As more and more companies navigate how to make their new work from home structure work, new challenges are naturally arising.
As a company that’s been fully remote for over 13 years, with a distributed workforce of 170 people in over 9 countries, we’ve learned quite a bit over the years about how to create a happy, engaged and high-performing company culture.
In the process of figuring that out for ourselves, we’ve even been recognized with several notable company culture awards.
When the sudden and drastic shift to remote work happened in the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, we had many company leaders reach out to us with questions and some asked for in-depth guidance.
Something that actually surprised us is that one of the most common questions was, “How will we know our employees are actually working?”
Candidly, this question was difficult for us to wrap our heads around. Often, we’d answer their question with a question, such as “Well, how do you know they’re actually working when they are in the office?”
The reality is that employees often get less actual work done when they’re in an office. One study by the Guardian found that employees in open-concept offices lose an average of 86 minutes per day to distractions, are 70 percent more likely to take sick days and are more likely to leave the office earlier in the day.
As Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson write in their book Remote, “Coming into the office just means that people have to put pants on. There’s no guarantee of productivity.”
The issue of work productivity really comes down to trust. For companies or managers who don’t trust easily, there’s no question that it will be difficult for them to have so many employees reporting to them who are out of sight.
However, for managers and company leaders who view those who work under them as capable adults who will hold themselves accountable for completing the work they’re responsible for, it’s highly likely they will prove you right if you hire the right people and have the right accountability system.
Ultimately, the real challenge most companies will face transitioning to a remote workforce will have far more to do with poor leadership and a questionable company culture than in the “how to” of remote work itself. In other words, remote work is likely the least of their problems.
There is no doubt that some companies will try and overcompensate for those culture and leadership weaknesses by doubling down on employee monitoring tools and technology, which is apparently a growing trend – and a disheartening one at that.
Granted, there are certainly some industries, such as financial services, cyber-security, defense, etc. where some level of monitoring is required for compliance. For most companies, however, it’s not.
In those cases, leaders within these types of organizations must seriously question the “Why” behind the technology monitoring. Is it truly necessary or is such a tool really just circumventing the real issue: lack of trust?
And if you don’t trust your employees … why did you hire them in the first place?
In the wisdom of Sir Richard Branson, a long vocal advocate of remote work, “To successfully work with other people, you have to trust each other. A big part of this is trusting people to get their work done wherever they are, without supervision.”
This is certainly a perspective we share within our remote organization at Acceleration Partners, which is why we do not surveille or “spy” on our remote employees.
Invest in people
Instead, we’ve chosen to invest in people, which we believe are the foundation of our culture. Our award-winning company excels and is highly respected because we focus on hiring people who value independence and flexibility, and we invest in their growth and development from day one. We’ve also internally developed most of our company’s leaders—80% of people in leadership roles at Acceleration Partners have been promoted from within.
We also have clear core values, which are the DNA of any successful company and every person working within your company. For example, our three core values at Acceleration Partners are —Own It (accountability), Excel and Improve (continuous improvement) and Embrace Relationships (trust).
These core values are something we teach and reinforce daily, and even apply them to our hiring, promotion and employee review processes. When you combine these core values, they form an ecosystem of people who are self-motivated, take initiative, value being part of a team and understand that we’re stronger collectively.
From our perspective, surveilling employees undermines key aspects of our core values, which are foundational to our success.
The onus is also on us as leaders to be transparent about the values we want our employees to uphold and set clear goals and metrics for what we expect our employees to achieve, including client performance and satisfaction goals. This all ties back to the outcomes your employees are producing that will help drive your business forward.
Companies who are truly mastering the art and science of building a great company culture – remote or otherwise — genuinely understand that it’s far more worthwhile and valuable to focus on employee performance rather than on how they spend their day.
Organizations that manage people by requiring face-time or pushing for hefty time and effort inputs often do this because they either haven’t set the proper outcome expectations, or because they aren’t capable of holding people accountable and therefore only know how to measure employee output by time spent working.
Ultimately, the questions company leaders need to be asking themselves is not “how will we ensure our employees are working if they’re remote,” but “How do we build a better company culture that’s built on trust, respect and strong core values?”