Late last month, 35,000 members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) across Canada walked out of their offices. They remained on strike, picketing in over 250 locations throughout the provinces, for two weeks. Along with wage raises and working conditions, one of the highest priorities of this strike was bargaining for the rights to work from home. And government workers are not alone. Workers all over the world, especially after the past three years, have come to realize the great benefits that come with remote work. But not all companies are doing remote work in ways that are empowering and offering employees freedom and autonomy. So, is your organization in desperate need of rebuilding your remote work model?
Where Remote Work Models Can Go Wrong
For at least the past three years, employers have attempted to make the most of having to work from home full-time. But now, many are beginning to mandate returns to in-person work settings, perhaps out of anticipation that productivity will increase. But, as Lance Robbins, a remote experience consultant, suggests, this might actually create an opposite reaction.
Robbins has been working with remote, distributed, and hybrid teams for 15 years. He’s seen time and again all of the ways remote work can fail organizations. And these problems all boil down to a lack of or discrepancy in remote work culture.
Of course, not all remote work functions in the same ways. In fact, many employers assume that remote work is itself a culture without considering what exactly this entails. As Robbins says, “Putting remote in the job title when you’re advertising a role […] doesn’t really define what that experience is going to be.”
This is where most remote work models go wrong: organizations often assume that remote work simply means a job that takes a typical nine to five format is offered at home as a perk to the employee. This, as Kevin O’Leary has suggested, then often implies that this favor then entitles the company to the employee at all hours of the day (weekends included).
However, this ultimately leads to, as we have seen with the massive trends ripping through workplaces of all industries, overworking and feelings of emotional detachment. These then take the form of quiet quitting, burn-out, and even resignation.
This is why, for the past six years, Robbins has especially been focusing on encouraging freedom, autonomy, and choice in remote work.
In Remote Work, Trust Is a Must!
As Robbins suggests, for many employers, “Remote could mean […] ‘here’s your laptop, work from home […] at this time, make sure you’re checking in, we’ll be looking at how many keystrokes you do, how many calls you take,'” but of course, “that’s not freedom.”
As Robbins suggests in his open-letter to O’Leary, enforcing power and controlling employees can cultivate unsafe and hostile work environments. Alternatively, then, a healthy and safe environment requires a deconstruction of power structures between employees and employers so as to afford all workers freedom to choose when and where they work, and crucially, the freedom afforded to autonomous workers.
After all, workers don’t necessarily want remote work only so they have the freedom to work in their pyjamas (though for many, this is a perk!). Workers want the freedom to do their work on their own terms because this is both empowering and more engaging for them. And Robbins notes that having this trust exchange is key. Employers must trust employees will get their done, and employees must trust that their employer respects them as an autonomous worker.
As Robbins states, “It’s the companies that are extending trust and freedom and autonomy in a mutual sort of way that are the ones that people want to go to the most.”
So, does your organization need an overhaul? Here are some steps you can take toward rebuilding your remote work model.
How to Rebuild Your Remote Work Model on Trust
Based on some of the expert advice we received from Robbins himself, here are three crucial steps you can take to improve your current remote work model.
Step One: Reach an Agreement on Remote Working Conditions
As Robbins suggests, rebuilding a lasting, effective remote work model requires an exchange of trust. But this does not only apply to those in direct contact with one another (i.e., the employer and employee). It also applies to C-suite members and board members of an organization. After all, as Robbins notes, this lending workers trust and autonomy is a trickle-down effect.
In order for your new remote work model to really work, then, all members of the organization must be on the same page regarding the terms and conditions one has when working remote. And while remote work is not necessarily a new concept, it may still be unfamiliar territory for some employers and board members. So, if need be, seek an expert like Robbins to fully understand the choices involved in offering employees a fair and empowering work opportunity.
Step Two: Record Remote Work Expectations
Once a consensus has been made among all hiring and management members, Robbins suggests writing these details down. Specifically, companies should codify and record what they do and do not stand for in remote work. Write down the specific requirements or expectations for a given position and make sure these are included and reiterated in job postings and interviews. This way, workers will know exactly what they’re signing up for, and, as Robbins recognizes, workers then can make an informed decision to either opt in or out of the workplace before any offers are made and finalized.
“Without having clarity and documentation,” as Robbins suggests, “people don’t know what to expect and that creates fear, that creates competition, and all those things are cultural traits that you don’t want in your organization. You want people to feel free and to feel safe and to feel engaged. […] When we create a playbook—a guide, a piece of documentation—that says ‘here’s how we’re going to operate together in a completely remote environment,’ you take away so much of the guess work.”
And as such, you also remove any anxiety or lack of trust that employees may have when working from home. This can then make even an online work culture feel more welcoming, trusting, and empowering for employers and employees alike.
Step Three: Continue to Revise Your Working Conditions as Needed
For Robbins, all work models should be “human-centric,” meaning that the people upon whom the organization runs and is based come first. “Organizations run on people,” Robbins says. And the better experiences we can provide for them, the greater the probability there will be for resilience and innovation. With this said, of course, as workers and their needs change, so too should your organization.
Check in with your employees regularly to see if and how their needs are being met. And whenever possible, involve employees in decision-making processes regarding their working conditions. This will further empower them and make them feel trusted, autonomous, and well-respected.
Summary: After sitting down to learn more about remote work from remote experience consultant Lance Robbins, in this article we suggest that rebuilding remote work models on trust is key to maintaining healthy and happy working conditions. When workers feel trusted and free to work when and wherever they can get their work done, they feel empowered and respected as autonomous individuals. This further encourages work practices that prevent burnout and quiet quitting when working remote, as we have seen in the past.
Special thanks to Lance Robbins for the expert advice in this blog. For more information on remote work and improving employee retention and success, check out Robbins’s website at lancehrobbins.com.