How to Normalize Remote Work

Many of us are working from home during this coronavirus pandemic.

However, these are NOT normal work from home circumstances — and we shouldn’t treat them as such.

Under normal circumstances, the rest of our families would be at their work, school, etc. Our wifi wouldn’t be strained. We wouldn’t feel so stressed and out of sorts … Being productive and innovative during this time is a lot to ask of even the very best employee that you have.

Still many leaders are judging the remote work being done in this moment as the litmus test for the viability of remote work in their organization. This is very short-sighted. What’s happening in our world and in the world of remote work right now isn’t normal and we shouldn’t evaluate it as such.

First of all, our organizations didn’t have time to much thought or effort into setting up remote work for long-term success. We expected to return to our physical workplaces within a few weeks. Remote work was simply a band-aid. That the pandemic got worse and we ended up home for almost 3 months is an unhappy accident for most … As such, we didn’t provide support to our remote workforce the same way that we would in a permanent remote work scenario.

Second of all, this work from home period is really just an accommodation. This is NOT the same as remote work. Essentially the pandemic created the need for a massive temporary ADA-ish accommodation. And like all temporary accommodations, it is expected to end after a reasonable period AND can be ended by the employer if it causes undue hardship. This is NOT the same as real remote work, which is a permanent status of operation where the employee is fully supported to work at home. It is NOT even the same as a flexible work arrangement, where employees are allowed to work in the physical office, at home, or elsewhere as needed in order to successfully integrate the demands of work and their personal life.

This isn’t how real remote work should be designed. Judging this moment as the success template for whether remote work is a viable option for your organization is just NOT smart.

If you really want to see if remote work can be a viable option for your company, you have to commit to it fully. You have to normalize it!

What does that mean?

  • Hire it! If you want to normalize remote work, hire people into your organization who truly work remotely. Open up your searches to include candidates from parts of your state, country and world who cannot possible commute to your physical office on any kind of regular basis. Give yourself no other option than to allow remote work in all its intended fullness.
  • Harbor it! Once you have hired people who cannot commute to your physical office, give them all the resources and support that they need to be optimally effective in their job. Equipment support. Network support. Technical support. Training support. Career development support. Make your organization a safe haven for remote workers by ensuring they have all the skills and tools to thrive in their virtual work environment.
  • Hype it! Once your remote workforce is hired and setup for success, you must cultivate your culture to ensure they are included at every turn. Video stream your meetings, events and celebrations. Make sure your communication methods are inclusive for those working outside of the physical office space. Create unique experiences focused solely on your remote workforce. Seek to promote remote workers into leadership roles, including at the executive levels. Demonstrate excitement and enthusiasm about remote work in your organization.

I know permanent remote work cannot work for every person, every role, and every organization. But it can work more often than we care to admit if we give it a fair chance.

Evaluating its viability based on productivity outputs during a pandemic is not even close to giving it a fair chance.

Right now, while our employees are working from home during this pandemic, we need to show as much grace and kindness to them as possible. We need to let them know that we recognize these are not normal times or circumstance. We need to let them know that we don’t expect their outputs to be the same. We need to give them permission to take time away as needed to spend with their families and to care for their total health & wellness, whatever that looks like for them.

There is no way to normalize working during a pandemic. There is no way to effectively set or evaluate productivity and outputs during a pandemic. We should stop trying.

What we should do instead is take a real look at remote work as a sustainable solution to advance modern workplaces, recruit top diverse talent, and cultivate inclusive culture. Those are definitely worth normalizing.

Related: The Skills Needed to Move Fast in the New World