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.
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.
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:
- Be fearless
- A little better all the time
- Celebrate the win
- I’ve got your back, you’ve got mine
- 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.