Remote work, or working from home, gets a bad rap.
Yet, when we look at the in-office statics, it doesn’t exactly put traditional office-space environments in a positive light. A majority of people from one survey reported that they did not feel they had a healthy work-life balance.
Work—and commuting to it—is taking up more of their time, which means less time for family and friends, leisure travel, and overall personal care.
The Netherlands, documented as having only 0.5 percent of employees working 50 hours a week or more, is lapping many other countries in the race for happier workers.
As a stark contrast, the U.S. weighs in at an average of 11.4 percent of Americans working for 50 or more hours per week—and thereby missing out on precious time with their spouses, children, pets, and hobbies. We feel it’s imperative that employers around the globe make it a priority to catch up.
People want to work to live, not live to work.
Our companies have evolved in many ways over the course of a decade. One of the biggest changes, however, has been the move from a traditional brick-and-mortar office environment to a 100 percent remote work setup. While this type of business model has brought changes in how we function, we’ve found that the benefits far outweigh any risks.
History in the Making: The Past, Present, and Future Business Landscape of Remote Work
Let’s examine the various stages of remote work to get an idea of how it has changed over time, why we feel it was inevitable, and how we can predict where it’s going next.
Remote Work History
Over the next few years, it is anticipated that 50 percent of all employees will be working remotely. In fact, Upwork’s “Future Workforce Report” predicts that 73% of all teams will have remote workers by 2028. Technology is allowing us to throw away what we used to think of as a work-life balance and, instead, create harmony between all aspects of life.
When we say “remote,” we’re talking about flexible work environments—in other words, telecommuting. It is the idea that someone does not have to travel to “go to work” every day.
Due to the technology we now have in the digital age, people can get their work done without having to report to a specific physical location.
Some people have an agreement with their employer where they can work from home a certain number of hours or days out of the week, and others have a completely virtual experience. This is made possible by simply having a phone, the right attitude, communication skills, and work ethic—and the proper applications on a home office computer, of course.
Remote Work Evolution
In today’s work landscape, allowing employees to work remotely at least part of the time is becoming more than a luxury—it’s an expectation.
While the ability to work wherever and whenever has proven a valuable recruiting tool in attracting new, young talent, it’s equally as effective in retaining baby boomers who might otherwise be forced to retire early.
Companies who preemptively adopt a remote working model prior to an emergency event (such as a natural disaster) will remain one step ahead of competitors who are unable to do business when the office is inaccessible. As technology expands, businesses won’t trend toward less personalization or customer experience, but rather toward retaining these elements regardless of location or distance. Those who follow this trend will be better poised to serve the next generation of buyer needs.
Last year, 37 percent of workers telecommuted at least some of the time. That’s quadruple the number that telecommuted a decade ago.
An impressive 99 percent of those surveyed for a report by “State of Remote Work 2019” said they would like to work remotely, at least some of the time. When it comes to U.S. workers alone, the current number of remote workers is estimated at 4.7 million—or 3.4% of the population.
The talent war, or rather, the “war for talent,” is a term that was created by Steven Hankin in 1997. A Harvard Business School Press book immortalized it in 2001. But one 2015 study of a Chinese travel agency found that when call-center employees were shifted to working from home, their productivity increased by an average of 13%—apparently due to a more comfortable work environment and a reduction in break time and sick days. It’s said that the reason companies are having trouble finding great people is that they’re all looking in their own backyards.
Why limit your pick of candidates when you can leverage the entire world?
Research shows that office workers cannot concentrate adequately at their desks. In fact, one study found that the number of people who say they do not concentrate best at their desks has increased by 16 percent since 2008.
Also startling: the number of workers who say they don’t have access to quiet places to do sincerely focused work is up by a dangerous 13 percent.
So what can we do about this?
Let’s look to the future and get a sense of where we’re headed if people keep embracing these findings.
Future: What Will the Remote Workforce Be Like in 2020–2050?
The future of teamwork in a distributed world is an inclusive one.
Some employees are unable or unwilling to take on a daily office commute yet still possess valuable skills and are eager to contribute. Employers who allow for telecommuting enable seasoned workers to remain in the workforce longer.
