Helena Sharpstone, Co-Director of Learning Consultancy Sharpstone Skinner, considers why a love of remote working could soon face a sharp reality check if employers don’t get the balance right long term
2020 forced us to embrace remote working and many have fallen in love. It makes sense, it saves time, money and energy and helps life feel more balanced. Apart from the home-schooling part as many a frazzled working parent will tell you. So in love are some that they claim they never need visit an office again; that they can connect with their colleagues perfectly well from a distance. As usual love is blind and if you look closely, the cracks are starting to show, so to avoid a splinter becoming a full-blown shatter, read on.
Striking a balance
I should say at this point that I am a great fan of remote working – having done it for 30 years so I’m not sure I’d know how to work in an office anymore.
When we finally emerge blinking into the light, how can we create a balance that brings the best being near and far? Here are some suggestions to help you– add them to the mix when you discuss your longer-term policy for where work is located in future and how that impacts on team working.
Flying the flag for remote working – reasons you don’t need to be in the office
- For team members to do their individual work. Provided everyone has the resources they need, the space and peace to work and a bit of self-discipline, we’re all discovering we can get more done apart. There are fewer distractions, no commute for many has been a game changer and we’re getting our heads down to achieve more in less time.
- To check up on your team. You really don’t. Remember what you had before all this upheaval. Your team members were trustworthy, they worked hard and the last thing they needed was micromanaging. They still don’t. This is an adjustment for team leaders – it’s tough at times not to have face-to-face access to people and what they are up to, but it’s a vital adjustment to make, if you want to lead a high performing team.
- To perform the comms basics. Updates – one to one, team or company can be done perfectly well through the range of remote tools we now have available. And if point 2 is bringing you out in hives, remember you can check up on progress during these catch ups.
Reasons why we need to return to base camp, at least sometimes
- To learn from more experienced colleagues. What taught you to operate at the level you are now? A lot of what got you here is grafting, experience, falling down, wiping your grazes and getting back up again to be better. But you will also have learned a lot from others, from just being around them. When you saw your boss excel at a negotiation, overheard a conflict well handled, shadowed a colleague and watched them deal expertly with a client – that learning was absorbed without you even realising. The pandemic has wiped out these little gems of learning. We need to be back together again so less experienced team members can learn from the veterans. So many of these nuggets happen by chance, it’s impossible to recreate them virtually.
- For team cohesion. At some point we all need the warm body experience. Even teams who were geographically spread pre-Covid knew they were going to meet up at some point in the year. If these events are well facilitated with meaningful agendas, they create a sense of team so powerful, it keeps us going until we meet again. The shared experience stops people getting scratchy with each other from a distance. We recognise the value in the relationship and keep collaboration levels high. You spot the mole hills before they expand to mountains. You get a feel for how people are in a way you just can’t on screen.
- For a sense of company culture. Despite all the vital work your organisation has done to develop company values, behaviours and guidance on “the way we do things around here”, there a missing piece. As it turns out, culture also has a postcode. We need to be in a building to really get a sense of the company we have joined. When planning of virtual onboarding programmes, it is bump in the road we keep hitting. There is something about co-habiting while working that gives us a clear sense of culture. It helps us work and behave as one brand. It’s official, you have to be there. Not every day, but some of the time.
As with most things in life, balance is boring but key. We need to create a future that combines a respect for remote working with a newfound energy for the office. For the good of team, we must once again learn to live together – and apart and maximise the benefits of both.