Who’s paying for remote working

By 2020 72% of workers will be working remotely according to Microsoft, which explains the motivation for the partnership they’ve entered with Spaces to create a new workspace at Schiphol in their old office building. Many of us already do work remotely for at least part of our week. I can work from one of two offices or from home, I just need my laptop and wifi, in fact we have such good tools available that no-one would even know which location I was working from.

Remote working has been on the rise for at least the last decade, as tools have improved it’s even become a more productive option. But who is it good for?

Proponents of remote working schemes often promote the benefits to the employee, and they do exist.

  • saves on commuting time
  • more flexibility to manage personal appointments (eg deliveries)
  • fewer interruptions which boosts productivity
  • some report a boost to morale, or in HR terms, high engagement

There are also significant benefits to the employer,

  • a productivity boost
  • shrinking office space – for example companies calculate desk space at 0.7 desks per FTE

But work is social, and we’ve learnt how to work and manage teams in a social context, so what happens when some of that social context is removed? Is this whole hot desking thing really good for everyone? Not necessarily.

Anyone who has worked in a flex-desk office will recognise some of those issues, but smart design and good tools solves at least some of them. In my current company we tend to sit in teams of colleagues so finding each other isn’t hard.

So what about the real costs? Well there’s a financial saving for companies but are there extra costs for employees?

In a recent Buffer survey of people working remotely around the world employees bear the cost for internet connection and workspace if a co-working space is needed. So the financial burden of office space has been passed to employees, given that 28% of the respondents report earning less than $25,000 per annum this seems exploitative.

If we’re all working remotely when will companies recognise this cost to employees and start finding ways to compensate? Perhaps that will become the deciding factor for remote workers looking for a new job. After all if location isn’t a factor in a job search we can be hired by anyone, anywhere.

Image : money via pixabay 

Collaboration

Wikipedia gives a long winded definition of collaboration, Google’s dictionary comes up with something simple; the action of working with someone to produce something. Its use has grown in our lifetime.

That upward blip in the use of the word at the end of the 1940s is due to the second meaning of the word; traitorous cooperation with an enemy. Some of the recent growth is due to the rise of social media and the experiments in new ways of working.

What is the benefit of collaborating in a team?

Better solutions.

In the theory of the wisdom of the crowds, the more people contributing to an answer the more likely you are to get the right answer. In effective collaboration a team of diverse experts bring their perspectives to decision-making.

In every major project I’ve worked in the contributions of experts from different fields has been critical to the solution’s success. I will never know as much as the collective knowledge across the company; here are a few examples.

  • Implementing an enterprise social media platform; its use as a service channel by a business investment team became the best use case collaboration to provide a service. I was looking for use cases, but didn’t even know the team existed.
  • Developing social media guidelines; we had legal and risk experts in the room, they had the deep expertise we needed to get it right, but it was a new hire from a non-digital team who pushed us to simplify the guidelines and the language.
  • Social Media Publication Platform; we had experts from IT, business, legal, and digital involved in evaluating possible tools. It sounds a bit like that old trope of six blind men describing an elephant, but in fact we had good discussions and agreed on the solution to be chosen, while understanding the limits and compromises we were making.
  • Translation; we translated some internal messaging via the enterprise social network, with contributors all using their native language and delivering the translated versions back within 3 days.

Collaboration can also provide additional capacity, if you work collaboratively you can share resources and even provide coverage in the absence of a colleague. Non-profits have been finding ways to collaborate under cost cutting pressure for years, but it can work within organisations as well.

How can you make collaboration effective?

Collaboration isn’t easy, and there is a lot in current workplaces that goes against collaboration. A HBR study reports that when teams get above 20 members, have high levels of expertise, are highly diverse, virtual, or are addressing complex tasks, the chances of effective collaboration drop. Collaboration requires trust across a team and a willingness to share knowledge, it’s easy to see that virtual teams might struggle, but the high expertise seems counter-intuitive.

Here are some factors to consider when building a collaborative team.

  1. Executives model collaborative behaviour
    When executives a visible and demonstrating a particular behaviour they will be copied.
  2. Relationship focus in the company’s culture
    Company cultures often emphasise a task focus, but in companies that emphasise a relationship focus teams find it easier to collaborate along the lines created in the company’s human network.
  3. Clearly defined roles
    Collaborative teams work better with defined roles and responsibilities, usually the roles can be derived from the person’s expertise, but it pays to specify the responsibilities. You can use a form of a RACI to document responsibilities.
  4. Team results rewarded and celebrated
    When teams have a strong joint purpose and are rewarded for the results of the team’s work their motivation to collaborate rises, yet most companies focus on individual performance and results. If you can’t re-organise your company’s formal reward system look for other ways to reward and celebrate teams that have genuinely collaborated.
  5. Skills to collaborate
    We’re used to working as individuals, we need to learn new ways of working for the collaborative era. Two techniques that are worth checking are Work Out Loud (WOL) and appreciative enquiry.
  6. Tools to collaborate
    Whether you use a company enterprise social network, a project tool such as basecamp, or a SharePoint team site, you will need some way for a collaborating team to share their work. If the team is dispersed across locations the tools become vital.

I’ve discussed the benefits of collaboration to the company, there are also benefits for individual contributors. For many people working collaboratively is more engaging and more rewarding. It’s also an appealing way of working for tech-savvy employees and millennials. Two groups your company should be trying to attract and retain. It’s a win for everyone.

Image: Together |  geralt via pixaay |   CC0 1.0 

Productivity in 10 Minutes

Here are some things that you can do to improve your productivity, each step will take 10 minutes or less.

(1) Find out where you waste time

RescueTime is an application that tracks which sites and apps you go to. You can set it up on all your devices and really track your distractions. Initial set up takes five minutes, but you’re probably going to need to fine tune the settings later.

Quick and Dirty solution; check the sites you visit the most from your browsers default page. If these aren’t your most productive sites you need to change your behaviour.

(2) Avoid distractions

StayFocused is a Chrome extension that will block your distraction websites for a set period of time. Wordpress offers a distraction free writing mode, and there are lots of other tools out there to create a distraction free work screen.

Quick and Dirty Solution; I use two browsers, I have all my work stuff set up in Chrome (across multiple devices) and all my “fun stuff” set up in Firefox. In work time I stay in Chrome.

(3) Plan and monitor tasks

There are loads of diaries on the market, and this range of free tools. There are as many theories as there are tools. I’ve tried lots of different online options, but I come back to a paper-based checklist. I break the checklist up by project, and then add tasks to my (online) calendar as timed appointments. It’s the planning the tasks into my calendar that is key.

Quick and Dirty Solution; I use a chrome add on that can time activities and add it back into the calendar – you can see it in more detail in an earlier post.

(4) Use the small moments

When you’re really busy there always feels like so much to do and any time spent waiting feels wasteful. Here are seven ways to use those gaps of a few minutes to improve your productivity.  The article offers long term and short term fixes – spoiler alert I’m working on the long term solution for #7 in the coming weeks.

(5) Evaluate the value of what you do.

As Peter Drucker said.

productivity quote

But that might take you more than 10 minutes to solve.

Image: time via pixabay

Still  |  Hendrik van Leeuwen  |  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0