Should you allow your people to work from home?

ciel blog - work from homeWe understand the pros and cons of working from home or tele-commuting. Significant amount of research has been carried out on the subject. The Third Wave of Virtual Work is an interesting read.

Though all forms of work cannot be carried out remotely, with growing concerns about traffic, commuting hours and the environment, employees are happy to tele-commute. Moreover, advances in technology have transformed the way we communicate, make decisions and collaborate at work. These days, it is pretty easy to work together on a virtual platform. Organizations save costs on physical infrastructure and employee welfare.

Yet some of us do not feel comfortable working out of small offices and home offices. Some feel under-motivated to perform at their best when they are physically removed from their colleagues. Hence, organizations are flexible in configuring their workspaces and the policies around tele-commute. Such flexibilities give rise to confusion in defining and administering HR policies. Sometimes, workers think that virtual-working will impede learning, affect career growth and attenuate their social skills.

Given this complexity, when should one promote remote-working?

How much collaboration and intuition is required at work?

Individual contributors like a writer, researcher, trainer, carpenter, plumber, electrician, draftsman, statistician, tele-caller, customer service by emails, documentation executive, accountant and so on work for long stretches of time independently. They do not need continuous guidance from their supervisor; neither do they need an interaction with another co-worker to complete the piece of output required from them. One can work from anywhere in these cases as long as one is certified for his or her proficiency in the job.

Many a times, the job involves trouble-shooting unknown issues or rarely occurring challenges. One needs to be on-site to observe the events, diagnose the problem, discuss with the others to explore solutions and develop new ideas. Though we have advanced methods such as video-conferencing, live chats and so on, in these situations, nothing compares being together and tapping into one another’s thoughts and capabilities in a seamless manner. Non-verbal communication and group dynamics play an important role in such tasks.

If you are flying a plane, driving a car, treating a patient, giving care to a child, taking order in a restaurant, playing a physical sport, receiving a guest in the hotel lobby, cooking a meal and teaching a kid, one needs to use one’s physical presence to communicate empathy, use intuition and deploy human energies. While technology such as artificial intelligence, robotics, high-speed computing and super-fast connectivity are developing fast, we haven’t yet seen machines which are able to replicate human behaviours. These roles cannot be remote-worked.

Do you have well-defined Performance Standards?

It is common knowledge but many many organizations in the world find it very difficult to define roles, structure the deliverables of a role and define the output in an objective manner. Employees remain busy in tasks and activities, but the deliverables are often not very clear to them. They think, each day is a new day and look forward to what their supervisor asks of them. They seek inputs, guidance and supervision.

The lack of clarity could be due to ignorance or assigning low priority to organization-building or inability to design a performance management system. In either case, remote-working becomes impossible. The supervisors do not trust the judgement of their direct reports and prefer to monitor them closely. In this kind of an environment, one cannot allow tele-commute.

Do you Walk the Extra Mile to Care for the Employees?

It doesn’t need a pundit to advise us that employees need to be cared for. What’s the fuss? Humans value freedom and independence, but at the same time, they need recognition, challenges and confidence of others. They need to experience the trust of their colleagues, team members and superiors. They need to connect with the purpose of their work.

Remote workers or virtual workers often are out of mind because they are out of sight. This happens when an organization has both kinds of employees in the same team. The virtual workers feel neglected; their commitment weakens and the vicious cycle of performance starts. It becomes difficult for them to recover from it. Employer brand takes a beating. Though tele-commute increases the talent pool and supposedly, increases retention, in this situation, one’s ability to attract talent goes down and productivity of such employees suffers.

The senior managers in an organization have to see the merit in tele-commute and drive the program passionately. They need to make sure that the work is designed well for individual contribution, the employees are continuously trained, work is defined well in terms of targets and performance indicators. And the remote-working employees must find an emotional connect with the organization and the work.



Watch out if you are the boss’s Favorite!

Image result for boss's favorite

We all know, bosses have their favorites. They are human beings and so do the people who work with them. It is natural that the boss likes and trusts someone more than the others. You become first among equals, the go-to-person for prestigious project, a critical decision or a crisis. You enjoy his proximity and often become a part of the inner circle that has the knowledge of classified information. You feel privileged and start enjoying a special status in the team. Is life a bed of roses for you?

Are you able to drive Change programs effectively?

Since you are the go-to-person for your boss, your plate remains full all the time. You are undoubtedly important for your team and the organization. You get to work on challenging assignments and can potentially learn a lot from these assignments. However, there is a catch here!

Problems in the organization are solved not by just one person but by a team and often by a cross-functional team, especially if you are in a role that has a significant strategic bent to it. The boss’s favorite is a spotlight in the organization and is looked upon with a range of emotions such as jealousy and awe. When you are in the situation of getting things done by collaborating with people from other teams, you experience bottlenecks. They do not open up to you; some of them start sabotaging your intent in a stealth mode. You start feeling frustrated and shooting from the shoulder of your boss. It often back-fires especially when you are talking to people from other teams who do not report to your boss.

You are unable to get the things done as per the plan. Often, you do not get the complete picture of the ground reality because people are not forthcoming with you. You are unable to identify the root cause of the problem you are supposed to solve or give those critical inputs to your boss. You fail to deliver the business impact. So, do not oversell your clout! Stay modest and do not take advantage of your special status.

Are you developing your career?

