Leaning into the future of work

Karl R. LaPan, President & CEO, The NIIC
Photo courtesy Shutterstock

The nature of how we work has changed in the last decade. Remote work has become the new norm, a reality that companies must embrace if they are looking to attract the best and the brightest. As PwC’s 2019 global survey of CEOs revealed, the availability of talent is one of the top three threats to the growth of global organizations.  I would opine and add any organization regardless of size, location or business type.

That said, forward-thinking companies know that if they want to stay relevant, they need to be open to flexible work arrangements where it doesn’t impair or adversely impact their customers or the work culture. Not only can this make you attractive from a recruiting and retention perspective, but companies can also experience cost savings. This setup allows for allocating more resources to innovation and growth. However, innovative and creative firms still need the community-building, connections and camaraderie that comes from working, learning and laughing together. There is no substitute for human interactions albeit with AI, machine learning and advancement in robotics, there may be less of it in the future!

Still, this is nothing to leave to chance. Companies with the most robust flexible work programs share some common characteristics:

Leadership is on board and engaged.

HR may have hiring power, but you need to align your leadership team on where they stand when it comes to hiring virtual talent. Otherwise, you risk internal division and tensions. Members of the “old guard” may not be as comfortable with nontraditional work arrangements and therefore might need more education on how to manage and integrate them into the company.

The onus then falls on managers to go to bat for their remote staff. If you don’t quantify or qualify their value, it’s easy for leaders to have the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. However, when those in authority see them as a crucial part of the team, they treat virtual employees or contingent workers to maximize their organizational value and impact. Not every job in a company can be done remotely.

They invest in communication tools.

Communication is critical to teams, whether on-site, virtual, or a combination of the two. Fortunately, technological advances like Skype, Slack, Zoom, Remote Desktop access, Dropbox and the like have made it possible to collaborate and interface in real-time with no disruption to workflow.

They are culture-driven.

While culture is intentional, when done right, it’s something all team members can intuitively sense. It is important to not take an out of sight out of mind approach but rather ensure your organizational processes value and integrate your entire organization – remote workers, contingent workers, and full-time in the office workers.

Team meetings via video and occasional in-person meetings and company retreats are means to that end. If you’ve succeeded in creating and fostering a blended team with virtual talent, you’ll find that the dynamic feel natural when they do meet in person.

Remote is no substitute for physical space

Studies and experience both show that it is not an “all or none” but a hybrid when it comes to remote versus onsite work. Remote workers need to feel respected, valued and appreciated. Their efforts need to be connected and aligned to the organizational culture and the delivery of services in a seamless and meaningful way. Often, companies need access to professional space, external accountability to make sure they are working on and not just in their business, and the credibility and clout that comes with working with a business incubator or an accelerator.

Has your company embraced this paradigm? If so, what tips do you have for the transition? How has it helped your organization innovate or scale? How do you measure or know if it is working?


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