As recently as two decades ago, most work occurred in distinct places at distinct times. Employees had defined workspaces — typically cubicles or desks — and the word “office” mostly referred to a place.
But shifts in culture, mindset and digital technologies have created seismic change. Remote work is no longer novel, but standard operating procedure in many progressive companies.
This has created new worlds of opportunities. Businesses can hire the best employees, wherever they live, and select the perfect strategic partner, regardless of its physical geography.
More than four in 10 (43 percent) of American employees work remotely at least part of the time, according to a February report from Gallup — and employees working remotely are spending more time doing so.
“New and emerging technologies are transforming the type of work employees perform, as well as where and how work gets done,” the report concludes.
Regular work-at-home, among the non-self-employed population, has grown by 103 percent since 2005, according to data from GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com
Omnipresent mobile networks enable high-speed, wireless internet access almost everywhere, transforming everything from kitchen tables and public parks to planes, trains and automobiles to offices.
For employees in many occupations, especially management, business, and financial operations, work has never been more flexible. But businesses benefit, too: Untethered from geography, they also gain flexibility to hire the best persons for the job, regardless of where they live.
‘Collaborations Across Boundaries’
Today, organizations are balancing multiple competitive pressures, including demands for greater efficiency and agility. What’s more, businesses routinely collaborate with partners in different geographies and time zones.
In fact, the growth of the digital workplace has disrupted the notion of the “local” service business. Businesses are not constrained to a narrowly defined geography anymore.
A business is just as likely to hire a partner based on values like trust, compatibility, a shared vision and open communication than on its location in the same city or town.
Give Remote Workers Autonomy
Businesses need knowledge workers with the expertise to quickly adapt to complex and novel circumstances, Nick van der Meulen wrote in his PhD thesis on performance in the digital workplace.
Good managers can give up physical control of their employees without losing real control, he found. “Lack of direct supervision is often not a problem. Most teleworkers aren’t slackers by nature,” he said,
The secret is avoiding micromanaging. “Attempts to monitor too closely can backfire,” he said. Most of the performance benefit of telework stem from giving employees more autonomy. “Undermine that autonomy and you undo the advantages,” he noted.
Effective Remote Work Relationships
Just recently I talked to members of a multidisciplinary, cross-functional, geographically dispersed team. They worked collaboratively with an external partner on a highly complex project for several years, across multiple states.
The team members developed strong cohesion and consistency. Technology was important, of course — everything from phones to the highest quality form of video conferencing.
But the real enabler, team members concurred, was attitude. The team members had a shared vision and clearly communicated objectives, which created a strong, authentic strategic fit.