The world will remember 2020 as the year when everyone from the office suddenly started working from home.
While nobody can predict the future and offices are not disappearing forever, rapid economic disruption from COVID-19 and remote connectivity suggest that work patterns have permanently changed. Remote work that was the exception but is now a rule requires different and new approaches.
To adapt to this remote work future, organizations must move beyond simply promoting connectivity to establishing scalable remote workflows that enable distributed teams.
Shifting From the Exception to the Rule
Remote and distributed work--including from home--has been forced upon businesses in ways that nobody anticipated. What once served as a perk might be useful for inspiration, but success in this new reality requires scalable solutions that empower workforces.
The Impact of New Challenges
In the past, many viewed remote work as a less productive and almost suspect alternative to being in the office.
Despite growing adoption, working from home was tolerated as an option once a week, for certain people or on a case-by-case basis. While every organization was different, “working from home” overall was a loaded concept that was deemed inferior to the office and caused eyeballs to roll. That changed overnight. In the new reality, nobody is in the office. There is no office as we knew it. We no longer have the luxury of underestimating remote work.
Remote work en mass transforms formerly minor hiccups into major challenges. What happens when workers get distracted at home? What’s the impact on team-based projects that once heavily relied on continuous in-person interaction? How does it impact security and productivity? These struggles are real. Remote work and all its challenges have arrived.
Past Solutions are Based on Yesterday’s Assumptions
Traditional remote work solutions assume that everyone else is in the office.
Designed primarily for outliers, past solutions favor the office and disfavor remote work. Cloud software and services, while an important technical evolution, do not instantly guarantee better remote work. We tolerated conferencing that poorly imitated the in-person experience and left webcams turned off because most workers were face-to-face. We had no urgency to sync files effectively when collaborators were next door. Remote work solutions were optimized for a few telecommuters. Did someone just join? and Can everyone see my screen? became common vocabulary.
The definition of this office has dramatically changed. Even distributed teams in different offices provide little precedent for the current situation. Solutions affect departments, leadership, staff, and other office workers who were never previously envisioned to work from home. These fragile patchworks of tools were designed for people who are no longer in the office. The old solutions are inherently flawed.
Establishing Scalable Remote Workflows
The writing was on the wall--remote work was a breakthrough waiting to happen. While many already talk about the new normal, it requires a mindset shift from short-term stopgaps that minimize disruption to long-term workflows that prioritize outcomes and foster resilience.
Build Momentum Through Workflows
Leaders report success stories and rightfully praise their newly remote teams for adapting to disruption. However, workforces cannot remain in crisis mode. While many workers will certainly return to the office as circumstances improve, fully or partially -virtual teams are no longer unique outliers. The future of remote work cannot be a persistent attempt to stay afloat.
Sustainable long-term solutions require momentum. Scalable and reliable new workflows that incorporate both technology and processes are the foundations of this momentum. These workflows must optimize across the full range of distributed possibilities and leverage unique advantages that make remote outcomes better than the office. The future is about thriving, not surviving.
Speed up the Transition to the New Normal
There are several approaches to transition towards scalable workflows today if this remote future seems overly optimistic.
First, setup “war rooms” that reestablish broken informal links. While isolation is a common remote work pain, the impact is not limited to social. Remote teams absolutely miss real-time work context. Most subtleties that slip through the cracks result from ad-hoc interactions. Frictionless links are essential. Many organizations use tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams to fill this void, but a simple open conference line can work in the beginning. Chances are, you already have tools to do this.
Second, get all information in an accessible place for everyone. There are unlimited ways to transmit content, including email, messaging, and shared drives. It’s common to rely on routine habits, such as sending email attachments, that isolate information in silos. While fragmentation might be tolerable in traditional offices, it results in confusion and disconnection for remote and distributed teams. Maintain a single source of truth and reinforce behavior through example and feedback.
Third, leverage deep collaboration tools. While collaboration is often used as a buzzword, the latest cloud software features help to establish more accountability, responsibility, and productivity than the physical office. Google Docs and some engineering platforms enable different people to contribute to the same work. Project and task management tools such as Asana and Trello create dynamic action lists accessible to everyone from anywhere. Leaders often worry about losing control when going remote, but co-location is actually false security because it says nothing about the outcomes. Seek these capabilities in existing tools and adopt them in the future. That way, success is measured beyond presence in the office.
Thriving in the Remote Work Future
Yes, everyone from the office is suddenly working from home. While old solutions are built for the office, it is still possible to thrive in a remote work future. In fact, building momentum around scalable remote workflows and speeding up this transformation will pay back in many positive and unexpected ways. What steps are you taking in your organization to move from surviving to thriving?
About the Author
Daniel Mark Adsit is Principal Consultant at Mergence Systems, specializing in helping seasoned leaders use systems to scale remote and global teams. During his career, he has completed projects in over 15 countries for organizations including Eaton Corporation, Altera, and HubSpot certified marketing agencies. Adsit also works with a team at MIT that delivers eLearning courses to thousands of learners at companies worldwide using the Open edX platform. He is a graduate of the System Design and Management (SDM) Program at MIT and the College of Engineering at Cornell and enjoys horseback riding and traveling.