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What Business Leaders Can Learn From The Shift To Remote Work

The genie is out of the bottle.

After years of reserving remote work for “the best of the best of the best” in highly technical fields, the entire economy has been confronted with the facts: Millions of people do their jobs fine without ever setting foot in the office.

Naturally, there are exceptions. Dentists and orthodontists, for example, will probably be heading to the practice for the foreseeable future. But many service-based companies, having already integrated digital technology for marketing and fulfillment, are taking the next step.

Overwhelmingly, workers are finding it a relief.

Most People Who Can Work Remote Want to Work Remote

According to McKinsey, 87% of workers offered at least some remote work embraced it. They spent an average of three days a week working from home. About 35% of job-holders can work from home full-time, and 23% can do so part-time. Remote work is no longer an unplanned adaptation, but an aspiration.

While the average employee loves it, many business leaders are having some trouble with it.

No matter whether you studied for a prestigious MBA or built up your business with no formal training at all, few of today’s leaders earned their stripes in an environment where remote work was a thought – not even a passing consideration, let alone a core part of a strategy.

From coast to coast, leaders across all industries are going to be on a crash course in remote work for the next decade. Companies that learn to use it to the utmost will be in the best position to outperform the competition, while those who try to walk it back will be swimming against the tide.

Some 97.6% of current remote workers want to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers. More of the top talent in any industry will look for that opportunity from their employers.

So, what are the lessons you can take to heart now to make remote work successful?

1. Autonomy Makes a Difference

Autonomy – the ability to decide where, when, and how the work is done as long as the result meets the standards you set – has always been important. While 59% of respondents in a Harvard Business Review study said “flexibility” was more important than salary or benefits (!), there’s a caveat:

They need to be able to exercise that flexibility in ways that work for them. That’s autonomy.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of businesses that haven’t gotten the memo.

Some companies are now in a digital arms race with their employees, looking for new ways to monitor them from anywhere. Keyboard inputs are constantly analyzed, webcams are recorded, and meeting after meeting is scheduled to create schedule constraints.

What brands like these are saying is: “We can’t make remote work go away, so we’ll make it suck.”

The more companies struggle to make remote work just like the office, the more people will look for an alternative – and they have access to potential employers from anywhere in the country. Now’s the time to re-engineer your processes and focus on what really makes a bottom-line difference.

You can use remote work as a springboard to demonstrate that you trust and value your employees.

Set standards for them to live up to, give them access to the tools they need to reach those standards, and then get out of the way. They should know that they can reach out when they need to, and that doesn’t require them to be in close contact every hour of the working day.

This brings us to the elephant in the room: The mythical status of the modern office.

2. Don’t Let Your Management Team Become “High-Status Apes”

Drop by LinkedIn on any given day and you’ll find lots of would-be influencers talking up a storm about how important it is to gather in the office. Yet, their reasoning often leaves something to be desired. It’s easy to say “something special is lost,” but harder to point to that something and describe what it is.

There are people who enjoy being in the office. But je ne sais quoi isn’t a business case for requiring everyone to be there all the time. Unfortunately, it’s often managers who make this argument, with something along the lines of: “We’ll miss out on so many serendipitous conversations!

The next time you hear this excuse, ask for an example.

Let’s face it: Serendipitous conversations can happen anywhere, including on Slack or through a Zoom call – all without requiring the participants to drop productive deep work to “get their brains picked.”

It’s crucial to recognize some of these objections are about personal discomfort, not results.

Human beings are unique: We make eye contact to foster connection. For most primates, it’s the other way around: Eye contact is a threat, a way for high-status apes to say “I’m bigger and badder than you.” When high-status apes are deprived of eye contact with their “lessers,” it leaves them feeling down.

That, in turn, can cause disruptive or defensive behavior that affects the whole group.

Make it clear to mid-level leaders that remote work is an adjustment for everyone. They may feel vulnerable and want to run away from that. But they need to face it … and you can support them.

It’s okay for them to feel unsure about their tools in this new world, or uncertain about their purpose in it. Look for ways to keep lines of communication open and foster remote work skills without falling back on the old ways. In the end, that’ll be better for everyone.

3. Remember: The Walls of Your Organization Are Porous

Remote work has the potential to be totally transformative in ways few businesses are exploring.

Think about it: Everyone wants to “break down silos” between their teams. Well, the silos are gone. They no longer physically exist. For the first time ever, businesses can reconfigure their teams in a matter of minutes so cross-functional stakeholders work together on truly impactful projects.

Now’s your chance to help new hires and high-potential leaders get familiar with every aspect of your business. Contributors who hit a plateau in one area can cross-train to another or share insights that may help different functions perform better.

Likewise, the flow of talent isn’t a one-way street where you can only lose. You have access to talent pools worldwide. You can bring the right person from anywhere, instantly integrating new capabilities.

World-class technology that was once limited to the Fortune 100 is now here at your fingertips in the form of cloud computing. Likewise, hiring a marketing agency has never been easier. You can focus on your own strengths while benefiting from the proven expertise of an experienced outsourced team.

Your business can grow, change, and flex like never before. And we can help you get there.

Contact us today to discover more about what an outsourced marketing agency can do for you.

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