Remote work: a collective issue treated on an individual basis

If the experiment of forced remote work did not work that badly, given the unpreparedness of employees and businesses, the question of its sustainability arises. One thing is certain: the work is open and we know that if we move towards different work models than before the crisis, we will not continue what was done during the crisis. What remains to be done is to reinvent tomorrow’s work methods, avoiding the birth of a dysfunctional model that will eventually kill remote work. Unfortunately, we seem to be going in the wrong direction.

The 4 big misconceptions about remote work

There are some major mistakes that businesses make when thinking about remote work. So far I have identified 4 of them and I hope the list will not grow in the future.

First of all, they think of it as an HR benefit, whereas it is an operational method of organizing production.

Then, and this is the logical consequence, they consider it as a right that can be granted or not to an individual whereas being able and especially knowing how to telework is an obligation on which the survival of the business may depend.

In the same vein, they focus on the management of distance as the problem, when the real problem is work, its content and its organization. Indeed, despite what some people may say, remote work has not really created any new problems, but it has highlighted the limits of the current organization of work.

Finally, and this is the purpose of this article, they deal on an individual basis with a subject that is collective.

Businesses have an invididualized approach to remote work

When we talk about the implementation of remote work, businesses have an individual approach. Of course, they think of systems that will apply broadly either to everyone, or to certain jobs, or to certain entities, or to certain teams, but that is at the design level.

At the implementation level, we come back to the question of whether each individual potentially has the right to do so and, but still too rarely, whether he or she has the autonomy to do so or has sufficient mastery of certain tools.

This is necessary, since it is most often reflected at the individual level in the employment contract. But it is far from sufficient.

Remote work is a team sport

I often say that when one person is remote, everyone is remote. You can have 9 people in the office out of a team of 10, it is enough that one person works remotely for everyone to have to act accordingly in their management, in their communication, in the tools they use. And even if 9 people are in the office, any meeting that includes this person will be held via videoconference.

And when I say remote I don’t necessarily mean at home. He can be in another office in another location, it doesn’t matter, he’ s not physically there.

I would add that for this person, even if he is at home and the others are in the office, it is those in the office who are at a distance.

Remote work implies rules, practices, and sometimes tools that are imposed on everyone as soon as one person is not physically in the office. From this point of view, we can already see that the individualized approach shows its limits: even those who are not remote or even do not have the right to work remotely must therefore master these practices as much as those who are.

You can’t win in a team sport without training

The implementation of remote work therefore requires a shared mastery of a certain number of practices. This mastery can partly be acquired individually (by learning to use certain tools for example) but requires a collective practice.

If only remote employees know how to use Teams, Zoom or Meet, if only they know how to animate and participate in a remote meeting, if only they are experienced in collaborative document editing, if only they are in a group chat that the others have deserted because they see each other in the office, it does not work.

But when we talk about telework, I only hear HR and managers asking if so-and-so can, if so-and-so should have the right and, too rarely, if so-and-so is capable, but never asking if collectively the team is ready to have all or part of its members telework, if they are collectively capable of working remotely.

To stay in the comparison with team sports you can have two top players, if the other 8 can’t play with them, with the same ball and following the same rules you won’t score a goal. And in the same way if you have 8 top players and two who are far from the level they become the limiting factor of your team.

Remote work follows the operations and not the business structure

This brings us to another point. You have to think of remote work in terms of people “playing together”, which is not always the same as being in the same department or function.

In some organizational configurations or in project mode, the same people in a team in the HR sense of the term do not work together very much, if at all, but they work in multi-disciplinary cross-functional teams. It is at the level of these teams, which reflect the reality of the business operations and projects, that the implementation of remote work must be thought through.

For example, you can have a “Project Management” entity that is an HR and operational reality. But it doesn’t matter if these people are collectively able to telework together, they don’t work together! What is important is that at the level of a team including a project manager but also members of several different professions, we are able, collectively, to work with all or part of the team members remotely.

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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