Remote Work – A Guaranteed Policy

Last week, I fulfilled a promise. I told the twitter-verse that if I hit 2500 followers, I would provide a guarenteed-not-to-suck remote work policy they could share with their corporate leadership (anonymously or otherwise) in the hopes of getting them to consider a sane choice.

This is the blog-ified version that thread. You can read the original here: https://twitter.com/leonadato/status/1416055424013553666.

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First, I’d like to thank everyone who decided to follow and help get over the 2500 follower hurdle, even if it’s for the next 5 minutes.

Second, I’m not going to make you wait. I promised that, upon hitting my goal, I’d post a WFH policy, and that’s what you’re going to get. If you stick around after that, however, I have some thoughts about WHY I believe this policy is, for all intents and purposes, the only one that makes sense for businesses to adopt. Bold words, I know.

Our Remote Work Policy

We acknowledge that each of our colleagues in this company have different needs based on family, health, preferred work habits, and more.  Therefore our new policy going-forward is to allow employees the autonomy to work (and live) where it’s best for them. Doing so will  help us attract, hire, and retain the best talent we can find.

We trust our employees to work in the environment that is most conducive to producing the best results because we know the most conducive environment can change depending on the time of the day, day of the week, needs of family members, and phase of projects and work efforts.

We trust our managers to inspire and lead teams irrespective of their location because we know management and leadership is about more than seeing if a butt is in a seat.

We believe everyone in this organization is able to have open and honest discussions about how best to achieve their goals, whether that means everyone has to be in the same room; or everyone has to be in their own space; or some blend of those two extremes.

And we have faith that everyone will be mature enough to understand when a particular project, challenge, or conversation requires a change (whether permanent or short term) to the status quo.

So there it is. That’s the policy you (and your company) need; the one you (and your staff) deserve.

Now let’s talk about why other options don’t, won’t, and (honestly) can’t work. Or at the very least work against your best interests. As a note, I’m not going to re-hash my previous WFH threads (although I personally think they’re damn compelling). But if you want to catch up you can find them on twitter (here https://twitter.com/leonadato/status/1407397914280923143 and here https://twitter.com/leonadato/status/1410261547184758786) or as blog posts on this site (here: https://www.adatosystems.com/2021/07/16/remote-work-rant-1/ and here: https://www.adatosystems.com/2021/07/16/remote-work-rant-2/.)

Let’s Compromise!

I’ll start with the biggest mistake I’m seeing right now: Companies compromising by offering a policy of “you can work remote x days per week” (and any variations of that where you have x periods WFH, and y periods in the office).

I’ll be honest, it would have worked in the before-times. People would have kissed management’s feet to get a couple days a week where they could skip traffic, work in sweats, not deal with drive-by interruptions, and so on. But those days are gone, never to return.

As I said in my first thread/post (despite the Twitter typo which still makes my eye twitch), remote work is now seen as table stakes for most employees. Offering PARTIAL remote is not going to cut it. But why?

Partial remote means I *still* have to factor in housing costs, drive times, schools, religious accommodations, family distance, and more as it relates to the physical location of the company. My autonomy as an employee is severely limited. The company is saying “we trust you to get your work done without supervision A LITTLE, but not really.”  Or (as I mentioned in the first thread/post) it continues to be a manifestation of leadership’s projected insecurity/discomfort with the entire remote-work model.

But most of all, “remote x days per week” means pulling everyone back into the office is just one corporate edict away. In most cases I’ve seen, it’s a transparent attempt by management to seem like their making a compromise while still retaining control.

The Sunk Office Cost Fallacy

The next most frequent reason I hear for not doing full remote work is “we have too much invested in our office space to let it sit empty.”
Let me be blunt: your office is very likely to sit empty.It can be due to people quitting, or it can be due to you letting them CHOOSE to be in the office or not. Which would you prefer?

In the first case, it will be empty AND you’ll not just have to explain to the board why your rent money is going out the window, but why the replacement cost for your staffing is likely more than the office cost in the first place. (I went over how the cost to replace staff adds up in my second rant linked at the top of this thread.)

In the second case, along with validating your employees as grown-ass adults who have autonomy and will really, truly, sincerely, actually do what’s right for the company 9 out of 10 times, you will likely see the office NOT empty. You’ll see it filled (albeit probably not full like the before times) with people who want or need to be there, WHEN they need to be there.

Not only that, but pulling people into the office likely costs you more than you realize. There are lots of reports out right now (because it’s a popular topic. you thought I was tweet-ranting and blogging for my health?) about the cost of keeping people in the office. Most set the figure between $10-30k. Here’s a link to one such article, but you can find your own if you need them: https://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics

This isn’t new information. We’ve known the financial benefits of remote work for decades. It’s just that many folks in management haven’t been able to get over the myriad mental blocks to embrace it.

Corporate Culture

It pains me to ignore the easy jokes I could make about “corporate culture” being what you find on “clean out the office fridge Friday”, but you’ve come this far and I feel I owe you at least a little charity. So, moving on.

I’m not going to dignify this argument by summarizing it, but rather just ask: if your so-called corporate culture can’t hold up if you aren’t all in the same place, you have a cult, not a culture.

IF, however (as I suspect is more true than some would be willing to admit) “corporate culture” means the company-provided trappings that implicitly indicate hierarchy, power, control, and dominance then yeah, that’s totally going to be lost if everyone can choose to work remote. Take a quiet moment to ask yourself why that would be something you want to perpetuate.

Also, this tweet is so incredibly true, it burns:

Fair != Same

I’ve heard about a few companies where leadership feels (or at least says they feel) offering remote work would be unfair to those employees who cannot work remote. I’d like to take a couple of tweets to disabuse anyone reading of this notion.

I, an orthodox Jew, cannot do work for 24 hours each week (i.e. Shabbat). This has, in the past, caused me no small amount of inconvenience, and even hurt my career. However, I’ve never once thought to myself, “It’s totes unfair that the non-orthodox folx can work on Saturday and get ahead. The company should make a rule that NOBODY can work on Shabbat, to make things fair!”

Employees with different jobs, seniority, projects, and responsibilities have different computers, desks, spending limits, cubical sizes, and more. Never once do the same leaders crying “unfair!”  think “If we give the dev’s $1,000 Herman Miller Aeron chairs we need to give them to everyone in accounting, HR, and food service too!”

In addition, this reasoning is enormously disingenuous based on the fact that fully remote companies ARE doing this, somehow. Maybe instead of saying “we can’t” find out how they’re doing it and improve.

I Can’t Turn Back Now

Some folks in leadership are saying they can’t go back on the bold and definitive statement they made earlier in the year, that it would make them look weak. No, it would make you look like a manager who listens. Who considers new input and is able to adapt. Who has the basic human humility and decency to admit they made a snap decision, but took the time to think it through and has reconsidered.

That’s what some folks might call “a leader”.

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