While a long commute may not be feasible and would otherwise force them into retirement, allowing team members to work remotely enables employers to benefit from their extensive experience and contribute to a multigenerational workforce.
Similarly, single or new parents may have trouble juggling childcare responsibilities with their work. By accommodating their schedules through telecommuting, they can continue to be a valuable resource to their employer while they tend to the needs of their family.
In 2005, Thomas Friedman published his bestselling book, “The World is Flat.” In his book, he described the technological, cultural, and economic forces that would lead to an abundance of international teams. Over 10 years later, we see his forecast fulfilled.
It’s easy to ascertain the tremendous benefits of diverse, geographically dispersed teams working well together—wherever they may be located—based on their skills, performance, and reputation.
Uhuru’s Own “Why” Behind the Concept of Remote Work
In “Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter,” authors David Rock and Heidi Grant found that such teams are smarter for three main reasons:
- They focus more on the facts
- They process those facts more carefully
- They are more innovative
The authors found that working with people who are different from you challenges your brain to overcome habitual or mechanical ways of thinking, which sharpens its performance. Our company can also recruit from a global talent pool that is greater, in aggregate, than any geographic region.
Now, even the most capable teams may be wondering, how do language barriers, varying time zones, and cultural differences not get in the way?
You can lead efficiently and effectively by applying the principles of business empowerment to international teams, which we will touch on later. These are only challenges if you allow them to be. Rock and Grant’s article offers some guidance and best practices on how managers can use a distributed workforce to their advantage.
The same systems we use as a distributed team enable us to build the operational habits required to successfully support clients all over the globe.
We’ve promoted remote work in dozens of interviews and articles. A lot of people see Uhuru as a loud advocate of remote work—and we are. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t had our moments.
Moments where advisors tell us that we need an office in order to attract the best talent, the best investors, or ideal partners. Moments where our productivity slows to a crawl, and it feels like if we just had everyone in the same room, we could work this thing out. Moments where I’ve doubted this whole remote thing, completely.
But in those moments, we re-evaluate and decide that, for my team, these benefits are far greater than the temporary feeling of discouragement (you’ll want to remind yourself of these, as well, during your own “moments”):
- Cost-Effectiveness of a Remote Team
Save on office space, office supplies, hardware, insurance, heat, air conditioning, and more—not to mention gas, train tickets, or frustrations that come with commuting (and who doesn’t like to help the environment as an extra side benefit?).
- The Happiness of Employees
One of our graphic designers decided to take an extended trip to Switzerland and one of our best salespeople chose to temporarily move to South Africa—simply because they could. In what other job landscape can you move to—and work from—anywhere around the world, wherever and whenever you want (as long as you have a stable internet connection)?
- Quality of Life Influences Output
It’s no secret that when employees work happier, they work more productively. And that’s always good for your bottom line. One study scored workers on a scale of 1 to 10. Telecommuters scored an average of 8.10, while traditional workers averaged only 7.42. Overall, remote workers outperformed office workers in the areas of performance, teamwork, and presence.
We have entered the new digital era and some may be a little behind in the times. There are misconceptions about this newer work concept. People might question if work is actually being done or if it’s an excuse to slack off and do whatever you want. In fact, the opposite is true. When people work remotely, they tend to get a lot more work done.
There are many tools available today to help you track your time, such as Toggl, Harvest, and TimeDoctor.
Keep in mind that this is not to give the feeling of micromanagement, but rather, help you assess how long something should take you, how long it is actually taking, and how to plan your day in a healthy, realistic way. It will also help your team members who are part of a pipeline and are waiting for something to be passed back to them so they can get their work done effectively as well.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are more tips and tricks where those came from. It’s time to dive a bit deeper into what exactly we’ve been doing to get to where we are today.
More on the “How”: What Uhuru Does to Get Unbelievable Results
When roles and responsibilities are made clear and a step-by-step workflow is understood by all, any team can significantly amplify its potential.
Communication will be key for any team—but for those professionals managing globally distributed teams, next-level communication is essential. If an important decision is made and word of it only reaches some team members, those who are left in the dark will unknowingly veer in the wrong direction.
