With the coronavirus impacting business, there has never been a more opportune time for organizations to consider remote work. As I write this, some countries like Germany and Japan have closed schools and workplaces. And it looks like the “WFH’ or Work From Home option is now becoming more of an imperative than another workplace benefit.
Kara Swisher, an American technology business journalist and co-founder of Recode writes in an article that this way of working “has been growing in recent years, albeit more slowly than the technologies that facilitate it.”
Recently, however, Zoom, a video conferencing platform that many of us already use, has seen a tremendous uptick. In the last month it has risen to a $30 billion valuation which, even to the non-Silicon Valley soul, sounds pretty good!
As Swisher writes, “It’s too early to know if we need to resort to this kind of behavior on a widespread and prolonged level. But it will be instructive to see how well business and other analog activities can continue to operate in a digital world during a crisis.”
Working from Home can Make a Huge Difference
Coronavirus aside, working from home can make a huge difference in retention and job satisfaction.
I have studied remote work from the perspective of introverts who need an escape and reboot of energy after spending long days in open workspaces. But in fact, I found it impacted everyone positively, both introverts and extroverts. When people are allowed even one day a week to work from home, their happiness increases. Diane Baldwin, associate vice president of Sponsored Programs at Boston University, discovered that her one-day-a-week-from-home program “changed people’s lives.”
“To even have one day where they don’t have to commute, where they can work in their pajamas is a retention strategy,” Diane told me. A medical center employee interviewed for a Ladders article on remote work explained the benefit of her company’s “work-at-home Wednesdays” policy. “Although I am working, my day is so much more relaxed, not to mention two hours shorter (due to her 45-mile commute each way). It is like a mini-weekend.”
So if that is the good news. What are some of the pitfalls? Consider this quote:
Q: What are the three biggest competitors to remote work?
A: The TV, the bed, and the fridge.
—Nicholas Bloom, 2017 TEDx talk
As a writer who sometimes uses the bed as a desk, I agree! Working at home can lead to isolation and a kind of creative paralysis without the chance to bounce ideas off others. It can also make you feel a loss of connection.
Of course, there’s always the chance of being interrupted at a very inopportune time!
Too much alone time can also result in team members losing sight of the larger mission of the company. This is because of what authors Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel call a “lack of environmental cues, slogans, and messages that are part of the fabric of an organization and its culture.” Instead, they (team members) become overly focused on individual projects over team and company goals.
So if working at home is an option for you or your team because of the virus or if you already are working remotely and want to insure success, consider these five success factors that I discovered in my research.
Top Five Considerations for Making Remote Work Options Work for Introverts
- Create a remote-working agreement with guidelines around accessibility, in-office time, and accountability that employees must sign.
- Be intentional about how and when you communicate with remote employees. The biggest challenge we found for organizations is in preventing alone time from becoming ineffective isolation.
- Schedule regular in-person one-on-one and team meetings as well as more casual “visits” like breakfasts or lunches to strengthen personal as well as professional connections. While prevented from doing that, do it over Zoom or another platform.
- Place the responsibility on remote employees to track their own work. The introverts in your company will particularly appreciate having the space to work and do their deep, reflective thinking without frequent interruptions.
- In team and individual meetings, call out individual and group successes to bring visibility to the work of remote employees.
We are all HOPING the coronavirus runs its course very soon, but in the meantime, work can’t stop. This unexpected situation is a forced opportunity for us to be creative in how work gets done. It may in fact, lead to sustainable changes that benefit our workplaces and everyone in them.