Deb Lavoy, director of strategic marketing for OpenText, works with people all over the world — some of whom she’s never met. She works the phone, Skype, Twitter and email “ceaselessly” and feels “strongly connected” to her co-workers.
The Upside of Remote Working
Lavoy acknowledges if "you have employees who are untethered from the team, who don't have good, reliable communication or who do not appear to be aligned with or aware of what's going on back at the plant, then you might have a problem.” In addition, scale, it can be more challenging to repair failing team health and hard to manage two classes of workers, remote and on-site.
But it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, Lavoy called the Remote Working World an “incredible opportunity” for teams and individuals. “I can work deeply and well with people I've never or rarely met."
She maintains there is more upside than downside. “But again,” she added, “different teams and contexts will have different complexions. Disengaged remote workers can be very, very disengaged. Bringing them in (even temporarily) can work wonders.”
Hewlett-Packard and Yahoo made news when the former encouraged and the latter forced their workforces to gather under one roof instead of working remotely. Speaking generally, Lavoy said there is a time for “letting things flow free” and other times for “pulling things in.”
Changing a work-from-home schedule would force professionals like Lavoy to significantly change not onl schedules but lifestyles. “So I sympathize strongly with people being forced to leave their home offices,” she said. “Many will have to rearrange things like childcare and long commutes.”
Still, a physical presence in an organization is “very powerful,” Lavoy said. “People who spend time together in a physical location infect one another with their emotional states, their banter and simply their sense of being together,” she explained.
Having face time — in real life — could be a “potent opportunity" to reengage people. “The ‘all hands on deck’ concept makes sense to me, in spite of the fact that it will be unworkable for some,” she added.
Organizations could evaluate the needs of employees individually on request. For instance, if the employee is a productive part of the workforce and generally part of the solution rather than the problem, giving that person an alternative to impossible life choices makes sense, Lavoy said.
Remote Working the Right Way
Companies can get into trouble when they have telecommuter who don’t feel like part of the team, Lavoy said. “Employers need to be in constant communication with the people they work with, even if it is virtual,” she added.
In other words, keep in touch and maintain mutual awareness. Lavoy schedules “gab time” so co-workers can simply get on the phone and talk. “No agenda, no objectives, just to talk, gossip a little, talk through great ideas,” Lavoy said. “These have yielded intimacy and closeness that rivals any in-person professional relationships I've had.”
Organizations need to set a clear and strong mission, encourage vigorous debate, be intolerant of disrespect in any form and be crystal-clear about pending decisions and their outcomes.
“If you think you are communicating enough, you aren't,” Lavoy said. “If you think you are over-communicating you still aren't doing enough. Communicate, enable and connect people to gain rather than lose intensity, in person or not.”