COVID19 helps leaders evaluate expanded work from home policies

The catalyst

For those individuals who work in a field where remote work is possible, the COVID19 pandemic has been a catalyst to test the feasibility of long-term work from remote policies.  To leaders concerned if remote work can be successful, I will propose another way to look at this matter. The information in this post focuses on individuals who work in the IT field, although may apply to anyone able to do their job over a broadband Internet connection.

Remote work yesterday and today

We begin by rethinking the original question, 

“Can the organization support a remote working staff long term?

Instead, we should ask,

“How does our staff conduct business today?”

In the early 2000s 802.11 wireless became ubiquitous on most laptops.  We have used lights-out management cards for years to control remote servers.  In recent times, organizations are moving compute and storage from traditional data centers to cloud hosted environments. Applications once hosted on local IT infrastructure are now being outsourced to SaaS services.  Open-source projects are using remote git repositories to leverage worldwide collaboration. The industry is moving to a buy-before-build mindset so that business can focus on their core mission, and not the IT infrastructure.  

As you can see, our engineering and operations staff are working from remote already and have been for many years.  There is a negligible difference between sitting in an office chair using ssh and performing the same task from a remote workspace. Robust broadband Internet, laptops, online meeting services, and cloud file storage, have further enhanced the ability to facilitate an in-office experience from outside the cubical walls.

Strategic decisions

The data is here, COVID19 is requiring staff to work from home.  Effective leaders need to use this event as the catalyst to evaluate more robust work from home policies.  There are several companies who have successfully implemented a remote work culture, and many startup companies have these policies baked in from the beginning.  Studying these organizations will allow us to learn from their mistakes, implement strategies for success, and make remote work a possibility.  Leaders need to examine this opportunity with an open mind and be willing to take a chance.

Strategic leaders will realize opportunities exist beyond those that benefit staff only. Cutting back office space, reducing power consumption, easing traffic congestion and fossil fuel consumption by eliminating needless commuting, and revitalizing the space allocated to parking lots. These initiatives help to efficiently utilize a company’s resources, protect the environment, and help with the bottom line by reducing unnecessary spending.

Over the past few weeks, tech giants Twitter and Square announced permanent work from home policies.  GitLab has been working from remote for years; they even post their employee handbook online to share lessons learned.  I suspect it won’t be long before we see more companies enabling generous changes to their remote work policy, will you be one of them?  

What about me?

Can anyone work from home?  No.  Should everyone work from home?  No.   These types of changes require careful assessment and planning.   It should be obvious it won’t work for everyone, there are very few things that work for all people.  Employee motivation, social considerations, and legal issues are just a few details that need to be evaluated.  The goal of this post is to help leaders, who would otherwise discount remote work policies, think about the opportunity.

Take action now

Don’t delay, waiting until COVID19 is over, would be a missed opportunity to transform your policies.  Remember, a leader leads by taking calculated risks. You may determine it is not right for your organization, but you won’t know unless you try.