When my husband and I were planning to start a family, thoughts of my career path instantly surfaced. Having grown up with two self-employed parents, I am no stranger to hard work. I witnessed firsthand the countless hours my mother would put in to the job but also the flexibility she had to make time for us kids. She may have burned rubber to get there but she always made it to our piano lessons, basketball games and dance recitals. One thing I knew for sure, I, too, wanted that flexibility.
Learning Through Experience
I thought back to job experiences over the years and all of the knowledge I gained while earning my Bachelor’s in Communication and Master’s in Human Resource Management. I found organizational behavior very interesting and this lead me to the field of strategic HR where I sprouted a passion for company culture and employee engagement.
Little of This, Little of That. But Much of the Same.
I have worked for quite the assortment of employers, all having good and not so good attributes, but each having taught me valuable lessons. I worked for a very large conglomerate in banking sales and marketing. There I observed many attempts at engaging employees through monetary rewards, yet I witnessed nothing but high turnover. In the small family-owned waste and recycling environment I learned of a completely different set of great company values but still, a much disengaged workforce for a number of reasons. From there, I moved on to a completely different industry, government. This was poles apart from any place I had worked. Sadly, I quickly learned of the rigid and bureaucratic nature of a state funded job. I will say, over recent years there have been pockets of positive change as the government has started a push toward telework. Positions which were once deemed brick-and-mortar desk jobs have proven successful with telecommuting employees in them.
The Eye Opener
Then came along the corporate job in the merchant services industry with a company where the culture and processes were less traditional (from my experience). Although I worked for headquarters in a fancy building, a majority of the company worked remotely around the world. I, too, got a taste of the telecommute sphere. (I worked from home several days a week and sometimes for weeks at a time). I took notice in how smoothly everything ran when none of my direct team members worked anywhere near me. Calendaring done in a way to have video conferencing at times where people in six different countries could be available. Equipment deployed to new hires swiftly with all the security gadgets in place. Weekly team teleconference meetings (Wednesday’s at 9:00am to be exact) to touch base and get on the same page. Central repositories to store data to be accessible to those in and out of the office. Fundraisers and field trips to simply bring people together, including flying people to Atlanta (hq location). I helped plan several employee engagement events and assisted with the 20th anniversary campaign. I saw the direct impact these systems and events had on the employees. This is when I realized just how important employee engagement, and a culture which supports such strategies, is fundamental to organizational success.
A Shift in Priorities
Reality hit in January, 2013, when my husband and I were blessed with the news we were expecting a baby.
Naturally I had a flood of concerns about daycare and baby food but of most importance, how I would be able to spend as much time as possible with baby. My priorities shifted drastically. I owe my daughter the same devotion my mother gave to me. But I wasn’t ready to quit working either (not that being a mom isn’t work because oooweee, somedays…). Suddenly my personal mission was to find a way to redefine how and when my job duties could be performed away from the office. And no way was I spending two hours (at least) each day commuting to and from work. Blah.
We began researching companies already offering telework options as a way of life; those which embraced remote working to engrain it in their culture. But the more we dug the more questions we had. How does a remote worker use sick time? How do supervisors manage employees they cannot meet at the watercooler? Wait, where is the watercooler? How do you hold meetings? How do you build trust and camaraderie among coworkers who are not in the same physical location?
The light bulb went off! We are going to show organizations how remote working flexibility will inspire an innovative and engaging culture. There is a huge opportunity to demonstrate to companies the benefits of employee life integration through telecommute, distributed or remote work initiatives and how such initiatives can contribute to attracting and retaining employees.
While still important, this office-less approach goes beyond saving the carbon footprint. To name a few, employees save time and money (and have less stress) without a commute. Overhead expenses drop or are eliminated when there is no office space, furniture, supplies, and utilities. Studies show employee productivity is higher when people can control their schedules and have flexibility, not to mention that people tend to get critical work done better at home than in-office. Countless times I have gone to into my office and immediately shut the door to try get work done. The interruptions are endless. As Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH) state in their book, Remote. Office Not Required, “It’s incredibly hard to get meaningful work done when your workday has been shredded into work moments.” And this is the norm day after day. Little bits of free moments to start something only to be pulled away again. I prefer to roll out of bed, make a cup of coffee and start work in the peace and quiet. And will there be some distractions at home? Of course. But Embrace it, as Jason Zimdars, designer at Basecamp, explains in a fantastic article about his remote work experience.
Lets talk engagement. Invest in your employees’ happiness and they will stick around. Engaged employees have a direct impact on company bottom line. Trends show fewer absences, healthier people as stress is lower (and more time to exercise and spend with family), creativity spikes, and productivity increases when people are happy. Plus, organizations which retain quality employees are attractive to both customers and job seekers. The key to employee retention is engagement and replacing talent is expensive. Engaged employees are attached to the mission and can be your biggest champions. A FlexJobs survey showed that 83% of the respondents said they would have greater loyalty to an employer who offers flexibile work options. The employee experience is the company culture. It is the important stuff we can’t touch. Honor the values of trust, transparency, mindfulness, accountability, and creativity. All things that tend to flourish in telework team environments. All things that employees will live up to when given the chance.
One of the primary barriers we see for choosing the telework path is management: those who cannot let go of the traditional workspace. The ‘if I can’t see them working they must not be’ mentality is nonsense. In fact, employees tend to surf the web more when they are in the office. And if quality work is the result, what does it matter anyway? Humans genuinely want to be trusted and if you treat them that way they will live up to the expectations. If you have trust issues with an employee it is reflective of a poor hiring decision. And you either trust someone or you don’t. This has nothing to do with where they physically perform work duties.
It’s a simple concept, really. One that is definitely catching on and will only compound. According to Global Workplace Analytics, fifty percent of the US workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telework. Based on WorldatWork historical data, by 2018, 50 million people could be working from home at least once per month, and by 2016, 4.9 million people will be working from home on a regular basis. This is the new future of work. Talent is limitless with no geographical boundaries. Employees are more productive, making you more money. And what is more engaging than employee flexibility to work from home or a coffee shop, to spend more time with family and less time commuting to an office?
The Availability of Telework Resources is Limited
What we have discovered though is there really are no streamlined policies and procedures for this philosophy of working. Early adopters of teleworking have taken the ‘sink or swim’ approach, learned along the way and made adjustments as needed with regard to operations and communicating. I think they have done a decent job and I believe it is because of the close alignment working from home has to working in an office when it comes to running the day to day business.
Technology has made it possible for many jobs to be performed away from a desk. And statistics have shown us the negative impact on company bottom line for disengaged employees. The need to transition to telework has surfaced. Companies just need to know how to get there. From an HR perspective, there is almost no difference in the fundamentals of managing your human resources. In fact, it builds trust in one another, we all become better communicators and more efficient workers as the distance can force us to be more effective in our jobs.
By offering distributed, remote or telecommute flexibility, there are many advantages for both employer and employee. It is because of the lack of understanding and fear of change and because there are no refined guidelines that we have started our company, Blend me, Inc. The need to transition is evident and we will help get you there.
At Blend me, Inc. we aim to establish and develop policies and procedures for organizations interested in implementing location independent employees and guidance for operating in that fashion. We offer consultation in areas like culture, tools for communication, and internal marketing and employee engagement campaigns around telework employees.
Are you a telework or co-working space employee? Well come join our RemotelyOne online community for location-independent professionals that connects co-working and teleworking enthusiasts. Check it Out!