To See The Future Of Remote Work, We Need To Do Some Homework

I’ve been thinking a lot — especially lately — about many companies’ failure to take care of employees. I think one of the biggest failures is a lack of flexibility, and that’s coming to the forefront now in a big way with the discussion of remote work.

Although some companies have already made the shift to offering their employees the ability to work from home indefinitely, that’s just not a viable option for many businesses across the country. But the answer is not to fall back to an inflexible model of the past where failure to see an employee at the water cooler five days a week creates distrust.

In the many years I was in PR before I started my own business, working remotely just wasn’t an option. Every boss I had made it clear that face time (not the iPhone kind) was paramount, particularly when I was in a leadership role myself. Most companies were still largely inflexible before the pandemic. In March, they were forced to bend, and now we’re at another crossroads where companies will have to find the new normal. And I hope they take that journey with their employees in mind.

I don’t think the result will be 100% remote work forever; long-term office leases and the obvious benefits of personal interaction will make sure of that. On the other end of the spectrum, requiring employees to take a vacation day to meet a plumber at their apartment or go to a doctor’s appointment isn’t the best option for a business or an employee.

So what’s the right balance? It’s going to take many companies time to figure that out. But at the core, the issue isn’t really about how many hours are spent at the office. It’s about safety and trust. I took special care when I formed my business to choose values that center on trust, and my team members know I will be there for them when they need me. And I expect the same from them in return.

Employees need to feel safe — safe in the guidance of a strong leader, safe in the stability of consequences and second chances and safe in their role in your organization. A feeling of safety can be created by requiring flexibility of yourself and your leadership team. A true feeling of belonging, which breeds true loyalty and dedication, can only be felt by those who feel secure in their roles and heard by their team. And a manager who has implicit trust in his or her team understands that life doesn’t stop at 9 a.m. and begin again at 5 p.m. It gets messy sometimes, and if you can set boundaries and rules but allow for those parameters to be adjusted sometimes, then you’re going to find the right balance — and keep employees feeling secure.

For me, that means continuing to allow one day of remote work per week, once we decide it’s safe to return to the office. Who knows, I might even change it to two or three days — depending on what feels right. It also means continuing to grow my business how I’ve planned, while paying special attention to issues that are more challenging in the remote world.

I hired an employee two weeks before the pandemic began, and my focus since has been to get our newest addition feeling connected (safe), trained and set up for success (trusted). I know that these core values are what will secure our future, no matter where the work is done.