March 10, 2020

Remote Work in the Age of Corona

Home Office

In wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19), many organisations are telling their workers to switch to remote working, including 7,000 GPs (MDs) in the UK. An interesting round-up of studies in a recent Forbes piece by William Arruda landed on what I also suspect — this may provide a tipping point for remote working. Arruda’s piece quotes a study from Owl Labs in which they found “34% of U.S. workers would take a pay cut of up to 5% in order to work remotely” and that “remote workers say they’re happy in their jobs 29% more than on-site workers.”

I think two things may collide here. The first, as Arruda argues, is that workers and their managers will get used to the idea that working remotely is not only possible, but often offers a quality of life improvement. They may not want to go back.

The second reminds me of when the Stern Review came out back in 2006 and was the first big report to put climate change in terms of economic gains and losses. Companies weighing up loss revenue if a COVID-19 infection breaks out has trumped the (usually misguided) anxiety that employees won’t work if you’re not watching over their shoulders all the time, itself a tacit admission that the work is unfulfilling and therefore people need to be coerced into doing it.

The reality of remote working is often the opposite — you really need to make sure employees take time off and help them to set healthy boundaries.

My hope is that this leads to a permanent shift in corporate culture that embraces remote working, not as a fad and an afterthought, but as something central to a better work-life balance.

Making use of remote’s superpower

Remote working has to be intentional for everyone involved, especially those in a face-to-face meeting with people dialling in. I suspect a swathe of people who haven’t ever really appreciated that are about to experience how dreadful their companies’ remote “spaces” are and will be more receptive to requests for improvement.

The parlous state of some of the tools, such as Lync/Skype for Business (thankfully nearly eradicated), poor microphones, grainy cameras, and I.T. lockdowns wouldn’t be accepted if they were in the physical world. In blended meetings, it would be like having half the people seated at a nice table in comfy chairs near the speaker, while the others were crammed behind a semi-opaque partition, wearing earmuffs and sitting on rickety old furniture.

I’ve been a remote worker for long portions of my career and have been teaching online since 1998 with lots of hard-won experience in what works and doesn’t. I’ve run fully remote as well as blended workshops, training and coaching. Platforms like Zoom, Mural and Miro make real-time sessions a lot easier, but one of the advantages of online that is often overlooked is asynchronous interaction.

Face-to-face workshops tend to favour those whose mother tongue is the workshop language, who are verbal extroverts, and who can block out time and travel for a day or two. Splitting a full-day face-to-face workshop across several remote sessions, for example, allows people time to think, reflect, read, do, translate. Participants can respond when they want, fit videos and readings around their day, and process and respond in their own time. This is hugely helpful for more introverted people, for those who need to look up language, or those who have childcare or other life needs. But everyone tends to benefit from taking time to think and reflect.

I can train and coach your remote teams

I’m tailoring the majority of my material to work online as well as face-to-face, for both self-directed learning and facilitated real-time sessions. By which I mean that the workshops aren’t just webinars, they’re split across shorter chunks of time with activities that can work online or asynchronously.

I can set up either a Slack group (though this is also near real-time) or message boards for client teams. Message boards might sound old-school, but they’re a powerful medium for discussion — think of StackOverflow, Reddit and Slashdot. You get a much better organised record of the discussion than in a Slack channel and they’re generally accessible within corporate networks on company machines.

If you’re interested in me training and coaching you or your teams remotely, please get in touch.


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