The vast migration to home offices, driven by COVID-19 coronavirus mitigation efforts throughout the world, has often been called “the world’s largest work-from-home experiment.” As a person who helped build our work-from-home (WFH) company almost 10 years ago, I’ve had conversations with numerous organizations along the way – all at different stages of their remote-work journey ranging from strict “office-only” firms to more evolved remote-first companies that have fully embraced the model.
Now, with so many pushed into remote work, we see a great opportunity to permanently improve the work environment for millions (who enjoys commuting 6 weeks per year?) through proactive initiatives that enhance the remote experience for both worker and employer. To advance discussions around this issue, we’ve developed a simple WFH Maturity Model as a way of helping companies think more broadly about evolving their approach to WFH beyond the current crisis. This model has three stages, each defined by where leadership is focusing their attention and how evolved and committed their approach is to remote work.
The first stage, where many newcomers are today, we call Lift and Shift (the name says it all). This is getting the workers, and their work, sent home and getting them set up on basic technology like Zoom, Teams, Slack, etc. to keep them minimally productive. It was a herculean effort with some organizations rapidly moving thousands to home offices virtually overnight. Although painful, the process largely went better than expected for most, and they justifiably declared victory. This transition occurred globally and even in emerging markets where just months ago, remote work at scale was considered laughable. For example, one firm with call center operations in the Philippines actually went desk-by-desk with bolt cutters to untether computers so workers could take them home overnight.
The next stage is where organizations start to get serious about a longer-term remote strategy and it’s all about productivity and accountability. Here is where employers can begin to unlock the full potential of remote by 1) putting in place systems and processes that drive performance from all employees, not just top performers, and 2) abandoning the traditional hub-and-spoke model in favor of a national or even global talent acquisition strategy. Traditionally employers have followed a “remote-as-reward” approach, giving top performers the option to work from home after several months or years of proving themselves.* Moving to a “remote-first” environment where even low performers work in home offices means getting more deliberate and intentional about virtual training, coaching and development, performance metrics, and general accountability. In terms of talent acquisition, untethering from corporate offices and hiring talent wherever they live expands the labor pool by 10 to 100 times – a significant way to upskill the workforce. Lastly, during Stage 2 organizations are also implementing stronger security measures, largely through the adoption of new technologies designed to safeguard data and intellectual property.
Finally, one of the biggest obstacles to widespread WFH adoption is the potential for increased social isolation and loneliness. Building a strong remote culture where employees stay connected and engaged can be a challenge, particularly in an untethered model where new hires don’t have the opportunity to bond in person during the onboarding process. At BroadPath, we have been working hard on Stage 3 initiatives for 3-4 years now, developing new technology and programs that create a sense of community and belonging. Firms that invest significant resources to enhance virtual connection, collaboration, and team bonding are positioned to reap the greatest long-term rewards from the remote model, and will enjoy employer-of-choice status as the economy and employment rebound in the months to come.
As companies consider the advantages of reducing their footprint in a post-Covid world, it will be up to leaders to model attitudes and habits that support new ways of working. In future blogs, we’ll unpack the specific elements of the WFH Maturity Model that can increase value and meaning across the board—for businesses, customers, and workers—and also provide much-needed infrastructure for the inevitable change ahead.
* Not surprisingly, studies comparing the performance of remote vs. in-office workers often conclude that WFH employees show greater productivity, which won’t necessarily hold true at scale.