This is a tale of a company at a crossroads. Innovation had stalled. Teamwork was anemic. It was a time of stagnation. Leaders wrung their hands over the ailing enterprise. So they issued a decree. “Hear ye, hear ye! Remote work is banned. All employees must return to the closest regional office.”
These leaders blamed remote work for a string of disappointing results and lack of progress. It was a bold but empty declaration. Of course, they had it completely backward.
Remote work is not what cast a pestilence upon this corporate land. When done right, it can actually be a company’s salvation.
I understand that remote work makes an easy scapegoat though. And some leaders are prone to knee-jerk reactions. With deeper thinking, those leaders would likely see in remote work a path towards better individual and team performance. I know it has worked for us at Aha!
This is not a matter of opinion or conjecture either. According to research, office workers are far less able to focus than remote workers. And nearly two out of three respondents to a survey said working remotely would boost productivity.
Blaming remote work for rudderless teams and sluggish business is not only wrong — it exacerbates the real problems.
Rather than pointing the finger at distributed workforces, companies need to take a hard look at what is causing organizational strife and dysfunction. And it usually is bigger than gathering everyone in the same office building.
Here are some of the scenarios I have seen in the past which cause companies to go sideways:
This is the mother of all institutional failures. You can have a hardworking and talented team — but if you do not have a clear purpose guiding the work and tying everything and everyone together, success will still be out of reach.
There is a vision — but do you set clear objectives for realizing it? People without goals have no confidence that the actions they are taking are the right ones. Setting measurable and time-bound goals not only gives clear direction to the team, but it also lets you gauge progress.
Objective prioritization of tasks and To-dos gets everybody marching in lockstep towards those goals. Without some level of consensus, you will end up with a free-for-all where everybody focuses on what they consider to be most important.
Achieving a vision is a team effort. But that also means the team must communicate continuously. It is up to leaders not only to set strategy and goals but to also share them clearly and explain the reasoning. This lack of transparency is a major culprit behind very dysfunctional teams.
Without good communication, there will not be fast action. It does not matter if the team is remote or co-located — progress will be slowed. Our team at Aha! lives by The Responsive Method, which includes the principles of transparency and quick responses to requests.
Companies that scapegoat remote work for poor results will battle those same problems again — but with a less effective workforce to tackle the challenges.
Do not take this humble narrator’s story as the last word — the evidence supporting remote work is too compelling and today’s top talent has too many options of where to work. Even the company in our tale found it impossible to enforce the wildly unpopular decree.
You see, the company leaders later quietly acquiesced on the remote work policy: “Please use your best judgment in the spirit of productivity and collaboration.”
It may not exactly be a fairytale ending, but it is a start.
Why do you think companies scapegoat remote work?