Remote work has become increasingly popular in recent years, but it also presents several challenges for businesses in managing remote teams. If you’re looking for an article that offers simple ideas for keeping remote employees engaged – a sort of checklist for work-from-home tips, you’re not alone.  

We all appreciate straightforward solutions. However, the reality is that best practices for remote work are far from simple.  We’ve often attempted to make working remotely resemble the in-office experience, influenced by prevailing opinions and debates. 

I believe this broad goal is impossible; my main points are these:  

  • People often misinterpret working remotely as an employee perk or benefit, leading to poor decision-making.   
  • Instead, organizations should critically analyze working from home as they would any other critical business decision.   
  • Only when we understand our decision variables can we establish effective best practices for remote work. 

This article will discuss the importance of viewing working from home as a management decision, not an employee benefit, and will provide some tips on how to effectively integrate remote work into your organization. 

Why Remote Work is a Management Decision, Not an Employee Benefit  

Some may wonder, “Are we still discussing this?” The answer is a resounding yes. Companies are struggling to incorporate remote work into their future plans. A quick search on a reputable news source will confirm this.  

Remote work fails for one reason: stakeholders define it incorrectly. They focus on what it represents rather than its actual meaning. Many focus on what it symbolizes rather than what it truly entails. 

Employees anticipate and regard working from home as a standard benefit or perk. However, for leaders, it should and must be a management and staffing decision. 

Remote Work’s Evolution into a Perk 

Prior to the pandemic, remote work primarily served logistical needs. For example, specific client requirements might necessitate a sales team’s presence in a particular location. Leaders focused on staffing this need, not delving deeply into how employees perceived working remotely. 

Of course, we considered employee perceptions at times. Companies may allow consultants to work from home if they have good internet access and if there is a nearby airport, often as a retention strategy. 

Then came the pandemic. Many employees discovered the convenience of working from home, whether at a kitchen table or a corner of their bedroom. In their minds, work was getting done, and they now enjoyed newfound time resulting from zero commutes and increased flexibility. For example, personal errands and tasks could be accommodated in between a Zoom call docket. 

This leads me to a relevant anecdote. Our firm was advising a client on a decision it had made to discontinue onsite gym services. 

Less than 2% of its workforce used the facilities, which were expensive to operate and maintain. They saw an opportunity to repurpose the space for exciting initiatives and sought our guidance to manage potential backlash. 

They anticipated that the two percenters would be angry. As a result, the leaders decided to provide all employees with free access to nearby gyms, assuming it would boost happiness. 

Surprisingly, all the employees were upset. They had grown accustomed to the perk, even if they rarely used it. They were unhappy when management took away their right to dusty treadmills, broken spin bikes, and temperamental water-filling systems. The pandemic transformed remote work into a situation akin to the onsite gym scenario. 

The Reality: Remote Work is a Management Decision  

When viewed correctly, remote work is not a perk or employee benefit; it’s a strategic staffing and management decision to optimize organizational resources. Managers should manage it comprehensively, considering staffing costs, productivity, employee performance, and engagement. 

Please note that this article is not an indictment against remote or hybrid work. But I do believe we should be agnostic as it relates to this topic. Adopt remote work with full support if it improves the organization. Limit it if it detracts from sound management. Allowing employees, to work from home can effectively engage and retain key contributors, but only when it aligns with the organization’s goals. 

A Shift in Perspective 

If we stop thinking of remote work as an employee entitlement, we can start asking ourselves these important questions: 

  • How do we best develop and onboard new employees?  
  • How do we integrate remote workers with onsite workers?  
  • What options are best for the customer?  
  • What scenarios produce the best work product?  
  • What does a remote worker need to stay engaged?  
  • What does the organization need to attract top talent?  
  • How do corporate communications need to change to meet the needs of remote workers?  

Integration Instead of Sameness  

As mentioned, we should focus on broader issues, making remote work accessible to all employees, even though it can never be exactly the same as working in an office. 

Only if you view remote work as a perk, do you even attempt to make it the same experience for others. Remote work is a useful tool for staffing, but it may not be suitable for everyone.    

The Real Challenge 

Smart leaders recognize that remote work and office work can not be the same and have acknowledged this difference. Instead, these leaders focus on effectively integrating remote work as one of many possible work scenarios. They focus on integration and not “sameness.”  

They consider organizational development questions/decision variables like the following:  

  • How much in-person experience is necessary for someone to progress at the right pace? 
  • Can we design remote experiences that prepare someone to eventually lead the organization?  
  • What signals suggest that working remotely will produce the same output or increase competency? 
  • How do we incorporate remote work into our career pathways?  
  • How do we drive engagement that is appropriate to remote work instead of trying to replicate the in-person experience?  
  • How do we know what type of person or jobs are best suited to remote situations? 

Instead of looking for easy answers, we should focus on the important questions about working from home. Remote work is a management decision, not an employee benefit everyone must receive equally.  

Organizations should carefully consider their organizational goals and objectives when deciding whether to allow their employees to work from home and they should develop clear policies and procedures for managing remote teams. Remote work can be a valuable tool for businesses, but it is important to approach it strategically. 

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