What Makes a Successful Remote Work Initiative? We Asked 4 Experts to Weigh In:

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As companies of all sizes begin recognizing the benefits of remote work programs, telecommuting rates are skyrocketing. More than 3.9 million U.S. employees, or 2.9 percent of the workforce, work from home at least half the time, according to the “2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Workforce” report  from remote work advocates FlexJobs.

To explore the growth of remote work a little more in depth, we interviewed executives from a few of the nation’s top companies about their views on flexible work arrangements. To hear more from these experts, consider attending the flexible-work-focused TRaD Works forum, September 27-29, 2017, in Washington, D.C.

On Flexible Work and the Bottom Line:

“Remote jobs help eliminate geographical boundaries, allowing us to expand our reach and retention of top talent, who play a key role in ensuring the well-being of all our stakeholders, from our customers and operations to our communities. … Savings on real estate play a role in remote work when a lease or customer contract is coming to an end. Consolidating operations within nearby facilities and offering remote work options helps us remain cost-effective and retain employees.” – Karen A. LaGraff, vice president, North American HR operations, Xerox 

“Through our technology tools, Microsoft is helping empower flexible work for our own employees, but also for employees around the globe. … These technology tools allow us to access great talent anywhere around the world and enable teams to work closely together despite location and time zones.”  – Stacy Elliott, executive communications director, Microsoft 

On the Most Important Rules for Successful Remote Work Programs:

“No. 1 is buy-in and support of flexible work arrangements across the organization. That includes leadership, associates, HR, and even external clients. Recognizing that where, when, and how work gets done in today’s world are evolving and changing is critical to the success of flexible work.” – Amy Freshman, senior director, global workplace enablement, ADP 

“There really needs to be a good business case put forward as well as a standard set of policies and guidelines. While working remotely offers advantages to the employee, a business needs to understand the impact on the operation and then provide a consistent set of tools for the managers and employees to utilize to ensure a successful work arrangement for the employee, the company, and the customer.” – Karen A. LaGraff, Xerox

On Remote Work Success Stories:

“We have featured my coworker Georgia Hybner in a couple of our company videos about remote work. Originally from Australia, Georgia pursued her passion for the mountains and moved to Vancouver, Canada. She supported clients across Asia Pacific, Japan, and Australia working a flexible schedule for several years. Since that time, she has moved to a leadership role supporting clients across Canada and the United States with a remote, disbursed team.” – Jennifer Jones Newbill, director of global employment branding, Dell 

reeds“I think my success story is pretty awesome. While a director at Microsoft and pregnant, I made the choice to leave headquarters to move closer to my extended family. After taking my maternity leave, I was looking for a new role, and decided to create a job-share with a colleague. She was in Redmond, I was in Dallas, and we applied together and got the job. That was 14 years ago, and since then, I’ve remained remote (but moved twice), worked part-time for a few years, and then moved back to full-time for the past 10 years. I’ve had four great managers during my 14 years as a remote employee, and I’ve continued to take on meaningful and engaging work. While I travel back to headquarters frequently, it’s been an incredible opportunity and one that has allowed me to raise my sons near their grandparents and extended family.” – Stacy Elliott, Microsoft

On Best Practices for Measuring Productivity:

“As I have often shared, productivity needs to be measured through work product, output, delivery of service, etc., and should be location-agnostic. Presence does not equal productivity.” – Amy Freshman, ADP

“It’s simple – outcomes. As a remote employee with a remote team, my team and I have frequent conversations about our performance measures, where we are delivering against them, what our priorities are, etc. – just like any employee regardless of where they work. Through consistent communication and requesting feedback from others, I am keenly aware of what my team is focusing on, how their stakeholders feel about their support, and areas that may need improvement. I also communicate frequently with my team on my deliverables. Communication (and accountability) is a two-way street!” – Jennifer Jones Newbill, Dell

On Special Skills Required for Managing Remote Workers:

