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Four ways remote work kills workplace innovation and productivity.

Posted on Monday, October 29, 2018 and filed under

Ottawa business owners face an interesting dilemma when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent from today’s multigenerational workforce.

Millennials, the generation that accounts for the largest portion of today’s workforce, rank workplace flexibility high on their job-satisfaction list. In Deloitte’s 2017 Millennial Survey, the company found 64% of people in that generation are working jobs where location is flexible. For employers, though, remote work can be a threat to team-based innovation and creativity.

This dilemma exists thanks to connected and mobile technologies. On the one hand, many technology solutions offer people the ability to work from anywhere. On the other, the benefits of in-person communication and teamwork aren’t as easily replicated remotely as was previously thought and this can hamper innovation, slow the response time to shifting demands, and lengthen time to market — priorities for many employers.

As connected solutions drive the location gap between worker and workplace, digital marketing and communication channels require that employees be even more connected with each other to respond quickly in response to conversations, feedback and data-driven insights delivered instantly through connected technologies. This kind of agile workplace approach favours responding to change over long-term plans to better reflect the fast-changing pace of today’s marketplace. An agile workplace is iterative, requires lots of check-ins and realignments of priorities to ensure dependencies between tasks synch up, and requires teams to innovate solutions to challenges together, quickly, to keep up with the pace.

As Canada positions itself to be a leading innovator within the global marketplace with Ottawa as a leading innovation hub, especially in the high tech sector, re-thinking the way employees work remotely could be what’s needed for many local employers to retain a competitive edge and for supporting services to keep up with the changing pace.

So, if you’re a business owner looking to enhance workplace flexibility (and even save on office space) by encouraging remote work, here are some points to consider.

Not everyone is productive at home.

 Some people are task oriented, others are relationship oriented. Even if your workplace does not require a team-oriented agile environment, some people will work productively on tasks outside the office while others thrive in a more social environment.

In this case, workplace flexibility makes more sense if people can prove they are productive outside the office environment. There are technology tools that can help managers track productivity when overseeing remote work and a qualified procurement advisor can aid you in finding a solution that’s right for your business. Ultimately, offering flexibility is about building trust between employer and employee.

Remote workers can extend project-completion time in agile environments.

 Waiting for someone to answer an email or pick up the phone takes longer than talking to someone in the hall or at their desk. In person conversations are just faster.

 This year, following in Yahoo’s footsteps, IBM called their remote workers back to the office to work in person with small agile teams. Despite pioneering work from home, the company acknowledged that today’s work environment is different than it was 10 – 20 years ago.

When Yahoo did the same about four years ago, it said that face-to-face time between staff enabled more creativity, citing that speed and quality are often sacrificed by remote workers and that some of the best decisions come from impromptu conversation between people around the water cooler at work.

The results? A Yahoo senior director said afterwards that employee engagement was up, product launches increased significantly, and that agile teams were thriving.

 The customer comes first — in the office.

 When your customer needs something, your team needs to be able to respond promptly. This typically requires a point of contact and then coordination between people on a team to provide timely service or problem solve and resolve issues and concerns.

But when coordinating remote workers, there’s communication lag time.

If your business provides a customer service, consider how your clients’ schedules will impact the hours your team needs to be in close contact. Develop workplace flexibility in a way that ensures customer response times don’t lag so that you don’t lose business to the competition.

Honey, I’m home!

Balancing personal and professional life is a juggle for everyone. The needs of family are, and should be, a priority. But with work-from-home in practice, the employer loses control over the environment in which employees work. Sometimes, working from home can be distracting depending on what’s going on there.

The right kind of space for the job shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to employee productivity. While everyone’s home life may be different, the one place an employer can ensure is conducive to the work at hand is inside the office. Job satisfaction and productivity can be achieved by creating spaces that enable productivity, creativity, collaboration, innovation, and also relax time.

Author Jim Stackhouse is the founder and president of NeoLore Networks Inc., an Ottawa-based technology services company that designs, implements, manages and maintains computer networks for small and medium sized businesses.