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Remote work: it shouldn’t be about where, but how

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    Jennifer Herman

Four years later my LinkedIn feed is littered with employee rants that theirs is the next company phasing them “back to work” or with stories from fully remote employees feeling isolated, some worrying they are being passed up for promotion because they aren’t being “seen” by the right people at the office.

Of all the issues facing large and small businesses, from climate change, skilled labor shortage, wage equity, DEI matters, technology innovations and so much more in no particular order, it is surprising to me that management and leadership teams want to use their hard-earned goodwill with their employees on where they do the bulk of their work. Excluding from this argument the jobs requiring the individual to be on-site (we can all think of those examples), excluding the people who would take advantage of any system or process you put in place; I’m speaking specifically to managers and leaders in the creative space contemplating a change, frustrated by a change or wishing they never made a change to their policy around WFH.

We ask everyone during their probationary period to spend the three months in the office or as close to five days a week as their life will allow. We feel it’s important for the employee to get a good feel for:

  • our culture
  • our clients
  • the type of work we do

We’ve onboarded, successfully, fully remote employees. But truthfully, particularly for hires newer to the industry where you want them to have access to the big brains already in-house it just makes it easier. Not impossible, easier. Pass the three months with flying colours and nine times out of ten we’ve had people tell us that they’ve changed their mind and want more time in the office. There is a reason we are redesigning our space.

I share this because it’s the only time I’ll be insistent on where folks work from. Beyond, all company meetings, organized events, and meetings that require someone to be in the office, the choice of where you work and how you work is up to you. Because as a business owner what I care about most is your creativity, your adherence to deadlines, your flexibility, and your ingenuity. I recognize that a happy you is a productive you and there have been countless studies done to show this. Hate your commute? Stay home. Want to see people during the day because you live alone? Come to the office. 

Policies around WFH are important to have; more important for managers is the understanding of the needs of the team at the granular level of the individual. Does it make the job tougher? In the short term. Long term it allows the nuance of understanding what makes the team tick and no business runs well without it. I approach WFH case by case with everyone I’ve hired since the pandemic. Regardless of the box they ticked, I expect on any given day or week to get the notification that someone is working in-house this week or staying home for whatever reason the next. Why are we obsessed with where people are instead of what people are producing? Are they meeting your agency’s KPIs or targets set for them as individuals? Golden.

Don’t confuse activity with productivity.

Robin Sharma

Changing how we manage is as challenging as changing how we work. But some things are worth the investment of time, conversation, trial and error.

The management style of bums in seats needs to be retired. It’s lazy and for many businesses antiquated. Value productivity, not being seen. Sure both can be measured but one is a lot more impactful than the other. Value contribution, not clock-watching. Save fifteen minutes on a two-hour commute by catching the earlier train? I know what I would pick. Truncated hours are what you’re worried about so thinking having them in 9-5 fixes that? It just changes it.

If you’ve hired great people and are yourselves great people, they’ll want to do great work for you. But no one wants to be micromanaged on time. Everyone needs a certain level of control in their day, and if where they work can scratch that itch then why not? Rather than a one-size-fits-all with regards to WFH, set boundaries for sure, but let the professionals decide what they best need to get the best work done for you. You’ll be happier for it and so will they.