You don’t want anyone feeling left out or going astray. This leads to mistakes, which is bad for your clients and team morale. As part of one brand, everyone needs to be heading in one direction, as a unit, toward the same central goals—no matter how far apart they are physical. Things need to be transparent and everyone needs to be on the same page for efficiency, accuracy, and cohesiveness.
If you’re thinking it’s impossible to ensure that happens when the team isn’t in the same office, unable to simply knock on a door or swing by a cubicle to ask a question, think again. Remote work might have been more challenging back in the day, but in recent years, it has become almost second nature for so many because of technological advancement.
Utilizing Technology to Support Remote Teams
The right training and technology can ensure that offsite workers don’t feel left out. We focused on building an agile business through digitally distributed systems. Like many other successful remote teams, Uhuru communicates across different time zones (eight at the moment) without really feeling the distance. Keep reading to see how this is made possible through the right technology.
We make sure to put tried and true tools to the test every day to see what works best for our teams and what doesn’t. Through trial and error, we’ve been able to narrow down our favorite apps that help us get the job done, which we share later in this article.
Again, remote work has its advantages—flexibility, low or no overhead costs, and a greater pipeline of applicants from which to hire. But it also has its drawbacks—less face-to-face interaction, concern about whether employees are staying on task, and sometimes, communication challenges. Because dispersed employees may work in different cities, states, countries, and time zones, they rely heavily on technology to connect and collaborate with each other and with clients.
So how does Uhuru handle successful daily operations without an office? Here are some of our tips and well as ones from other supervisors and workplace experts who are getting great results from their remote teams:
Before his software company’s workforce became 100 percent remote, Alex Turnbull, founder and CEO of GrooveHQ, described an office where workers were there but not always “present.” While people generally worked well together when they absolutely needed to, many were tuning out their environment with headphones while tackling their day-to-day tasks. Turnbull didn’t see why they needed to be in the same room all the time if they weren’t taking advantage of being together in the same physical space anyway.
Relinquishing a physical corporate office eliminated costly real estate expenses, improved work-life balance, and expanded the company’s capacity to recruit top talent more quickly than ever before. But culture suffered until the staff figured out ways to maintain a sense of community through virtual, and even infrequent in-person, meetings.
As a strategy to find the best remote employees, some companies deploy the same type of technology workers will be using on the job during the hiring process. For instance, conducting virtual interviews can give employers insight into how the candidate approaches remote work since that’s a similar setup they will experience on the job, if hired. From our agency hiring experiences and our recent launch of talent agency focused on helping companies find the highest quality full-time remote Marketers, we’ve learned; it’s important to understand why they [the company or candidate] work remotely and how they work.
Create a Well-Designed Onboarding Process
Experts say onboarding is an effective way to familiarize new employees with the people, processes, and tools—such as video technology and collaboration platforms—that they will need to succeed.
For example, some organizations use conferencing tools to give new employees a chance to meet coworkers ahead of time. A virtual tour of workspaces is a nice touch if the company still has some in-office, non-remote workers or the job requires you to be there at least part of the time.
A good deal of training in the form of how-to demos can also be done through video to catch new people up to speed quickly in an engaging, personalized way. Create lessons for them to see how your processes and tools work and get them familiar with certain nuances without having to be there in person.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Kevin Eikenberry, founder of The Kevin Eikenberry Group and co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute in Indianapolis, says, “from the ubiquitous email to how to have meetings, everything is mediated through technology.” That’s why he asks new virtual team members to initiate 15- to 30-minute get-to-know-you phone conversations with each existing team member. The calls foster collaboration and trust, but also take some of the pressure off the manager to be the sole contact person.
At our companies, aside from these valuable personal calls, each team is encouraged to share recent accomplishments, next steps, issues, and risks while on work-related daily, weekly, and monthly conference calls. During these mandatory calls, we briefly review each team’s status, leaving enough time to dive into any area that need clarification for any member. The conversations have always resulted in engaging dialogue because different individuals offer different ways of thinking and different perspectives. If we did not have these check-in sessions, something important may have been missed.