working remotely

One of these will surprise you.

office space management

Yeah, if you could stop interrupting my work every 15 minutes, that would be great…

Whenever I talk about working remotely, there’s always someone who thinks it wouldn’t fit a certain job type. (Curiously, it’s often the job of someone they don’t like.) “Oh, Management could never work remotely, you couldn’t keep a handle on everyone’s activity!”

Sure you could. It’s just a slightly different approach than randomly visiting desks and doling out orders, a la Mr. Lumbergh in Office Space.

The truth is, not only could Mr. Lumbergh’s job work remotely, so could almost every job ‘under’ his.

Which jobs in particular am I talking about? Let’s work up a list. More jobs than these are certainly possible, but this list will do for now.

  • Creative Pros: Designers, Copywriters, Social Media Marketers
  • Web Pros: Developers, UX Specialists
  • Sales Reps
  • Customer Service Reps
  • Financial: Accounting, Financial Advisers, Bookkeeping
  • Management
  • IT: Support, App Development, Administration
  • C-Level: CEO, COO, CIO

Quite a list, huh? Most of a business’ core functions and assistive roles are here. How could all of these roles work via telecommuting though? What makes them suitable for it?

Is Output Required? Then the Job is Remote-Work Suitable.

They all have one key factor in common. It’s a core principle of work, as old as humanity. These jobs are all dependent on, or characterized by, their OUTPUT.

The results they turn in. The processes they sustain. All based on the job’s output. If the job doesn’t produce a certain type of output, consistently and of good quality, then the person in that role isn’t doing their job.

accounting photo

Output in this case: Large quantities of paper.  Photo by _foam

Here’s an example of Output for each of the above jobs. If this is your role, take a moment to think about the work you do. Try to envision it all in a big, looking-down-from-above view. I think you’ll find these examples match up pretty closely.

  1. Designers: Digital assets available for use on the Web, in marketing campaigns, etc.
  2. Copywriters: Content available for use in websites and marketing campaigns.
  3. Social Media Marketers: Growing subscriber/follower counts, likes/shares, audience growth.
  4. Developers: Usable code for websites and online tools.
  5. UX Specialists: User Experience strategies for websites, tools, and other customer-facing resources.
  6. Sales Reps: Customers brought from lead to sale.
  7. Customer Service Reps: Low returns/refunds, high satisfaction scores, good reviews online.
  8. Accounting: Financials in good order. The business’ fiduciary requirements are met.
  9. Financial Advisers: Financial direction for future planning.
  10. Bookkeeping: Balanced books.
  11. Management: Smooth daily operations, good communications within & between departments.
  12. IT Support: Access to needed IT resources.
  13. App Development: Apps built & available to customers.
  14. Systems Administration: IT systems secured and fully functional.
  15. CEO/COO/CIO: Stock price growth, smart future decisions.

We have quite an assortment of output here. Everything from the “useful in a business setting” to “critical for everyday function.” A business could work without some, for a while. Some—I’m looking at you, “balanced books”—are so important that without them a business can implode in minutes!

And yet…absolutely NONE of these output examples require a physical presence in an office all the time. Only a focus on the output is necessary. (Which is what you want anyway, right? Good healthy productivity?)

How to Adapt Jobs to Working Remotely (Easier Than You Think)

What changes would a business need to make all of these jobs work from a remote setting?

You’d need certain business processes in place. The good news is, almost all of the jobs will work remotely using the same processes. Nothing incredibly unusual is required.

  1. Establish a communication standard. One way to communicate that everyone has & can rely on. Phone and email are always there, of course. But I’m talking more about real-time communications tools: Instant Messaging, Slack, and so on. I’ll address tools like these in more detail soon.
  2. Security between the worker’s computer and the company’s IT resources. The WannaCry attack recently knocked the world for a loop. If nothing else, it emphasized the importance of good strong cybersecurity. Said cybersecurity must protect everyone’s computers (and the data on them), irrespective of environment.
  3. Reliable employees empowered to maintain their own output. More of a philosophical position than a practical process. But it pays dividends when each employee knows they can and should focus on doing their best work.
  4. Project tracking/management system. A way to monitor & guide projects to completion. Pretty much necessary nowadays, since people have a lot to do, and projects have many moving parts. I like Asana myself. But you have many other excellent options: Trello, Basecamp, Workfront, Wrike, etc. Try some out, see which you like the most.

Now, here’s the kicker. Any well-run business will need all of these processes anyway! Remote work or not.

Thus adapting them for Remote Work is not a difficult or obstructive task. In fact, you may already have some or all of them in place.

So what’s holding you back from Remote Work? Just the decision. The recognition that most modern jobs are suitable for Remote Work. More than you thought before.

When will you decide?

Office Presence Not Required

You need their talent. Just not the office space.

How many of your employees really need to be in the office?
Answer: A lot fewer than you might think.

Thanks to technology & our connected world, millions of jobs currently worked in an office, don’t need to go in. I argue (and I’m not alone in this) that half of your office personnel does not need to be in said office, to do their job.

