The remote work employee revolution has been in motion for over a decade now. According to FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics, there was a 159 percent increase in remote employees between 2005 and 2017, there was a 159% increase in employees working remotely.
The COVID-19 pandemic shifted that trend into overdrive, and there are no signs it will slow down. In fact, companies as large as Twitter have already told employees they never have to return to the office.
Now that we’re many months into the pandemic, operating a fully remote organization seems feasible, if not quite yet normal, for most companies. However, only a few short months ago, the idea of transitioning to a fully remote work environment seemed overwhelming for countless companies around the world; some even said “impossible.”
Our company, Acceleration Partners, has been a fully remote organization for over 13 years. Having navigated many remote work challenges of our own, we have a unique perspective for what it takes to build a thriving, award-winning company culture where all employees work remotely from home—one we’ve shared with our clients and partners who were new to the process.
In our numerous conversations with leaders of other companies, one question we kept hearing is, “how do you monitor your employees to make sure they’re actually working?”
This question touches on a crucial aspect of our culture. One of our three core values is “Own It.” We push our employees to always step up to the opportunities in front of us, bring solutions, and be proactive, rather than reactive. It also means taking accountability for outcomes, even when variables are beyond our control—and knowing that colleagues will do the same.
The idea of monitoring our employees at a managerial level runs contrary to this fundamental core value. We actively recruit and hire people who excel with limited supervision or direction, who are fast-paced, self-driven, and constantly learning.
( Also Read: 18 Reasons to Consider Remote Employees in 2020 )
For many leaders, especially those who’ve stated that a remote work culture would be “impossible” within their organization, there’s a misperception that employees working from home won’t actually work; that they’ll constantly be struggling with young children, watching television, running personal errands or otherwise be unaccountable for their time and schedule.
What we – and many other companies with successful remote work cultures – have found is that the opposite is more often the case. For example, a recent internal study from Microsoft found that, on average, remote employees worked four more hours a week than when working in the office.
The reality with remote work is that some employees find it difficult to set boundaries that separate work from their personal lives. Instead of struggling to get work done, they actually struggle to unplug from work, even checking their email late at night and sending emails and Slack messages to colleagues long after a typical workday has concluded.
However, when our employees choose to work is far less a concern to us than the performance and outcomes they deliver. If this means that on some days they need to work in the evening when it’s quiet and they can focus on their work because during the day they have personal and family needs to attend to, so be it.
Instead of surveilling our employees using monitoring tools and technology, we choose instead to trust them until they give us a reason not to. This means that we trust them to own their schedule, be accountable to complete the work that’s expected of them and step up to opportunities that will help us reach the goals and metrics we’ve set for our company. We also have clearly defined strategies and processes in place that allow us to evaluate those outcomes, including client performance, profitability, and satisfaction goals.
That said, also have important protections in place in case that trust is violated, including the ability to monitor file downloads and to remotely wipe a PC. These types of measures are crucial to protecting our clients and employees from rare cases of employee dishonesty or theft.
We certainly appreciate that there are companies in some industries where employee monitoring is necessary or required for compliance (e.g. financial services, cyber-security, etc.). But for those companies that aren’t held to those same compliance requirements and who put a high priority on results, an important question to ask is: should you care how your employee is spending their time if they’re delivering the outcomes you want?
What’s most important to us is that employees achieve the outcomes that we’ve defined and that they’ve committed to accomplishing while acting in accordance with our core values. We believe this encourages our team to work smarter, not harder or longer.
We’ve found that organizations that manage people by requiring face-time or monitoring their time throughout the day often do this because they either haven’t set clear performance expectations, they don’t trust the people they’ve hired, and/or they only know how to measure employee output by time spent working versus a smarter set of metrics and accountability.
None of these make for thriving company culture – remote or not.
If you put the right structures, processes, support, culture, and, perhaps most importantly, core values in place, the question of “how will I know if my employees are working” is trivial.
For companies that want to thrive in the remote working reality that will exist long after the COVID-19 crises have passed – the question to ask yourself is, “how can we hire, train, promote and support employees so we’re building a culture based on performance, trust, transparency, and respect?”
Those are the companies that are going to win in the future.
Robert is the founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners. Join 200,000+ global leaders who follow his inspirational weekly newsletter Friday Forward. Robert is also a top-rated keynote speaker and a Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author. His new E-Book, How To Make Virtual Teams Work, is now available for purchase.