One of the first questions that arises when setting up a remote working approach is “who will be eligible” to remote work. I would prefer to ask “for which cases of use” and then “who are the people concerned”, but that is the way it is.
Remote working is neither a reward nor a caste phenomenon
Strangely (or not) the first reflex is to say that “it’s for managers“. Why is that? To reward them for their devotion to the company, to recognize the specificity of their work or their seniority? To make it an advantage that distinguishes some populations from others in terms of HR benefits?
There is no logic to this decision. Remote working should only respond to two logics: efficiency for the business, experience and work comfort for the employee. Any other approach, such as making it a distinctive sign, an advantage comparable to a phone that is more upscale than the others or a company car, is as useless as it is counterproductive.
A better approach is to ask:
1°) Do we have a function, an activity, which it is in our interest to switch to remote working? In which case you will immediately deduce the persons concerned.
2°) Do we want to make remote working a general practice? In which case you should still have a few safeguards to make sure that the system works well.
As the first case seems obvious, it is the second that we are going to talk about.
Remote working: a matter of capacity, not status
As I have already had occasion to say: remote working requires even more rigour than working at the office. From the moment, it goes without saying, that a job is likely to be carried out remotely, the question of eligibility for telework must therefore be a question of capacity and not of hierarchical or professional status.
Having practiced remote working in my various jobs for about fifteen years and having piloted its implementation and monitoring in my current company, I can tell you that the ability to remotely work effectively and sustainably is not a question of profession, expertise, seniority, status or level of education. At most one might think that the more experience one has, the more one is able to adapt to new situations…but I have never had irrefutable proof of this.
Moreover, as recent events show, reserving remote working only for a limited population that will be able to practice it means serious problems if it is to be generalised to everyone overnight. Remote working is, in this case, like fire drills: you have to practice to be ready for the day when it will be vital.
As far as I am concerned, I have identified some very simple criteria which I think should be the only ones to count when deciding whether a person is eligible to work remotely.
1°) Integration and knowledge of codes and corporate culture
You must not leave a person in the wilderness who is not sufficiently integrated, who is not yet sufficiently imbued with the corporate culture. This is the best way to isolate the person, to complicate remote interactions, to delay his or her integration. At a distance, one loses the “off”, and without the cultural dimension one becomes “a resource in front of a screen” and not a member of a team, one does not develop the feeling of belonging to the company.
Lack of mastery of codes complicates formal and informal exchanges with others.
A remote team is a team before being remote. If you distance only a sum of individuals, you are facing a building that can collapse overnight.
How to evaluate it? Evaluation by the manager, by the mentor if such a system exists, or even an online “corporate culture” multiple choice quiz that everyone must take after 6 months or a year in the company.
2°) Knowledge of the organization and processes
From a distance no one is there to see or make up for your mistakes. It is not so easy to ask for certain things, and sometimes even to get an answer. You don’t leave alone on the highway someone who has never driven a car and barely knows the traffic regulations.
To evaluate it? Same methods as for integration.
This is a little bit like the previous two points but goes a little bit further. How well does the person know how to organize themselves? To what extent is it legitimate for him/her to often ask for help or explanations?
Autonomy can also be measured by the ability to be comfortable with all the different uses that remote working involves, knowing how to proceed in each case without making mistakes in the way of doing things or using the wrong tools.
In cases where only the status was taken into account when deciding on eligibility for remote work, I have seen people who were allowed to work remotely but who had the lucidity not to do so because they did not feel autonomous enough at the moment.
Here again, the appreciation of the manager or even, if necessary, of a project manager or team members prevails because they are in the best position to judge.
4°) Mastery of the work environment
Remote working is a set of use cases covering all individual and collective work situations and the appropriate tools to practise them.
A person with little or no comfort with the tools will be uncomfortable or even totally ineffective or useless in some remote work situations. A situation to be avoided at all costs.
5°) Capacity to exist in the group
Discreet people do exist. Nevertheless, one must be able to communicate, make a remark, call for help when needed, make one’s arguments heard when one has them.
We all know people who work well in the office but don’t exist until you ask them how they are doing and if they need help. People who, even if they are drowning, will even go so far as to say “no, no, everything is fine”.
When you’re in the same workspace at one point it shows and you can force things. From a distance, no. Can you imagine the impact on a project of a person who can’t move forward and only says it when they can’t hide it anymore or even wait for it to be discovered?
It’s not about discretion or shyness, or not only. I’ve seen shy people say “I can’t do it” or “I think we’re not going in the right direction”. And besides, when they do it, it’s in a more reasoned and composed way than others. They just need to feel confident. This is a side issue but it should also remind us that confidence within teams, confidence in oneself and confidence in others, is one of the prerequisites for effective remote work.
I just hope you’ve noticed, given the criteria, that it’s possible to let a “junior” work remotely and, if we’re honest, to refuse it for several months to a manager who has just arrived and hasn’t acquired the basics, when, moreover, he has to be exemplary. QED
What if there’s generalized containment?
Not everyone is ready or suited for remote working, or at least not everyone is at a given moment. But then, will you ask me, what to do in the case of imposed containment as we are experiencing today.
The answer is obvious: we have no choice but to put the risk under control and control damage.
First of all, by thinking that drowned in globally mature and remote work-trained teams, those who are not necessarily ready will learn quickly and that the others will know how to watch over and supervise them. In this case it is important that there are “practice leaders” who can serve as examples, inspire and coach. The role of the manager is also essential even if, as we shall see later, the function least prepared for remote working is certainly the managerial one.
And then it may be possible to consider putting in place reinforced measures. For example, in the case of forced remote working of a population of “juniors” with little experience of the world of work and business (a few months at the most), and an existing mentoring scheme, mentors would be asked to strengthen the points of contact with the youngest with a minimum of two spoken exchanges per day.
In such circumstances the scheme will always be imperfect, let’s admit it, but it is still possible to limit the deviations as much as possible.
In any case, it is necessary to think of remote work from the operational needs and to consider it as a mode of organization, of production and not from the people you want to please or value.