THE TECH’S ALL here. Many employees are gagging for it — at least they think they are. So why wasn’t remote working as prevalent as it should have been before the somewhat dramatically entitled lockdown? Whatever your point of view, whether manager or business owner, or employee or contractor, remote working was on the increase before the virus —and it’s rather looking as it’s here to stay. Indeed, Twitter isn’t in any rush to bring its employees back to the office. Why should it? As HR person from the micro-blogging platform Jennifer Christie blogs: “We’re proud of the early action we took to protect the health of our employees and our communities. That will remain our top priority as we work through the unknowns of the coming months.” Incidentally, she goes on to call the employees whom she serves ‘Tweeps’. Which we thought was kinda sweet… But what are the implications technically and socially? Could it ever be possible to replicate the traditional workplace totally virtually? Let’s have a look… Even before COVID, SectorWatch predicted half the US workforce will be remote by 2020. These telecommuter workers will typically be aged 45 or over, with a college education, and will be pulling a salary of $58,000 at least. Remote workers based at home will be commanding an income of over $65,000 a year, planting them firmly in the upper 80% of either home- or office-based employees, says Global Workplace Analytics. What’s more, growth guru Tony Robbins says now is the best time to kickstart your next phase of business-building tactics. So much for the stats and salaries. What about the underbelly of remote working from the point of view of the manager?

Canary Wharf, London, UK. One of these huge buildings contains the UK HQ of a global bank. It also contains deskspace for 8,000 bank employees. But no fewer than 16,000 people are ‘attached’ to this office. So it seems the world’s local bank has at least half its UK HQ employees anything but local. We can tell you more about remote working and how we manage it. Remote working allows us to radically reduce our overheads and pass the very real savings on to you. We get the most talented professionals for the project in question and actually take advantage of time differences. Ask us how

Do You Manage Remote Workers Like a Boss?

With a bit of asking around and a smidgeon of judicious analysis, we found that bosses fall into three main remote-working-acceptance camps — or not.
  1. Don’t like remote working, don’t want it, and don’t accept it.
  2. Have to accept it as a sign of the times but remain slightly suspicious.
  3. Happily embrace it. It’s more time and cost efficient. And it’s proven.
Don’t like it, don’t want it. Quite clearly, remote working doesn’t support all occupations. So if you’re a line manager responsible for robot minders in an automated car plant, you’re going to find it pretty difficult to release your workers to carry out their duties at home — assuming they don’t have the requisite equipment installed in their garden shed. But let’s take it as a given that you manage service-led individuals who at least theoretically have everything they need to perform effectively and get the job done whether in the office or not. What’s stopping it from happening? Fear of lack of control is one emotive. If you can’t physically see them beavering away at their workstation, are they doing it? There’s a simple answer: if the job’s getting done, the job’s evidently getting done. Never mind timesheets, completion reports or status updates. If it’s done on time, to an expected or better level of quality, what’s the problem? Or maybe you just want your hires to be visible so when your boss walks into your ever-expanding empire of employees he gets a sense of where the headcount budget’s going… going out through reception at precisely 5:31pm… Have to Accept It Thanks to the virus, whether through corporate culture or personal pronouncement, you’ve faced up to the fact that your underlings aren’t battery hens and they’re more than adequately equipped with knowledge of the working world outside their office-based cubicle [do these things really still exist?]. But still you harbour a nagging suspicion. Now you have no real choice to get over it. And get over yourself. If the deliverables are being delivered, if the eggs are still being laid, let the hens out for a flap and a scratch. Former UK Strategy Director Ian Feber, who started in business before the Internet existed as we know it, agrees that for some managers it’s a thorny issue: “[to embrace remote working] You have to stop worrying about them messing about if they’re working at home because they will. As long as the work gets done to as good as or a better standard than if they’re in the office, you shouldn’t care what colour pants they’re wearing while they’re typing. Or whether they’re wearing pants at all, for that matter. “There are ways to combat your own insecurities about remote working,” says Feber. “Make sure that what’s expected, the brief, and the timelines are agreed between manager and worker. Check in with them at some point but not to ask them to show you what they’ve done and how far they’ve got, but to ascertain whether they need any help or have any questions. You don’t want to be an overlord.” That advice applies whether you’re dealing with an intermittent homeworker, a permanently remote worker, or a freelancer or contractor.

