April 8, 2020
Employee Experience

It’s Time to Revisit Remote Workforces

Remote workers are out. Office workers are in. At least, that’s according to companies such as Yahoo, IBM, and Bank of America, which recently shifted from generous remote work options to mandatory office attendance.

As early as the 1980s and 90s, companies like IBM allowed employees to work from home. By 2009, 40 percent  of IBM’s employees worked from home—a staggering number. And IBM wasn’t  the only company to trust in this innovative workplace policy—thousands  of companies big and small, including Intuit, Dell, Xerox, and many  other household names, had also joined in the experiment.

However, in recent years, many  of the same employers who pioneered remote and flexible work policies  called employees back to the office—some going so far as to ban remote  workers completely. In 2015, Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer announced a highly debated ban  on remote work. Bank of America, Aetna, and most recently Reddit and  IBM itself have also imposed new policies that shift sharply away from  previously remote-friendly cultures.

But why? Yahoo’s memo  on the move stated, “To become the absolute best place to work,  communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be  working side-by-side”—implying communication and collaboration are not  possible or efficient remotely. Similarly, IBM claims it changed its policy to streamline collaboration and accelerate innovation.

Remote work certainly presents  challenges. Workers can be more isolated, with less face time and the  possibility of fewer chances for spontaneous collaboration. But the  all-or-nothing approach of these companies ignores the considerable  benefits of flexible workplace policies and the fundamental fact that  collaboration doesn’t require co-location.

Company executives must  thoroughly examine the rationale for workplace policies. Banning remote  workers entirely is a backward-looking solution to a forward-facing  problem. When designed strategically, flexible workplace policies offer  many compelling benefits. We believe leaders have a choice: embrace a  modern mobile workforce that values flexibility and work-life balance,  or ignore advances that make remote work possible and miss out on  attracting the best talent.

Why remote?

Leaders need to look at what the modern workforce values. Millennials and the up-and-coming Gen Z hold fast to expectations of a flexible workspace that offers full-time salary and stability. We believe both are possible.

Over 84 percent  of millennials work for organizations which allow for some degree of  flexibility—a number that is steadily rising. And businesses have much  to gain from implementing flexible work policies,  such as flexible work  location and hours. According to a survey  conducted by Deloitte, the more flexible a workspace, the more gains  employers see in employee engagement, productivity, well-being, and  morale.

When BestBuy switched some jobs to 100 percent remote work, they found productivity increased by 43 percent. In a separate study,  remote call center employees processed 13.5 percent more calls than  in-office workers. But remote workplaces aren’t just for call-center  employees—creative workers can also benefit from flexible solutions.

Remote workers feel happier at work than in-office employees. Many remote workers see greater work-life balance with less commute time and flexible hours.

Flexible policies can be a plus for employers, too. Remote workers take 52 percent less time off and are 50 percent less likely to quit. Many industry leaders also report significant cost savings from reduced office space—IBM boasted it saved $100 million in the U.S. alone.

Soon, non-flexible workplaces  won’t be an option for a generation that is more invested in equality  than ever before. The best and brightest of our era value policies that  support working mothers and fathers and appropriate work-life  balance—more than half of today’s workers say work-life balance and  personal well-being is “very important,” according to a Gallup survey.

And in an age of freelancing and  entrepreneurship, companies that support employees with side projects  are attractive to the best talent. In a competitive business landscape,  incentives such as flexible work options are often more enticing than  salary levels—by more than 10 percent, according to Gallup—allowing  small but growing companies to attract the best workers.

We’ve covered the why, but what about the how?  Our mission is to prioritize flexible workplace practices—without  sacrificing innovation, productivity, or accountability. In 2017,  RevUnit completed Werk’s flexible workforce certification as  part of our ongoing quest to proactively implement flexible work  options. We believe a fully flexible workspace is possible, with a  little help from smart tech tools and strategic company practices

Tech for collaboration and communication

Even as little as two or three years ago, technology tools essential to a well-functioning remote workforce weren’t possible. RevUnit employees rely on several key technologies that help our small teams communicate and collaborate.

