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10 October 2023

To Remote or not to Remote?

DataEQ’s Head of People, Sam Howieson looks at the pros and cons of working remotely

*Article originally featured here

Being a member of the People (HR) team in a remote company can be challenging. It poses unique difficulties because choosing to work in the People-field, typically means I love connecting with others, building trust, tuning into energy levels, and discerning when colleagues are having off days. Much of this intuition, gut feel and instinct is lost when you can’t interact with your colleagues in person.

After a year of navigating the fully remote working landscape as Head of People at DataEQ, I wanted to share a few reasons why remote working works for us:

1. Foundations Are in Place

In a recent conversation with the founder of a startup, it became evident that remote work wasn’t a viable option for them. They believed that their team needed to be physically present to foster collaboration and brainstorming, laying the foundation for their growing company. This perspective holds true, especially during the crucial early years of a startup, where there’s so much magic in those early brainstorming days which will be difficult to replicate remotely.

Remote work has worked for us at DataEQ because we’ve been in operation for over a decade, with our team working together in a traditional office environment for the first ten plus years. Our core values, culture, processes, and strategic plans are deeply ingrained in our organisation. We have a solid understanding of our team, their needs, and the unique landscape in which our company operates. Establishing such a sound foundation might take significantly more time when your team isn’t sharing the same physical space.

2. Transparency Matters

Failure to communicate frequently and proactively with your team can lead to misunderstandings that may be difficult to rectify later. For instance, when financial challenges arise and belt-tightening becomes necessary, some leaders might be tempted to shield their team from such news, fearing that it could trigger concerns about job security. However, smart team members can often sense these challenges. Without open dialogue about the issues and potential solutions, they might quietly begin plotting their exit strategies.

Overcommunication and transparency are even more critical in a remote setting where organic connections and catch-ups are limited. If team members don’t receive regular updates from their leaders, they’ll put the pieces of the puzzle together on their own, often leading to misguided assumptions—a situation that’s always best avoided.

3. Clear Goals and Responsibilities

In a remote work environment, where visibility into team members’ daily activities is limited, it’s vital to ensure that everyone is working on the right tasks at the right time. It’s not uncommon for team members to utilised cherished energy on tasks that aren’t aligned with the organization’s goals simply because there’s no one to guide them.

Defining clear goals and areas of responsibility is essential. It’s equally important to specify what team members should refrain from doing (“what to say no to”). This clarity mitigates role confusion and minimizes conflicts and stress, particularly among junior team members. Establishing boundaries and empowering team members to decline tasks within their defined responsibilities enables each person to excel in their areas of expertise. This approach also allows leaders to trust their team to deliver because expectations are well-defined.

4. Flexibility and Talent Retention

The world of work has fundamentally changed, making it increasingly challenging to attract and retain top talent. Today’s employees crave flexibility and autonomy over their diaries. It is clear that flexibility is a number one attraction and retention factor, alongside remuneration. In order to embrace flexibility, trust is crucial.

5. Trust and Psychological Safety

If you struggle to trust your team members, then remote will never work for you. People may not want to work for you either, to be fair.

Building psychological safety and trust within the organization can be facilitated by considering David Rock’s SCARF model, which identifies five domains in which individuals feel either threatened or rewarded. When cultivating a healthy remote culture, it’s essential to keep these domains and questions in mind:

  • Status: Does each team member feel valued and recognised for their contributions? Do they understand the significance of their role in the organisation’s larger picture?
  • Certainty: Does the team feel secure in their jobs, and do they believe their leaders have their backs? Is there consistent communication to provide a sense of security?
  • Autonomy: Are team members empowered to control their roles, schedules, and work independently? Or are they micromanaged?
  • Relatedness: Do team members feel connected to their colleagues and do they work as ‘one team’ toward common goals? Are there opportunities for non-operational interactions?
  • Fairness: Are decisions perceived as fair, based on available data? Are team members treated equitably and justly?

In summary, remote work isn’t suitable for every organization. If a company opts for or continues with a fully remote model, it demands significant effort, time, and heightened awareness. Remote work isn’t a shortcut to simplifying business operations or cutting costs - it poses its own set of unique challenges. However, in my opinion, when executed correctly, the pros far outweigh the cons.

For more information about working at DataEQ click here

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