These days, I work from home. Mostly.
My “workspace” is upstairs in a special section of our master bedroom I call my corner office nook, complete with a window backyard and neighborhood view. My workspace is fluid as well, flowing into the living room, the backyard, even the bathroom sometimes.
What? You’ve never participated a conference call sitting on the toilet in the wee hours of the morning with your phone on mute? C’mon.
I used to have coworking space (leasing office space shared with other entrepreneurs, consultants, contractors, remote employees and startups). Plus, I did have my home office in the garage that doubled as a guest room, but then my mother-in-law moved in with us a few years ago. It’s okay, though. We’re close. Really. Really. Close.
Today if you ask my daughters where I go to work, they respond proudly:
“Daddy goes to work on an airplane!”
And this week, that would be true. I do, in fact, travel regularly. Not every week thankfully, but when I do, I use the same collaborative communication tools I use working from home for being a remote daddy and husband – the phone, FaceTime (video calls), texting and social media.
Yes, e-mail as well, that horribly inefficient communications tool; like playing air hockey blindfolded and you don’t even know when you’ve been scored on until the score is 100 unread messages to zero returns.
Screw the zero in-box. How about zero e-mail initiatives?
Sigh. Whatever. I know we’re still going to use e-mail for years to come, but my goodness, can’t we leave on the webcams and see the whites of each other’s eyes?
At least I have my magical unicorn on this trip, one of many delightful stuffed creatures my daughter’s have me take on my business trips. In fact, as soon as I get to my hotel and I fire up FaceTime, they cry out, “Show us [this trip’s creature]!”
And so it goes. I’ve worked in offices, commuted in arterial chokeholds, leased coworking space, worked from home in my pajamas, worked from parks (but not in pajamas), worked at the beach, practically anywhere (fully clothed, I promise), including Wi-Fi high in the sky at 36,000 feet. More of my peers, friends and colleagues – entrepreneurs, consultants, marketing and sales professionals, customer service professionals, programmers and engineers, artists and writers – are also working remotely these days.
Speaking of my peers, friends and colleagues, TalentCulture #TChat Show guest, Simon Salt, author of Out of Office, shared with me the following data points on what he calls “workshifting,” another term for virtual, remote or telecommuting work:
- Self-employed workers were nearly three times more likely than wage and salary workers to have done some work at home on days worked—56 percent compared with 20 percent.
- Self-employed workers also were more likely to work on weekend days than were wage and salary workers—43 percent compared with 31 percent.
Not a shocker for those of us who do it, I know. Plus, the Global Workplace Analytics and the Telework Research Network estimate that 20 to 30 million Americans work from home at least one day a week and 3.1 million people (about 2.5 percent of the employee workforce) consider their home their primary workplace. SHRM research shows that nearly half (46 percent) of all companies have at least some contractors, freelancers, or remote workers who rarely, if ever, come into the office.
According to an HBR article by Tammy Johns and Lynda Gratton, many experts have also projected that within a few years, more than 1.3 billion people will work virtually. They actually lay out the virtual workforce progression very neatly:
- Wave 1: Virtual Freelancers: through home computers and e-mail
- Wave 2: Virtual Employees: through mobile technology and global expansion
- Wave 3: Virtual Colleagues: new ways of providing community, collaboration and shared space
The reality is that, if you are a remote employee, or manage remote teams, workshifting is messy, and I’d argue we’re somewhere in the riptide of Wave 2. Mostly.
Even when companies source for the right virtual fit – reliability, good communication skills, sound collaborative skills, emotional intelligence, cultural sensitivity – expectations and priorities can be unclear and incomplete from the start on both sides of the employment aisle. This can lead to confusion, frustration, unhappy contractors, employees and managers alike.
And that leads to Nowheresville, Daddy-O.
Thankfully there are many great frameworks to consider when hiring and managing a virtual workforce, including Tuckman’s Team Development Stages, Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Belbin’s Nine Team Roles and others, but I’ll give you my simple two-step approach that I’ve learned working through all the combinations:
- Start With Face-Time Framing, Then Repeat Regularly. While it may not always be realistic or necessary when working with contractors (depending upon role and scope), companies should always try to onboard new remote part-time and full-time hires in person, even if it’s only for a few days. It’s invaluable to all parties to sit down together in the same rooms and set clear, actionable priorities; discuss how exactly everyone’s going to fulfill those priorities as well as how they’re going to report on them and review them; meet and mingle with their co-workers, managers and peers (if possible); and review all the equipment and systems at their disposal like WiFi hotspots and laptops and mobile devices (fluid virtual engagement), internal social networks (real-time virtual engagement), and collaborative talent management systems (continuous formal engagement) that will be used to enable work and connection. The face-time framing should also have some frequency throughout the year – monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or at a minimum annually (although since tenure is shorter these days, you should consider more than once per year).
- What Have You Done For Me Lately? Oooo, oooo, oooo, yeah. The push for continuous feedback must be redoubled for your virtual workforce and those managing them. Regular check-ins must be scheduled and adhered to – no constant cancelling because managers are just to “slammed.” Everybody’s friggin’ slammed and making the time to touch base, review projects and progress is critical to driving discretionary effort and business outcomes. And whatever you do, avoid defaulting all communication to e-mail; so much is lost in translation and cultural sensitivity is usually at an all-time low in electronic memos. Pick up the phone or jump on a videoconference, preferably the latter. In fact, I even recommend keeping the webcams on, at least during agreed upon times, so co-workers and managers can stop by and disrupt you collaborate with you on whatever.
Yes, I crossed out “disrupt you,” but remember, it is messy. There’s something to be said about the collaborative nature of working together in the same office, but the dark side of that can include more disruption than productivity (you know, the gotta-minute goblins – “Hey, gotta minute?”).
Pinch me – I didn’t really need to finish this, today, at my desk. Instead, I’ll just take it home because I don’t have a life. Many of you have probably experienced the fact that your most productive times are before work, after work, and on the weekend. Not really the way most of us want to hum the work-life mantra.
But those of us working from home feel a pain of another kind in the lopsided pinch, having lots of uninterrupted productivity while feeling an invisible expectation that we need to be available anytime since we have the distinct pleasure of conference calling in our pajamas. And yet, our employers are paranoid that we’re not actually doing anything.
Yes, messy mostly, but workshifting will get better working together because we’ll all figure it out, improving engagement and productivity while all parties reap the extrinsic and intrinsic rewards of the way we’ll work and the why of it all.
Daddy’s flying home from work now, girls. Keep the corner office nook warm for me.
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