You are protected well by your boss, enjoy a big elbow room in many things related to work and get to solve the meaty challenges. Does that mean that you are developing your capabilities and increasing your worth? Your boss could have a rough patch in your organization and might fall out of the main stream. Your boss might become cold and distant suddenly. The peers of your boss could come to the lime light and might have opportunities which are better for you. But, your deep loyalty to your boss could come on the way of you being trusted by the front-running leaders in the organization. What happens to you in that situation?

Secondly, as you work through the maze of your organization, you being the boss’s favorite tend to be the spokesperson of your boss and his ideas. This happens unconsciously; over a period of time, this leads to you being branded as someone who toes the boss’s line, lacks the depth and confidence to form opinions and speak one’s mind. This kind of an image harms your future prospects and potentially compromises the kind of recommendations that you are likely to get from the others in future.

Each passing year, you must analyze if you are increasing your experience by a year or strengthening your abilities and deepening your expertise. Staying as a sidekick will not necessarily enrich your abilities unless you are delivering on assignments which have increasingly greater impact on your organization. Your title might change and rewards might increase; you might deepen your roots in the organization. However, the most critical factor to analyze is to check if you are producing greater impact each year. If not, you must look out for career options within or outside your current employer!

Are you hungry for approval?

Many a times, we have noticed the school kid in us want to be in the good books of the teacher. We look for the pat on the back, the stars on our books and so on! We want to be the apple of the teacher’s eye. We behave well by following all her instructions and do our best to shine in the tests that she takes. Are we carrying the same to our workplace?

It is important that we introspect and understand who we are. In case, we look for the praise or the abrogation all the time, we fail to stand on our own feet. As a professional aspiring to break into the higher echelons of an organization, it is important that we learn to think independently and present those thoughts firmly. At the same time, we have to learn to stay modest and sensitive so that the bosses do not feel hurt to hear another perspective rather welcome them.

Being the favorite of the boss puts us on a pedestal. However, we must make sure that we are growing well by increasing the business impact that we deliver and build the social equity in the organization at the same time.

Do we need the Physical Offices to work?

ciel blog - do not need physical office

We see our cities getting crowded and commute time on the rise; office-goers have no option but to brave the high pollution levels and over-stressed infrastructure of our cities. They lose time and compromise on their well-bring. These days, nuclear families have become more prevalent in society, which means, there is an increasing need to shoulder the many  responsibilities of running a home and hence, the need to be available at home as much as possible. Given this, do they need to go to an office? Why not tele-commute?

Mobility and cloud have helped businesses digitize their work processes and make those accessible easily. Further, this has helped define responsibilities and accountability clearly and made collaborative working easy. With advances in telecommunication, it is easy for co-workers to tele-conference and collaborate if they are working together on a task. Unless the work necessitates specialized tools and equipment or involves manufacturing using machinery, construction, agriculture and so on, most office work is pretty much doable if the employees tele-commute. It reduces pollution, saves human energy wasted in avoidable travel to work, conserves time, increases the life of our city infrastructure and can make real estate costs reasonable.

The cynics argue, an organization cannot achieve its goals unless the teams work together and believe in the same values and spirit. Engaging the employees with the larger purpose of the organization is an absolute need. However, the point is to discover ways by which tele-commuting workers can be engaged better and led in a meaningful way. It calls for innovation in HR!

Organizations have to redesign their work processes in such a way that all the actions of an employee are carried out in a safe, secure and transparent manner; seamless communication amongst the team is enabled; demo or training classes are available to the employees on-demand; performance is measured automatically and reported; rewards and recognition are held widely; one-on-one coaching is provided remotely through a video conference or in person. For the occasions that need working together as a group, they can hire a physical space that suits the need rather than owning a physical space.

Remote working will not be possible in a manufacturing plant or a customer service centre where employees are expected to operate machines, use tools, produce an output which is received by an external customer or an internal customer. However, all other workplaces should adapt this new way. Traditionally managers and the HR teams believed that employee attendance and work hours are to be monitored. However, the fact is that an employee may come to work for 9 hours a day but may not produce the desired output. At times, bosses are the cause of low output. They mark their presence by holding  long meetings in the name of managing their team and coaching their people. But, the fact is that many of those meetings are either redundant or highly inefficient. Hence, the practice of tracking in-time, out-time, break-time is passe now. Many organizations have stopped tracking leave balances. Rather, they encourage all their employees to monitor the output and the process metrics. A physical office adds no value given the new developments.

Strong performers, given the option to tele-commute will love the flexibility to schedule their work in a way that suits their personal needs. The passion for their work will keep them achieve higher goals. And at the same time, the weak performers will find the option of tele-commuting a bliss. Either they will use the opportunity to shape up or lose their way. Because the premise of remote work is performance metric, the weak performers will get spotted easily and the organization will be able to act on them in an objective way and at the same time, will reap the benefits of increasing productivity of the strong performers.

Last, but not the least, gig economy is on the rise because organizations have been looking for more and more flexibility in their inputs. They do not want a huge amount of fixed cost. Since wage bill is a fixed cost, they want contract employees, contractors, part-timers and so on. These employees are best managed by the output rather than the number of hours they are present. Moreover, physical workspaces are expensive. Hence, organizations should increasingly adopt flexible workspaces which can be paid for based on usage in terms of hours.

ciel blog - virtual office

The participation of Services sector is increasing steadily in the overall GDP of the economy. Given the nature of the industry, it is most ideal for remote work, gig economy, and flexible workspaces. Our cities can be less polluted, infrastructure be long-lasting and lives be better if we are not constrained to work out of physical offices.