Communication—Slack and Zoom

First, communication. A common anxiety for industry leaders and managers is the inability to see that an employee is present and working. Although video camera technology offers the ability for managers to have an almost-constant live stream of their employees, some find that level of technology invasive.

We use two applications in  combination so managers and team members have real-time updates on  employee status and availability and can meet and communicate digitally.  Slack,  an online messaging platform, is more than just a chat app. Employees  can set a status (ex. available, in a meeting, out for the day, do not  interrupt), communicate in real time one-on-one or as a team, share  files and documents quickly, and search stored archives of all  conversations. Zoom, a video conferencing software, allows employees to chat in pairs or teams and conduct all-digital meetings.

Collaboration—Google Apps, Box, and Trello

A second set of integrated apps allows teams to designate and manage tasks, store and share documents, and collaborate on ideas in real time. We rely on Google Apps to create and store documents, spreadsheets, and presentations (and other Google applications, like calendar, allow employees to coordinate meetings and schedules). Box allows us to share and edit other files. And Trello is an essential task management tool that allows users to set up teams and projects and list and assign tasks and deadlines.

These communication and  collaboration tools integrate with each other and our other internal  systems. Employees and team leaders get the best of both worlds, with  best-in-class technology for specific functions integrated into a single  platform.

These tools are frequently  updated, and many incorporate new and emerging technology. Slack, for  example, uses machine learning to search and extract stored information.  AI bots  eliminate time spent searching for information, scheduling meetings,  and more. At RevUnit, we are constantly experimenting with our own  internal technology tools to solve problems and increase efficiency—for  example, our emerging technology team has been working on a custom HR  bot that functions like a talking, searchable employee handbook

Policies, practices, and values are key

Technology can only go so far in establishing strong teams without solid policy and practices. At RevUnit, we believe three essential best practices bring our widespread workforce together and help us work toward a common purpose.

Clearly defined policy.

Approximately 18 percent of our workforce is remote. Employee organization starts at the top, with small teams of key individuals brought together to work on a project basis. Each employee has a clearly defined role and an essential place on their assigned team or project. Although we don’t monitor when employees are in and out, we establish core hours when remote and in-office workers alike are expected to be available.

Values-driven culture

Our set of core values drives every decision we make at RevUnit. We look for employees who will wholeheartedly embrace the values-driven culture at RevUnit and be dedicated to their work whether they’re working from home or out of our Las Vegas and Bentonville offices. These are our values:

  1. Be fearless
  2. A little better all the time
  3. Celebrate the win
  4. I’ve got your back, you’ve got mine
  5. Do what’s right

Talk to any of our employees or leaders, and you’ll see none of our values are just talk. We’ve been known to pepper our speech with these phrases—and we’re proud our employees demonstrate values we believe are essential to building an ethical, forward-reaching, quickly growing business.

All Hands meetings

In-person meetings and team-building activities help establish team members as real, physical people. We believe that when you know who’s on the other side of the screen, you work and collaborate better. That’s why all of our employees attend a three-day All Hands meeting at our Bentonville, Arkansas, campus twice a year, where we share, learn, get to know each other, volunteer for the community, and celebrate our successes! As our workforce continues to grow and spread across the country, we believe it’s essential to invest in team-building—and have genuine fun with each other.

Business leaders should emphasize team-building activities and make sure employees feel  engaged and don’t just begrudgingly participate. Daily digital  check-ins and team meetings, status updates, and scheduled collaboration  time can help teams feel like they’re working together, instead of  working in isolation.

You can have it all

Innovation. Togetherness. Teamwork. Communication. Collaboration. Balance.

Employees  can have it all. It starts with setting up strong expectations and  policies and seeking out the smartest software. But before that, leaders  have to believe their employees deserve the best and be willing to  establish policies that help employees be their best selves, at work and  outside of it.

We wouldn’t be here without our  people. That’s why we believe in advocating for them every step of the  way, starting with flexible workspace policies.

WRITTEN BY
RevUnit
RevUnit is a strategic digital firm that helps the world's most influential companies transform from the inside out. Its focus is on creating workforce technology to unlock people inside the enterprise to be more efficient, knowledgeable, and engaged in their work.

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