Remote and flexible hybrid styles of working have become increasingly common. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, 58 percent of respondents in a recent McKinsey survey reported that they now have the opportunity to work remotely at least one day a week. And roughly one-third (35 percent) have the option to work remotely five days a week.
It’s a far cry from pre-pandemic days when managers demanded bums on seats for five working days or 40 hours a week. Yet, despite this tectonic shift towards remote work, many misconceptions still abound.
Lydia Kothmeier, Vice President of Operations at enterprise content management system Storyblok, isn’t surprised. While Storyblok operated with a fully remote team long before the pandemic made it cool, she knows they’re the exception.
”Why limit the talent pool to build your business to one country when you could hire the best people from all over the world? “
“Back in 2017, very few businesses embraced a flexible, remote work model,” she tells The CEO Magazine. “But for us, the rationale was simple. Why limit the talent pool to build your business to one country when you could hire the best people from all over the world and also give them the freedom to choose how and where they worked?”
She notes that founders Alex Feiglstorfer and Dominik Angerer worked from Brazil and Austria, respectively, while growing Storyblok to more than 230 team members spanning 46 countries and numerous time zones.
Rewriting the rules
Operating with a fully remote global team as a startup is not without its challenges. Through trial and error, Storyblok managed to get it right. And now it’s sharing its playbook with other companies who aim to take their place in the workplace of the future.
“Thanks to the pandemic, a huge number of companies rapidly adopted fully remote, hybrid or flexible working models. However, as we quickly learned at Storyblok and many companies are finding out now, building a high-functioning business with a remote team requires a unique approach,” Kothmeier explains. “And the answer is to not bend or impose your existing culture. Instead, you have to create a new one.”
”The answer is to not bend or impose your existing culture. Instead, you have to create a new one.”
Against the backdrop of increasingly tough economic conditions where world leaders are bracing for recession, retaining talent and keeping them motivated is key. More than boosting productivity levels, substantial research also demonstrates that employees finish tasks more efficiently and with greater focus when they have flexibility in their working arrangements.
Remote work: myth versus reality
While there has been a lot of discussion and debate about the merits and drawbacks of remote work, much of the conversation is based on misconceptions and misunderstandings. In this article, fact is separated from fiction, giving all organizations a roadmap to win in this new landscape.
From how remote work proves the world still isn’t global to the idea that remote teams can’t be cohesive and the significant role part-time parent employees play in this new paradigm, several common myths are debunked.
Myth 1: Remote work proves the world is global
On the surface, it certainly appears that the rise of remote work has shown the world is becoming increasingly global. With it, employees can work from anywhere, breaking down geographic barriers and enabling businesses to access talent from around the globe.
However, dig a little deeper and a very different story emerges – remote work actually shines a light on all the ways the world still isn’t global. While remote work has made it easier to work from anywhere, it has also highlighted the complexities and challenges of doing business globally.
Companies that want to take advantage of remote work and access talent from around the world must navigate a complex web of regulations, laws and cultural differences that can make doing business across borders challenging.
On top of that, remote work often gives rise to communication and cultural challenges. Teams that work remotely from different parts of the world must navigate different time zones and cultural norms, making collaboration more difficult.
Turns out that working from anywhere is the easy part. Dealing with working permits, shipping issues, payments, taxes and insurance all over the world is the real challenge.
Myth 2: Innovation is stifled in a remote work environment
While many believe remote work weakens innovation, McKinsey’s research reveals the contrary. In fact, there were a record number of new patents filed during the first two years of the pandemic when lockdowns kept everyone out of the office. Moreover, global venture capital more than doubled from 2020, rising 111 percent.
Rather than stifling innovation, remote work seems to foster it. With remote work, individuals and teams are forced to find new and creative ways to collaborate and communicate effectively, leading to new ideas and solutions. And by providing more flexibility in work arrangements, individuals have more time to pursue their own projects and ideas in their own time – a catalyst for innovation.
In fact, when Google began its famous 20 percent rule, allowing employees to spend a fifth of their time exploring fun, passionate side projects, the result was a more productive, creative and innovative 80 percent – the time spent actually working. These side projects seemingly boosted overall work performance.
Myth 3: The best employees are full-time and consider their work to be their lives
The rise of flexible working arrangements has allowed organizations to tap into a wider talent pool. This means that talented professionals who may have otherwise been excluded from the workforce due to family commitments can now contribute their skills and expertise to the organization.
Part-time parent employees bring a lot of experience. They are motivated and loyal when given a flexible role that supports their family life. And they tend to be highly adaptable and flexible, as they have to balance work commitments with childcare responsibilities.
Research backs these claims, despite the bias that still exists around women in the workplace. According to McKinsey, mothers, in particular, show higher levels of ambition at work than women overall. Furthermore, companies with a greater number of female executives are more likely to outperform those with fewer senior women.
Myth 4: Onboarding remote teams should be the same as onboarding in-office employees
The characteristics that make an individual thrive in a fully remote environment can be very different from an in-office worker. Particular value must be applied to candidates who show an ability to work independently and are self-motivated. This may sound obvious, but actually identifying these attributes can require modifying the recruitment process.
For example, consider increasing the number of rounds of interviews to include more conversations with different team members or managers. It also pays to create new tasks that can showcase independent problem-solving and provide closer scrutiny of their personality type versus their existing work experience. The onboarding process can serve as an additional layer of protection, ensuring the right person is selected for the job.
Storyblok, for example, has a standard one-month onboarding process that includes a buddy system, peer meetings, a library of company content to read and learn as well as a few written tasks.
New team members aren’t pushed to perform from day one. Instead, they are encouraged to ask as many questions as possible as they familiarize themselves with their job and the organization. They’re also encouraged to make friends and build relationships. While this will look different to typical in-office relationships, it’s still a vital component of fostering community within teams.
Myth 5: A remote workforce demands a hands-free approach
Micromanagement should be avoided like the plague. According to the Harvard Business School, micromanagement is often cited as one of the top three reasons employees resign. Beyond that, it also suffocates creativity, breeds resentment, causes unnecessary stress and demoralizes a team.
However, that doesn’t mean a remote workforce should be entirely hands-free.
When it comes to leaders caring for their teams, it’s best achieved with a hands-on approach. Storyblok, for instance, institutes a mixture of touchpoints, both formal and informal, to ensure nobody feels isolated. There are regular all-hands catch-ups, department team catch-ups, regular inter-team informal chats, social events, collaboration sessions and more.
Dashboards are also leveraged across the company, allowing managers to easily check in and communicate in written form with an employee in a different time zone. At the same time, they help to keep the communication structured, avoiding a jungle of messages that can potentially make team members lose focus.
As diversity increases and globalization becomes more prevalent, organizations are increasingly opting for a remote or hybrid work model. Despite the initial need for additional effort and resources, this shift is crucial for companies to remain future-ready in an ever-evolving digital world, where the traditional office model appears to have a limited lifespan.
Remote and hybrid work models provide companies with several benefits, including improving employee satisfaction and retention, reducing overhead costs and increasing productivity. Simultaneously, it allows organizations to tap into a global talent pool and expand their customer base, ultimately driving business growth and innovation.