4 Signs Your Team Can’t Work From Home Long-Term

Jun 29, 2020

Adopting a permanent remote work model should not be a foregone conclusion.

A recent Gartner survey of 229 HR leaders showed that 41 percent of employees are likely to work remotely at least part-time post-Covid. That’s compared with 30 percent of employees who worked remotely at least part-time before the pandemic.

But for all the plans many companies are making to shift to a work-from-home model long-term, some simply can’t–and I’m not just talking about jobs that require a physical presence. These are some of the signs your business, your workforce, or both, are not equipped to adopt this trend.

Your Team’s Output Thrives on Collaboration

Collaboration tools are great. We use many of them at my company, internally, as well as with clients and vendors, and in most cases, I’ve found them to be incredibly convenient and effective. But there’s much to be said for the energy and efficiency of physically coming together to discuss, debate, brainstorm, and build.

Certain types of work, and workers, are more reliant on collaborative approaches to accomplishing goals than others. Take advertising, for example–the rapid-fire nature of bouncing ideas off one another, writing and pairing words and phrases on whiteboards and sticky notes, developing and presenting a narrative–can these things be done remotely? Sure. Can they be done better remotely? No.

The key ingredient in collaboration is communication, and as novel as even the best digital communication technology is, there is simply no better, faster, cheaper, clearer collaboration platform than good old-fashioned in-person interactions.

You Aren’t Prepared to Invest in the Tools You Need

Telecommuting can offer a host of benefits, among them reduced overhead costs, but those savings come at a cost. Having a substantial number of employees working remotely presents a significant cybersecurity challenge that is not to be overlooked. According to the 2019 IBM Security/Ponemon Institute Cost of Data Breach Study, the average cost of a data breach is $3.92 million. Another report from Juniper Research estimated that by 2020, based on long-term financial impact and resolution efforts, that cost will exceed $150 million.

Working remotely means relying on at-home or public Wi-Fi networks, through which employees are unlikely to get the protection required to prevent cyberattacks. On top of that, the vulnerabilities attached to workers’ increased usage of, and reliance on collaboration tools are such a threat that organizations including Google, SpaceX, and NASA have banned employees from using them to reduce the risk of breaches. 

You must also consider whether your organization has the means to provide your workforce with remote access to IT and administrative support, including maintenance and upgrades, on an ongoing basis. If not, you’re likely to end up with a frustrated, unproductive workforce.

Your Employees Aren’t on Board

For many employees, the transition from a conventional to alternative workplace is not easy or welcome. Particularly those who are accustomed to a structured office environment may, understandably, be overwhelmed by the level of autonomy inherent in this setting.

Other common reasons staff may not be in favor of working from home include enjoying the sense of community an office offers, and not having a home office–or the space or money to create one. The most direct way to gauge your employees’ interest in working remotely long-term is to ask them. Including them in the discussion will help inform your decision while strengthening morale.

A more subtle, but important sign that a work-from-home arrangement probably isn’t a fit for your business is if you see disengaged, negative, or emotional language coming from team members after they’ve been required to work remotely for some time. Look for a transition from moderate to absolute. An example would be if an employee’s typical response to a deadline request has been “It will be tight, but I’ll do what I can,” but becomes “That’s impossible–there’s no way I’ll get it done in time.”

You Can’t Commit to New Ways of Operating

The decision to transition to an alternative workplace setup should be informed not only by the work your organization does and the people who do it, but whether your leadership team’s management style is suited to this arrangement.

For example, how will a lack of physical presence impact the way employees are evaluated in terms of performance reviews, promotions and other advancements? On this topic, IBM marketing manager Kevin Rirey said, “We’ve always rewarded for results, but when you are in a traditional office environment and see the effort that people put into a job, it’s very difficult not to reward them at least partly for that effort. We don’t tend to do that anymore. We focus a lot more on results than on effort. But it’s a difficult transition.”

Determining if and how to implement a remote work operation is a big decision for your company. It’s certainly the topic of the moment, but try not to get sucked into the “nowness” of it all. Instead, take stock of your organization’s needs, goals and capabilities, and weigh all that against the short- and long-term risks and rewards that would come with this change.

By Maria Haggerty