Which half? Ah, that’s the question. My answer is: Those who are not location-based.

What’s that mean? Essentially, it means those employees whose labor is defined by output, not by physical presence.

Here’s an example. In the Ford assembly plant back in the day, you had hundreds of line workers. Each attached a part, turned a bolt, and so on. By this division of labor, Henry Ford built the Ford Motor Company into a titan.

Now, an assembly line worker must be physically present. They cannot attach a part from home. But what about a Marketing specialist?

Their work deals in leads, content, emails, and conversations. The output is almost totally on the Web. Thus their physical presence is not necessary. They can do the job anywhere.

leaving office for productivity

(This is a short example. I’ll expand on the notion in future posts.)

So the question now becomes, Which employees don’t need to be in the office, to do their work?

Let’s take four examples: HR Manager, Operations Manager, Website Developer, and Marketer.
Overall, none of these people actually need to work from within an office.

I’ll go through their roles, and illustrate why.

Four Roles Defined By Their Output

Let’s examine these four office roles. What do they do?

HR: Recruits for positions. Planning staff development. Handles office policies.
Manager: Keeps track of employees. Produces reports. Oversight on materials or processes.
Website Dev: Maintains website. Creates tools and patches. Secures the backend.
Marketer: Works on marketing campaigns. Coordinates with Sales. Creates & publishes content online.

A bit oversimplified, but you understand where I’m coming from here. Each employee in these roles has certain tasks to accomplish. The thing is, these tasks are all defined by one thing: OUTPUT.

The results of the role’s work are in some form of output. Not a physical effect, but an operational result. Let me illustrate the type of output each role generates.

  • HR – Reliable employees
  • Manager – Improved operations numbers & satisfied employees
  • Website Developer – Optimized websites and tools for customer use
  • Marketer – Qualified leads going to Sales

Do they need to be in the office to produce these types of output?

No. So long as they have computers and a phone, none of them require it. They only come to the office because of the old “corporate standard.” That standard is rapidly dying…and it should. We are in the beginning of a new age of work.

If they’re not in the office though, how do you know they’re working? You will if they go to a place which maximizes their output.

What’s the Best Location for Maximum Output?

Since their roles are defined by output, these employees should be in a location where that output is maximized. Optimal environment for productivity, right?
Where would they go other than the office, to do their work? Most would say ‘Stay Home,’ and that is by & large the best option. However, others do exist. They could move between home and a coffee shop. Go to a co-working space. Even station themselves at a customer site.

Where SHOULD they go to work? Depends on the person, and the role they fill. I used to think ‘Home’ was always the first answer. But after giving it more thought, I would say a better answer is…

Employees should work from the place best suited to their productivity, depending on the person & the role.

co-working photo

A co-working space…great for maximizing output! Photo by karpidis

Let’s go through the four locations I mentioned already. Each has advantages & disadvantages to remote employees, depending on the role.

  • Home: All (but especially Manager & HR). Why? Potential for dealing with company IP (Intellectual Property). You don’t want to download and read through confidential data in a coffee shop.
  • Coffee Shop: Developer, Marketer. While some of their data is confidential, it’s not as mission-critical as material controlled by Management & HR. Use of a VPN will secure the developer’s backend data, and the Marketer’s leads.
  • Co-Working Space: HR, Developer, Marketer. These employ security and office-grade services. A useful tool when needed, and they provide an office-like environment if desired.
    (I don’t include Manager here because I’ve read stories of Managers in a co-working space, who felt the need to ‘manage’ the people around them!)
  • Customer Site: Developer, Manager (if acting as a consultant or advisor). I’ve worked with developers who chose to work at a customer site, while they worked on that customer’s project. It allowed them immediate access to their customer contacts on time-critical projects. The important thing to remember is, they were not assigned to the customer site. They chose to go there because they knew it would maximize their productivity for the project.

Finding Out the Best Location: Conduct Trials

How do you find out the best way to maximize your employees’ output? Look to the developer example I just gave. He ordinarily worked between an office and his house. But in the short-term, going to the customer site allowed him to shorten the project time by one full week.

Employees usually know what they need to do their best work. To find this out, conduct trials with your employees. Have them work from home for 1 week. Encourage them to try out a co-working space for 2.

You can run the trials by department, by role, or both. That depends on your feelings & those of your employees. Once the trials are done, have each employee report back on where they think they’re most productive.

Important: Do not share these reports with others. If you give employees the option to work remotely, but share around their reasons for doing so? You could end up embarrassing some employees, which can lead to irritation and possibly losing them.

Remote Work Effects: Productivity Boosts

What effect would moving employees like the Head of HR or Lead Marketer outside the office have? Well, consider where they are now, and what the move was meant to do. A remote employee has now chosen a location where they feel they’re the most productive.

The natural result? A productivity boost.

Since they are where they’re most productive, you’ll see improvements in their day-to-day productivity above their prior output. Not only that, but over the long term, both they and the business see gains. More efficient use of time (e.g. no more commute), lower operational expenses (office power, materials not used as much), and higher customer satisfaction (productive employees feel happier overall, which carries over into their customer-facing activities).

