While I absolutely do not make light of the COVID-19 pandemic, typing this post while in self-isolation as the world locks down and millions fight for their lives, I am sitting here on my back porch, pondering the irony of how an acute virus is forcing billions into remote work.
The world of work is broken
At times of panic, I find comfort in clutching “handles” I can reach, while navigating the multiple conflicting thoughts that ravage my brain’s natural processes.
As a non-academic, yet deeply mindful person, turning to history seems like a solid alternative in navigating the chaos. Interesting Engineering describes revolutions as “a result of humankind’s desire to develop, expand, and grow.” The Industrial Revolution “brought about radical change that was directly needed.” The 4th Industrial Revolution, or the digital revolution as some of us refer to it, has been building since the middle of the last century. It’s crazy to think that despite this, so few companies are equipped to run thriving virtual teams.
Some think of digital transformation as the future of work; the reality, however, is that it’s the present.
I grew up with my dad telling me, time and time again, “If something is broken it needs fixing.” Every time I’d sweep this statement under the proverbial carpet, it would sneak its way back into my life, morphed into some new shape or form. He’d remind me that as long as I kept treating only the symptoms, I’d still experience the root problem.
Dare I say that it was only in my thirties when his advice finally hit home (sorry dad!). I was stuck on a highway, some mega distance away from my usual neighborhood, at the upside of a hill, in bumper to bumper traffic. Not knowing much (anything) about cars, I was getting absolutely no engine response as I turned my key in the ignition.
The car was dead and I was going nowhere. The years of this lesson hit me like a high tension whack in the face:
“If your car is not running smoothly—perhaps it’s sluggish or there’s a constant rattle in the rear right; maybe there’s a hole in your exhaust and you’ve got trouble starting it in the mornings; or there are great plumes of smoke gushing out the back when you accelerate—these are signs that something is wrong.” For the record, all of this has happened to me in the past.
He would go on to teach me: “If you patch it, tape it, or ignore it completely, those symptoms will keep coming back, louder and louder until one day your engine seizes entirely and you’re left without transport.”
Such is the world of work. Right now, it’s broken and we need to fix it.
There’s no bandaid solution to the issues preventing a brick-and-mortar business of a previous revolution from becoming the virtual company required for our current economy. In the 18th century, if the workforce did not migrate to the busy cities and instead chose to remain in their rural homelands, the mass production lines would not have developed.
As we go back to a “rural” way of working, we need to fully embrace the new world of work. That comes with deep changes across entire organizations in terms of Leadership, Systems & Processes, Individuals.
Let’s start by getting everyone onboard:
The benefits of remote work
From a leader’s point of view:
At WNDYR we use a framework to help us think thoroughly. It’s a change management methodology which ensures teams tackle questions or circumstances from multiple angles. We refer to it as the thinking framework.
Aside from this, we have a pretty awesome, dare I say so myself, senior leadership team. Claire, Prasoon, Jeff, Bret, and I pooled our thoughts on the top benefits of remote work through our respective lenses—not the normal ones you’d expect to see of course, but some unique and favorite ones.
For the record, it’s important to state that our teams are fully remote, disbursed over 8 countries and various zones. Some of us have teenagers; others have babies, toddlers, and/or young kids. We have pet rabbits and dogs and cats (always lots of cats). Our hobbies are vast and include downhill mountain biking, art classes, rock climbing, cooking, and flying. To build out the profile a bit, three of us are in Texas, USA, one is in London, UK, and I am in a small town just outside Cape Town, South Africa. We all work from our own home offices.
As promised, here are the benefits of remote work…
Leadership & Strategy:
- Working from my own space every day lets me leave my confidential thoughts and ideas as scribbles on a “thinking wall” for as long as I like without any concern over who may read them. The wall remains a creative visual space, changing and evolving as I change as a leader.
- There is never a need to clear meeting room spaces to make room for the next occupants.
- My pool of potential hires is exponentially bigger. I don’t have to constrain myself to where a person works or even the hours a person is available. I could hire a parent of six who needs to be home with the kids all day and can only work 5 pm–10 pm! If I have the right task, I can find the right employee.
- Expenses for my department are simply lower—I have near–zero office overhead expenses.
Systems & Processes:
- I exercise with my partner during the day and can prioritize my tasks around that.
- I can have a playdate with my child on a Monday—I don’t miss out!
- I work on my pilot’s license during the day and fill the gaps in the morning or at night.
- I can take an art class on a Wednesday between 9:30 am–12:30 pm. That may seem like a ridiculous luxury, but it’s a definite creativity booster!
- I have freedom in my physical space: I can move around the house, from the office to the reading corner! I can sit outside with my feet in the pool, which allows for comfort and creative freedom.
- I don’t have to deal with people being late to work because of traffic, flat tires, etc.
- Meetings are more intentional, which makes them more productive.
- Physical and time zone differences force us to be more direct when communicating with our teams and avoid time–waste and discrepancies.
- I can work fluidly around my family. Leadership demands often mean late nights and early mornings. However, being around my family—even if I am not fully engaged—is helpful.
- With everything set up for virtual work, I can literally work from anywhere at any time from either my phone or laptop. So, if I need to fetch a child from school or hang around while they finish with drama class, I can use my time in the car productively to meet, write, research, and think.
- I’m a rebel at heart, so the freedom of not being bound by an office and a commute every day fulfils me more than anything else.
- In a brick and mortar office environment, people are often taking personal time out of the work day. The car needs fixing, the kids have dentist appointments, etc. When you have a remote work approach, those things can happen with less friction because people can work outside of a brick and mortar schedule.
- It’s easier to focus time for deep work for the team. When someone can’t just “pop over” to your desk, it can result in more focused time and help support a schedule. There is just enough distance to nudge teammates into doing some extra research before asking a question, but not so much that they can’t get help when blocked.
- I get to work around my own body rhythms. As an early riser, I often achieve a full day’s work before lunchtime. Remote work gives me the freedom to pause and re-energize for the afternoon slot, which usually consists of meetings.
- I am a night owl, which gives me the opportunity to meet with my NORAM team despite my EMEA time zones. Remote work gives me the freedom to control my own working hours.
Fixing “a world of work” starts by identifying what is broken
For many it has taken the COVID-19 crisis to kick butts into gear and shift into a very new world of working and living.