Born out of necessity instead of choice, the COVID-19 outbreak moved remote work from a suggestion to a safety requirement. Clear benefits that extend beyond the current crisis like lower overhead, a global talent pool, and workplace flexibility have led some tech giants like Twitter, Stripe and Shopify to make remote work permanent.
Yet despite the positives, many are struggling with pain points like communication shortfalls, fears of disengagement, and centralized decision-making. The rapid shift to employees working from home coupled with the effects of a volatile market (layoffs, furloughs and hiring freezes) have complicated the issue of productivity.
For agile departments like engineering, marketing, and even HR, how can remote work become an advantage? We believe you can achieve greater productivity with a flexible workforce in remote working.
This article is part of our guide on the future workforce.
Tap into the ‘right’ talent — including on-demand workers
Remote work enables you to get the help you need. It not only puts you in contact with on-demand talent based anywhere in the world, but also opens the door to the Gig Economy. In my experience, freelancers are adept at self-management, independent work, and bringing their expertise to short-term projects.
In fact, a recent study by the Harvard Business Review (HBR) found freelancers to have the traits of proactivity, resilience, and mental agility—three characteristics that are necessary in today’s world of uncertainty. These individuals can even guide newly-hired remote workers, as they may require more support in adjusting to a new environment and more autonomous mode of working.
Depending on your needs, remote work affords you the flexibility to hire a freelance programmer for a month-long coding project or bring on a full-time social media marketer to manage your brand. It also enables you to hire the best person for the job, no matter where they call home.
Make constant progress with a ‘Follow the Sun’ model
A location independent workplace enables you to take advantage of a 24/7 workforce. The approach is commonly called Follow the Sun. It represents how remote work enables team members to continue during the day in their time zone so that someone is always ‘behind the wheel,’ ensuring that milestones are being met and that projects are continually moving forward.
I experienced the positives of this approach to remote work firsthand. In a previous role as vice president of professional services, I managed people in seven different countries who were located across various time zones. This setup enabled us to:
- Cover tasks through various teammates’ day and night shifts.
- Provide employees with the flexibility to work during times that were best for their personal schedules.
It was empowering to know that help desk tickets, customer questions and project tasks were being handled around the clock. It made it possible for us to be efficient at what we do and give our customers the confidence that someone was always there to help.
Because of it, our team also enjoyed greater flexibility, as those who needed to work different hours of the day could achieve work-life balance—something especially crucial now in the time of a pandemic.
If you’re working in a client-facing department and need team members to rapidly manage inquiries or handle a constant flow of projects, consider ways such as freelance hiring that you could help your team Follow the Sun.
What changes could help your team run faster?
In the first of this two-part series, I covered how tapping into the right talent and allowing greater flexibility regarding when work gets done can be a game-changer for organizations. Here, I’ll shed light on two more approaches that might seem counterintuitive at first, but can have a significant lasting impact on your business.
Delegate more decision-making to front-line managers
In developing a productive work environment, managers are the key to promoting worker satisfaction, balancing costs, and improving organizational efficiency.
From personal experience, managers are in the tricky and stressful situation of managing headcounts, which can clash with personnel needs and budget constraints. A workaround for this involves hiring freelancers, who can step in to increase your capacity when needed without increasing a department’s full-time employees (and the expenses that come with them).
Depending upon where your organization falls within the onsite-to-remote work continuum, you may have a culture that needs a lot of adjustment to enable asynchronous work with employees and contractors, or if you already have some distributed staff, you may have a smoother transition bringing freelancers on board (see Matt Mullenweg’s Five Levels of Autonomy in Distributed Work for more details on the types of autonomy).
This is why my team at Stoke has focused on delegating budget management to managers directly.
Team leaders know what they need more than high-level professionals who may be further away from day-to-day activities. They should be trusted to find the best talent while also working around budget constraints.
Having a tool that makes handing off hiring and direct budget management to managers saves time, money and frustration. And delegating this responsibility to managers enables all team members to reap the benefits of remote work and flexible hiring, while promoting a culture of agency and autonomy.
With the surge in newly minted freelancers and agencies as a result of recent economic changes, a platform like what we’ve built at Stoke ensures that companies can take advantage of available highly-skilled talent to hire non-payroll workers with confidence.
Focus exclusively on results instead of visibility
Many studies have revealed that remote work encourages an increase in productivity. Global Workplace Analytics, a research and consulting firm, found that telecommuters from Best Buy, British Telecom, Dow Chemical, and many other companies were 35 to 40 percent more productive than their in-office colleagues. Additionally, the firm also revealed that 46 percent of companies that allowed telework said that it reduced attrition—a significant impact on productivity.
One of the reasons why stats like these exist is that remote work requires a mindset shift. Office attendance (who shows up) is no longer a key performance indicator—alternatively, results (what they produce) become the focus.
Remote or even hybrid work arrangements mean you don’t have the opportunity to walk over to an employee’s desk to confirm they’re working on something. As a result, there has to be a higher level of trust among everyone involved.
This is especially true if you want to establish unity between remote and onsite employees. Everyone has to be on the same page, and results are a better indicator of who is productive versus attempting to keep track of who’s sitting at their desk each day.
In my opinion, using tools to closely monitor the work of freelancers or full-time remote workers defeats the purpose of true autonomy. Remote work forces high-level leadership professionals to delegate, cede control when needed, and spend time focusing on the things they’re meant to do. The focus then shifts to creating processes that make it easier for teams to do their best work from wherever they are.
A few closing thoughts for you to consider:
- What are your biggest workflow pain points? Could contingent workers help to solve them?
- What will it take from a process perspective to move your organization to a fully remote or hybrid environment?
- What could you be delegating to your managers? How could they help to further implement a remote culture?
- What are your current personnel needs? Do you need more flexibility (freelancers or independent contractors), more full-time employees, or both?
Note: the above are intended to be prompts for important conversations you could be having with your leadership team, rather than the start of a monologue. Whether you’re considering a temporary or permanent remote work setup, if you keep the above options in mind, moving to an alternative workforce could catapult your productivity.