“Hands down, it takes confidence and trust. In my own experience, I was always so appreciative of the ability to work remotely, and I never wanted anyone to think my arrangement was a detriment to my work. Back in 2003, my job-share partner and I were pioneering, so I worked extra hard to build that confidence and credibility with my manager and team. Over the years, all my managers have been incredibly respectful, and what I value most from them is their confidence and trust in my ability to get the work done, regardless of my location.” – Stacy Elliott, Microsoft

“I wouldn’t describe them as special skills, just the ability to be open, honest, and communicate. Flexibility is absolutely required. When you have a team in five different time zones, you have to flex the times that you work (7 a.m. is my usual start of the day). If you prefer to leave your work at the office, being remote and supervising others that are remote is not the role for you. Also, you have to trust your team, empower them, and be comfortable with a team that is autonomous.”– Jennifer Jones Newbill, Dell

“While my initial reaction to this usually is that managing remote versus face-to-face [workers] involves many of the same skills, I do have a few thoughts. If the leader has a mix of office-based and remote associates, leveling the playing field across the team has a huge impact. What I mean by that is to always have a conference bridge for meetings and get comfortable with technology, such as video. If a leader has one remote worker and the rest are office-based, sometimes it can be hard to be the lone voice on the phone, so consider having everyone dial in remotely from their desk from time to time. In addition, building trust, relationships, and rapport in a remote work environment is another area of opportunity for leaders in this space.” – Amy Freshman, ADP

“It’s not the ‘what’ so much as the ‘how.’ A manager should manage his/her employees consistently regardless of where they are located. Provide clear direction/goals, have regular touch points, etc. The key is knowing what tools to utilize. Telephony systems, video capability, and collaboration tools certainly enable the manager to stay better engaged with the remote worker, track performance, and maintain a team environment. … If the business situation is appropriate, and the employee/manager have a good, documented agreement on how they will stay connected, then it works. In any manager/subordinate relationship, the communication between manager and employee is key regardless [whether] the employee is down the hall or across the country.” – Karen A. LaGraff, Xerox

On the Importance of Employee Input When Creating Remote Positions:

Street“Our experience has been that the decision to work remotely is a combination of business appropriateness and individual preference. An employee would need to have clear understanding of the job expectations, tracking of work, touch points with team members and management, and then discuss if working in a remote environment is something that he or she is comfortable with. Just as a manager shouldn’t assume that all work has to be done in a traditional office setting, it shouldn’t be assumed that every employee is comfortable working remotely without daily face-to-face interaction in the work environment.” – Karen A. LaGraff, Xerox

“I think it should be a balance between the needs of the business and the desire from the employee. There are so many different types of flexible work arrangements (FWAs), so it’s important for the employee, their manager, and their team to find the right balance. FWAs can take many forms – job shares, part-time, compressed weeks, and more – and they can be more permanent or shorter term to meet a need that an employee might have outside of work. Many jobs require teams to be colocated and working closely and quickly to achieve business goals, so it’s really important that managers and employees discuss the reasons behind the flexible work arrangement and how that maps to business’s needs.” – Stacy Elliott, Microsoft

On Resisting Implementation of Remote Work Programs:

“If your business wants to attract key talent, especially in the millennial space, then flexibility and offering remote work are key. Our new generation of worker almost expects it. It’s a critical enabler to moving a company into the future and providing more coverage for customers.” – Karen A. LaGraff, Xerox

“In study after study, they tell us that today’s multigenerational workforce is asking for … forms of flexibility. Offering flexible work arrangements to some degree could be a game changer for you as you look to attract and retain talent. From my vantage point, this is not about extremes, like sending people to work from home 100 percent of the time and never step into an office. This is about ‘flexible work options.’ We need to recognize that roles within an organization will likely have varying degrees of flex – some more than others – and management should consider different types of flex … and begin to learn how to manage it.” – Amy Freshman, ADP

“If you trust your team to work when and where they want, within reason of the role/project, you will receive great trust in return. By creating stressors around work time and schedule for your teams, you are not doing yourself or your teams any favors. Providing flexibility can create less stress and a higher return on productivity, as well as a higher commitment to the company.” – Jennifer Jones Newbill, Dell

By Jason McDowell