September 2, 2020
For many companies, the COVID pandemic hit their IT department with the equivalent of direct meteor strike. Many were not ready for the massive disruptions that occurred. Physical business locations were forced to shut down and move to an almost totally remote workforce. Now, obviously, some positions and organizations cannot make this “totally remote” move. Doctor’s offices, physical retail locations, grocery stores, restaurants, logistics, etc. are all in a “you physically have to be here” situations. What about the positions that don’t? That’s where this article comes in.
Many companies have made the decision to move to a totally remote workforce. May 21, 2020, Facebook announced a major shift to a permanent remote workforce. Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke tweeted “As of today, Shopify is a digital by default company. We will keep our offices closed until 2021 so that we can rework them for this new reality. And after that, most will permanently work remotely. Office centricity is over.” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey made the decision to move to a permanent work from home strategy May 12, 2020. The list is ever-growing. Other organizations are making hybrid style decisions. For example: the teams are split in two. Team A is in the office the first week and working remotely the second week. Team B is working from home the first week and are in the office the second week.
Let’s start with some of the benefits of a remote workforce. Your employees are not physically around people that might be infected. Your employees are not touching gas pump handles, door handles, etc. Your employees are not stuck in traffic screaming at the idiot doing 5 miles below the speed limit in the far-left lane (pet peeve of mine that has generated many colorful expletives). Your employees are saving money both on gas, but also on child care services. And, in my experience, productivity increases because instead of “walk-ins” where you feel obligated to drop whatever it is you are doing to help the person standing next to you waiting for what they “need” done, instead of that, you have Teams, Slack, Discord, Email, pick an instant communication tool. If collaboration is your issue, WebEx, GoToMeeting, Teams, Zoom, and a dozen other tools would all fit the bill.
Another “unthought of” benefit of a fully remote workforce, is talent pool and real estate. If you’re fully remote, you don’t need the real estate for people to have a butt in a seat. That “butts in seats” mentality has driven away so much talent from organizations that I can scarcely calculate it. The talent pool section is huge though. Scenario: I currently live and work in Birmingham, Alabama, that’s no secret. We are currently working in that hybrid model of Team A/Team B rotating work from home weeks. Our talent acquisition pool is limited to the Birmingham Alabama area, OR someone willing to relocate to Birmingham Alabama. A totally remote workforce could allow a person in Alabama to work for a company in California or Maine, without ever having to worry about picking up and moving. Your talent pool just became ENDLESS. Anyone from anywhere can now work for you. The absolute tip top talent on a particular solution is now available for you to negotiate with. I picked Birmingham because, in all sincerity, what top IT talent would choose Alabama over Texas, Tennessee, California, New York, or any of the other states that would have a “deeper bench” of opportunities? Reverse the scenario. Someone who is top tier talent, but is either stuck in a rural area, or just prefers the peace and quiet of rural areas and they are now in the running for one of those NY, CA, etc. positions.
Why is this transition to a more remote workforce getting as much push back as it is? The only explanation that makes sense to me is the management mentality of “butts in seats or I can’t trust that my people are actually working.” I have serious issues with that mentality. If you don’t trust your employees, why are those employees there? Oh, and if you don’t have that trust, I can promise you that those employees are already aware that you don’t trust them and are pretty much “skating” on their jobs while looking for a company that does trust them. Truth hurts, but there it is. Either trust your employees or replace them with an employee you can trust. If you can’t find one you can trust, then (to borrow the joke) “married 6 times? Hell, maybe it’s you?” One of the best organizations that I have ever worked for, and my own business both used the same work from home style policy. For the first two years, you are evaluated every six months to ensure the productivity is where it should be and then annual evaluations after that.
Back to the original questions, what should the post-COVID workforce look like? I believe that every position that can be performed remotely, SHOULD be performed remotely. Obviously, I’m in the Info/Cyber Security field. We can do our jobs from anywhere in world provided we have a good stable internet connection. Let me pick on Accounting and HR for a moment. Many firms have all of their Accounting and HR functionality in a cloud solution. Therefore, can be performed anywhere in the world, provided a good stable internet connection is there. Logistics, Healthcare, Grocery….. sorry but you guys are stuck having to physically be there.
EDIT: I received a comment that adds something that I had not considered. The more the remote the workforce, the less stress from traffic (which I mentioned), but it is also a dramatically reduced carbon foot-print. So, there's another benefit of a more remote workforce. - Shout out to Brad Sargeant for pointing this one out.