True story (as if we’d lie to you…). Friday morning conference call on a big project. A dozen people in the catch-up including some pretty high-level stakeholders. As the call goes round the houses (literally), a mobile phone goes off with a suitably embarrassing ringtone. The would-be recipient of the call pipes up: “I’ll just stuff that under the duvet. —Er, I mean a cushion.” Did we really care that she was still in bed with her laptop? We didn’t, don’t and shouldn’t have. What matters is that the work gets done to an agreed or better standard and on time. Keep an eye on it. Some people are better at remote working than others.

Embrace, With a Smile on Your Face. This disease was a motivator in disguise. Now you’re with the programme — and in the 21st Century. The tech and tools exist to make remote working a reliable alternative to traditional bricks and mortar. Feber adds: “Once you get used to it, it’s exactly the same as briefing people in the office. You tell ’em what you need them to do, tell ’em when you want it and agree waypoints or milestones. These are your opportunities to show your delight at the prospective outcome. Or proffer your constructive disappointment.”

Collaboration Won’t Happen Without Communication

By virtue of being virtual, remote workers can’t shout across their desks or have a watercooler moment when a question comes up or they have an idea to share. And whilst it’s beyond the remit of this article to start recommending communication and collaboration solutions per se, just make triply sure that they work both corporately and for the people that are going to be using them. If the enterprise solution you’re landed with isn’t doing exactly what you and your users want, it’s not a solution. Worse (or perhaps better, depending on your point of view), it will not take long at all for the prescribed system to be circumvented if it’s difficult or restrictive. Users will find a way round. To push the point, no matter how corporately illegal you make it, if what’s perceived by your users to be ‘private’ messaging on their social platform of choice lets them start talking about your next IP goldmine more easily… Well… Users almost always take the line of least resistance. If your remote staff are pushing sensitive information about – either yours or that of your customers – it’s always worth making sure that every data pipe is leak-proof and firewalls are, well, metaphorically fireproof. It might not even be your responsibility. But you sure don’t want it to be when there’s no one else to blame. All the technology in the world won’t completely eradicate what somewhat sarcastically the nerds used to call meatspace. At times, there’s no substitute for real, face-to-face interaction—keeping distancing in mind, of course. But tech now has already reached a level of maturity where it can and does help reduce the time and cost associated with running a business of any size, from SME to supercorp. Lastly, if you get really desperate, there’s always picking up the phone and actually talking to somebody…

“Get Back To Your Offices,” says the PM

“No,” say we, “because we haven’t got any and never will have.” Only because agencies with bricks and mortar are more expensive. Plus, we find we get more out of our creatives when they work in the environment of their choosing, rather than it being some sort of imposition.

UPDATE: 22 Sept 2020—Don’t get back to your offices, says PM

Virus taking hold again. Work at home if you possibly can. And the restaurants and pubs will all have to shut early, despite what we said a week ago…

We’ve Made Remote Working Work. So Can You.

Your correspondent, one of Digital Luminance’s writers, explaining a bit of captivating content strategy to a Malaysian marketing bod, in a coffee bar in Bandung, Indonesia, for an American client, who’s based in Tuscany, Italy. And where is he writing this article? Does it matter? Actually, just outside Christchurch, New Zealand, thanks for asking. Remote working works. And the whole of Digital Luminance is living proof.

Digital Luminance has the finest hand-picked creative and logistical talent all over the world. Strategists in Spain. Project Managers in Portugal. Copywriters in Christchurch. Project leaders in London. UX in the US and AI in Australia. Many of our experienced professionals have never even physically met each other. But we make remote working work. We work remotely to bring you the highest level of creative quality, service and satisfaction without the inflated prices of traditional agencies. And if you feel the need to ask someone what they’re up to, ask us.
Tim Hymans

Author Tim Hymans

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