If you’ve ever imagined never missing your kid’s baseball game or listening in on a conference call while doing a load of laundry, those scenarios are increasingly becoming a plausible option. According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace study, 43 percent of employees worked remotely in some capacity last year. That result is up from 39 percent in 2012 and equates to providing 9.5 million more American workers some time working away from their coworkers. Yes, 9.5 million!
To break down those big numbers into actionable ideas, two leaders from very different companies with distinctly different programs shared how and why remote work has benefited their teams. Representing the Fortune 500 is Jenn Grabenstetter, Executive Director of Global Communications & Content Marketing at Sealed Air, the packaging behemoth with 23,000 employees worldwide.
On the successful start-up side is Montse Guasch, Vice-President of Marketing at Adaptly, a social ad tech company founded in 2010 which has grown to 145 employees. Even with their different implementations, both leaders agree on the goal: remote work is about getting the best out of your employees.
The basics need to match the company’s culture.
While Adaptly’s flexible work policy is available to all employees every day, Grabenstetter has taken a more limited approach, as there is not a corporate-supported policy at Sealed Air.
Granbenstetter explained, “Managers have the discretion to make flexible work arrangements with team members on a case by case basis. I have probably bent that piece of semantics a bit further than most by making it a team-wide arrangement, but I remain committed that creative work requires a different kind of team workflow.”
For her team, they have a work from home day every other week. “Everyone got to rank their choice for what day they'd ideally like to have at home," Granbenstetter said. "We spread them out so that there are never more than two of us remote on the same day.”
Guasch understands there are cases where it makes more sense to be on site regularly, and feels Adaptly has created an environment where employees can do their best work from anywhere. Currently, the company has employees from client services, media operations, marketing, finance, engineering and product working away from the office.
Guasch’s team has two of its six members working remotely and she takes advantage of the program too. “As an executive, it is essential for me to be able to work abroad two times a year based on my family situation. Adaptly provides me that opportunity."
Remarkable work doesn’t occur in one place.
Finding the style, the hours and the methods that bring out your best work is what matters. Are you a heads-down worker, a collaborator or a connector? Recent studies support the idea that working from home can increase productivity and decrease stress. Grabenstetter agrees, “If your workflow allows for or requires individual output, content creation or conceptual time, remote work can really be an accelerator. I almost never have time or headspace to get words or ideas on paper in my office during normal work hours.”
In fact, remote work can even instill an ownership mentality. “It sets up a dynamic of trust between team members: we all know what needs to get done and we all know when we are accountable to each other for deliverables,” said Grabenstetter.
“There is always the misconception that employees working remotely will get nothing done. I believe that if an employee is not delivering good work, it doesn’t matter where they are located,” said Adaptly’s Guasch. “If a member of my team needs to work from home to deliver their best, I trust them and I will make sure I facilitate the best environment to produce the best results.”
Both leaders want their teams to know they are valued as people, not just as employees. Good work-life balance is key to that. “Family matters. Hobbies matter. Managing stress healthfully matters," said Grabenstetter. "You are more than just your inbox, your deliverables or your annual review.”
Appreciate the flexibility and pay it back.
Most jobs require working some nights and weekends — sometimes because that’s when you are at your best, and sometimes it’s just a necessity.
“The biggest thing for me is that I expect the flexibility allowed with remote work to be 'paid back' in other ways,” said Sealed Air’s Grabenstetter. “Taking a business trip that leaves on a Sunday night, working 12 hours setting up a trade show booth without griping about the long hours, hopping on a call with our counterparts in Asia at 8 p.m. because that is the best time to get their whole team in one place... Work happens when it happens. If you want the flexibility to work when and where you want to work, you earn it by sometimes working outside of traditional nine to five boundaries."
Communication is everything — and technology can help.
There’s no doubt that technology and mobility have sparked more opportunities for remote work. Both Guasch and Grabenstetter’s teams take advantage of communications and collaboration tools, including Slack, video chats, IM, Google Hangouts and workflow tools like Wrike. “As long as the stakeholders and partners you interact with can also flex and function in these sort of ad hoc collaborative environments, there's almost nothing that can't be done remotely,” said Grabenstetter.
Gausch agrees that inclusiveness is key. “As a manager, I need to make sure there is visibility to the rest of the team’s progress on projects and that we are all on the same page. It's beneficial to set up some weekly syncs to discuss priorities, challenges and wins.”
Both executives believe it’s important to make time together as a team count and to schedule face-to-face team time regularly; that includes sharing ideas for the company's and their own growth, as well as volunteer opportunities and bonding activities.
The positives outweigh the negatives.
Smaller companies may have more to gain by allowing remote work, but the cultural benefits are enormous for both. Adaptly believes its flexibility lets it recruit more qualified talent and keep the talent it has happy, increasing retention.
Grabenstetter’s surprise? Remote work makes the hard days easier to bear. “Somehow just knowing that you can be home when you need to be home, or be wherever you need to be when you need to be there makes challenging days easier to bounce back from. In an ‘always-on’ corporate culture, taking active steps to avoid burnout is very important.”
The only negatives? Time zones and tech headaches! Neither of which should stop you from getting your work done.
Go ahead and implement or advocate for flexibility at work . You can always start with a limited program and build. Make your expectations clear and you too can experience the same benefits as Sealed Air and Adaptly.
Jennifer Bewley is the founder of Uncuffed which provides detailed research into prospective employers. Jennifer has an unhealthy love of financial data and speaking her mind and she uses each to help candidates choose the company they work for wisely.