This multiplies across each remote employee. Think of half your office, doing their best work in an environment maximizing their output. Your bills go down by a huge number (I recall a case study where one office saved 30% on expenses via remote work). Your output gets a boost. Your customers are happier.

You still need their talent…just not their presence.

Home Office Upstairs

I know what you’re thinking. How do MANAGERS benefit when their workers aren’t in the office?

We know a few benefits the workers themselves get from it. But managers? Part of their job is making sure those workers do their job. If I can’t call someone into my office, or go drop by their desk…how do I know they’re actually working?

(Believe it or not, that sort of perspective actually creates a benefit for remote workers. I’ll explain shortly.)

The answer is, it’s easy to know. Plus, you as a manager can derive as much value from remote work as your employees. Let’s find out what kind of value, shall we?

I’ll start with the immediate benefits for employees. Bear with me; there’s a method to my madness.

Immediate Benefits to Working Remotely for Employees

1. Remote Work Ends the “Someone’s Watching Me” Atmosphere

empty office photo

“Bob, you seen Alice?” “Working remotely Sir.” “What about Leslie?” “Remote.” “Joe?”
Photo by Iain Farrell

Do you do your best work when someone’s watching?

You’re sitting at your desk, typing away…and you feel it. The weighty sensation behind your head. That tickle on your neck. The invisible pressure of eyes. You turn your head, and sure enough, there’s your boss. Staring at you like some tenth-story gargoyle.

Distracting, isn’t it? Of course it is. No one performs their best under scrutiny. Yet when we’re working, we want to do good work. So “someone’s watching me” becomes a lingering sandbag. Flattening our productivity at random.

Not in the office? No chance of someone staring at you. No distraction.

2. Improved Co-Worker Communication

When working remotely, how do you check with a co-worker on their progress? Maybe you need some input on the new customer’s sales report. Frank will have that…but you can’t get up & walk over to Frank’s desk. You’re at home, and so is he. (For purposes of this post, I’m assuming you don’t live together.)

You’ll need to check in with Frank, and other co-workers, frequently. For remote workers, there’s plenty of ways to do that. Most are even faster than walking between cubicle rows.

In pretty much all remote-work situations, I advocate teams use project management software like Trello or Asana. Or chat apps like Slack. These platforms provide easy-to-use communications methods. Checking in with Frank only takes a short Slack message, a comment on Asana, an email, a phone call…take your pick.

More importantly, the inability to walk across an office makes each & every worker aware of the need to communicate. How’s that a benefit? The awareness actually leads to BETTER communication.

Since you have to check with co-workers, you’ll work out ways to do this quickly & clearly. Whatever gets you the needed information fast, so you (and Frank) can get back to work. Now you have new communication habits, short and frequent.

3. No More Commute.

Yes, this one’s obvious. But it’s definitely a benefit, for work as well as life.

Gaining back hours spent in commute results in longer/better-quality sleep. How many of you are chronically sleep-deprived? It wrecks your productivity…not to mention quality of life.

You also have more time available for work (and for life). How’s that anything but a benefit?

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Hold on managers. Don’t reach for the heart meds just yet. While these might sound like one-sided benefits, they’re not. In fact they benefit you too…in important ways.

I’ll demonstrate by clarifying another aspect of the very same benefits.

Immediate Benefits to Working Remotely for Managers

1. Focus Shifts to Work Progress

Since the “someone’s watching me” atmosphere isn’t possible anymore, what’s left? The work. For you and for them. Nothing gets in the way of (or distracts from) accomplishing the work.

You can still check in on employees easily. Use the same communications tools they use. Most have a “Presence” status indicator. It’s usually a colored dot indicating when they’re Available, Busy, in a Call or Meeting, etc. One glance and you confirm Frank is hard at work.

If you don’t see his status, well, there’s always the phone.

2. More Efficient Workflow (For You!)

With employee communication improving among each other, you’ll notice a curious, but appreciable absence from your workday.

What happens to all those times you’re working, and someone stops by to ask YOU a question? Something their co-worker knows already, or they could find out in a few minutes?

They stop happening.

Think about that. Dozens, maybe hundreds of micro-disruptions during your daily workflow…gone! (Or at least massively cut down.) You could gain hours of productive time back, without doing a thing.

3. Can’t/Don’t Want to Go in Today? Don’t!

I’ll tell you a not-well-kept secret. Managers can telecommute too.

You’re just as reachable as employees, using the same tools to get the work done. (I’ll review a bunch of those tools on the blog soon, don’t worry.) You also can focus on your work, and enjoy the same productivity boost.

Maybe you need to take your son to the doctor? No reason to head to the office, then back home to get him, and then over to the doctor’s. You’re just wasting time driving back and forth…time you could spend working.

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unhappy office photo

Photo by simon.carr

By the way, these are just 3 IMMEDIATE benefits to working remotely. More do exist, both in short- and long-term. I’ll go into detail on all of them in future posts.

For now…what’s one question you have regarding remote work? Please ask it in the comments. I want this blog to answer as many of your questions as possible.