly hour. This can be a headache when the team is comprised of people living in different time zones (e.g. Vietnam + Australia + UK + Argentina).
When you work remotely, you think of freedom — sure, you still have to do work, but unless there’s a video call meeting you can pretty much stay in your PJs the whole day. You can eat at any time you want and get copious amounts of coffee without your co-workers asking if you’re feeling alright over and over again.
By setting “core hours”, it forces everyone to be online at that moment in time, defeating the purpose of remote work that’s supposed to inject freedom into an employee’s daily work cycle.
Suppose an employee misses a few core hours. During that time, a team video call was made. Messages were also sent back and forth in the chatroom. One might think that he can easily scroll through the chatroom and search for chat history, but it’s more likely to provide misinformation or inaccurate perspectives.
Over time, if the employee misses more core hours, he will feel anxious and stressed over it, knowing that he has no way to find out whether his colleagues are commenting about his absence behind his back.
Instead of setting “core hours” as part of the remote work policy, companies should give employees freedom of choosing when and where to work. The whole point of remote work is to give freedom and stimulate creativity. Hence, a great remote policy should:
Rather than expecting remote work to occur naturally on its own, companies must take it by the hand and ensure employees can remain productive despite being at home. In a Remote.co article, “poorly executed remote work doesn’t work”, which is potentially happening to many companies during this coronavirus outbreak. One thing’s for sure, as long as companies understand the inherent traits of remote work, they’ll never create policies and protocols that go against it.
Previously published at https://medium.com/the-human-business/dont-tell-your-remote-employees-when-to-work-54171b215e31