For the last 200 years, the office with a permanent staff has been the default work environment of the knowledge worker. But it wasn’t in the past, and it’s not necessarily the best for the future. What would the workplace look like if offices weren’t an option?
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Many people think telecommuting is a relatively recent phenomenon that has come about as a result of the development of the Internet. It’s true that the Internet has made working Out Of Office possible for millions of people but telecommuting was there at the birth of the IT industry thanks to the revolutionary ideas of Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley.
Way back in 1962 Dame Shirley formed a software company that employed women programmers working from home. Dame Shirley grew her company to be worth hundreds of millions of pounds. She has since given away much of her wealth to become one of Britain’s most generous philanthropists.
There are many people who will argue that having Out of Office workers is not a disadvantage, and they can be as just as effective as in-office workers. We would go further, and they can sometimes be even more effective. That’s the same angle taken in the article “7 Advantages of Dispersed Teams”, which offers a number of advantages to having distributed teams:
- Wide Variety of Talent
- High Job Satisfaction
- Increased Productivity
- Cultural and Educational Diversity
- Expanded Business Hours
- Access to New Markets
- Decreased Office Costs
Leading distributed teams can be a challenge, especially for experienced leaders who are used to dealing with the dynamics of in-person teams. Poornima Vijayashanker lists three of the most common myths about leading distributed teams, and how to overcome them:
- Myth 1: Remote workers will be unproductive
- Myth 2: Remote teams will be devoid of culture
- Myth 3: Remote teams cannot scale
Geoff McDonald is a futurist and innovator, who is just brilliant at spotting patterns and trends.
In his blog post “The End of the Desk: 3 Massive Workplace Trends”, he talks about three big changes affecting all workplaces:
- Mobile Everything
- From Visual to Audio
- Sitting is the new Smoking
You probably aren’t surprised by the first, but the other two might be new ideas. Read the full blog post here.
There’s a common belief that innovation and synergy are weaker in distributed teams, because people don’t bump into each other to spark great ideas. However, that’s not necessarily true. It is possible, as long as you overcome the natural “out of sight, out of mind” bias against your remote workers.
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Many organisations are realising that flexible work arrangements, such as working Out Of Office, benefit employers and employees. However, many managers are concerned about losing control of employees who aren’t located in the office. Diana Ransom spoke with several businesses with distributed workforces, and gleaned the following advice from them on how to manage Out Of Office workers:
- Start off slow
- Have a probation period
- Set expectations
- Use technology
- Don’t stalk employees
- Establish performance measurements
Many organisations struggle with letting employees bringing their devices into the workplace. Full-time Out of Office workers don’t have this problem, but it does affect Semi-Commuters (who work from the office some of the time) and even full-time telecommuters who drop in from time to time. As Fred Mouawad points out, BYOD has its advantages:
- Key to Work-Life Integration
- A Step Toward Co-Entrepreneurship
- Attracting and Retaining Creative Talent
- Emergence of Wearable Technology
- Reduction in Operating Expenses
Harvard Business Review has published an interesting article on How to manage a virtual team (we prefer the term “distributed team”). Three aspects of management are discussed:
Face-to-face meetings are not always possible with distributed teams but when they are it’s important to know when and how to conduct such meetings. Researchers have found that face-to-face meetings are most valuable early in a team’s life, especially, when a team’s members are working together for the first time. Repeated face-to-face meetings are best held at predictable, regular intervals, allowing team members to plan their time and interactions around such meetings.
Technology is constantly evolving so making specific recommendations doesn’t make sense. Instead, choose tools that satisfy the following criteria:
- Simple: easy to setup and learn
- Reliable: no need to worry about messages being received
- Accessible: can be used from the office and on-the-road, whether from desktop, tablet or phone
Distributed team members often work in isolation and so lose some of the benefits of working and interacting closely with colleagues. Therefore, it is especially important to provide your team with a single, consistent set of expectations regarding work processes, output requirements and group norms. Also promote and encourage informal interactions between your team members.
Jacob Morgan, contributor to Forbes magazine, interviewed representatives from Xerox, Dell and Aetna about their companies’ Out Of Office work options. He gained the following insights from these interviews:
- Out Of Office work is a business strategy, not a perk
- Working Out Of Office isn’t for every employee
- Education and training is a must
- HR and IT must work together
- The benefits of Out Of Office work are massive, both for the company and employees