Remote work is here to stay, we just need to learn how to embrace it

Author: David Passenier

Widely available mobile technologies, and the services provided by Whatsapp or Skype allow many people to work anytime, anywhere. Remote, nomadic and distributed working provides clear opportunities: companies can save costs on offices, offer freedom to workers, and bring in talent without needing people to relocate. Yet many big firms still expect employees to come to the office at the same time each day. They say that remote working has failed. Is the situation really so dire?

We need to embrace it: remote work is here to stay

Yahoo (in)famously decided to call all its employees back to the office. They were effectively trying to reverse decades of technological development that companies like them had championed. “We all know how it worked out for Yahoo,” KIN researcher Ella Hafermalz points out. Reversing history is not possible. Because let’s face it:

“We’re all working remote to some extent. Teams are by nature distributed these days. There are very few teams today that do not use technologies to work flexibly, for example when travelling for business, from a cafe, or at home.”

Working remotely or in flexible arrangements prompts a range of issues, but also opportunities. Ella encountered stories about loneliness and exclusion but also learned about effective strategies for managing remote teams.

“I realized that it’s not just a question of whether or not to pursue a strategy of flexible working. The future of work will include these kinds of arrangements and it’s down to managers to figure out ‘how do we make this work for us?’”

For example, managers can schedule routine catch ups and empathise with a remote worker perspective, using technology in creative, responsive ways to keep colleagues in the loop. Although it requires new skills, effective management in the age of anytime anywhere work can generate engagement and drive productivity.

Challenges of working anytime, anywhere

Managers play an important role in facilitating new ways of working. They need to learn to trust employees and help workers in finding their way. Workers, on the other hand, need to develop strategies and identify tools that enable them to deal with challenges, e.g. finding a workspace ‘on the go’ that fits a certain task, building connections to colleagues and clients, and staying productive.

Digital nomads are an extreme example of flexible workers who combine working with traveling the world. These workers are often contracted to bigger firms, and so are joining the new hybrid work environment. Julia Schlegelmilch’s Ph.D. research revealed that digital nomads experience common challenges:

“Continuously changing locations and identifying new spaces to work requires a lot of additional effort from the workers. They have to develop strategies before they actually get to start working and companies should facilitate the process beyond providing technology.”

Only by empathizing with and catering to workers’ needs, Ella and Julia agree, will companies overcome today’s imperative to embrace flexible working. From a basis of trust, and with a new mindset, managers can use technologies effectively to help their teams thrive in the new ‘anytime, anywhere’ work environment.

KIN Masterclass: Learn how to make ‘anytime, anywhere’ working work

To assist companies in working anywhere, anytime, KIN researchers Ella and Julia are offering a masterclass together with MIT’s Kristine Dery. Kristine will bring in her extensive management experience and discuss various recent cases so that attendees can learn and debate about the strategic discussions that companies are currently having around new ways of working. Ella and Julia will lead exercises to guide effective management of anywhere-anytime workers. Attendees will share and reflect on experiences and come away with practical solutions.