REMOTE WORK ISN’T FLEXIBLE

by Matt Thomas

It was about this time last year I announced at our all-team meeting we would be shifting our fully remote workforce to “partially remote,” or at least I think that’s how I framed it. We were growing, more people were working out of the office, and in an effort to continue strengthening our culture I thought it would be a good idea to “ask” our FTE’s to be in the office two days each week and our PTE’s one day. The announcement was met with mixed emotions, to say the least, and then a few weeks later the whole world shut down.

Unless you were an essential business or worker, remote work wasn’t optional. It was thrust upon you and you just had to figure it out.

A year later, like most businesses, we’ve done quite a bit of thinking on the benefits of remote work. Like others, we’ve also seen the unintended consequences of the remote work environment. Unless you were an essential business or worker, remote work wasn’t optional. It was thrust upon you and you just had to figure it out. This has been especially hard on working moms, who for some reason are largely expected to handle the educational needs of their children “learning” from home. Even though dad is on his computer in the guestroom. God forbid he come out and help a kid log into another God-forsaken online learning platform. I’ve observed these challenges within our team, as we are largely driven by working moms. A reality I am exceedingly grateful for.

I’ve also observed friends who work for large companies panic because they weren’t going to “clock in” on time (which oddly enough for a lot of companies just means making sure your calendar says busy and your slack button is green). Others have to be on regularly scheduled project status calls throughout the day to ensure they are actually working. Guest rooms, home offices, breakfast tables, and even closets have become prisons. Whether or not people are actually getting things done doesn’t seem to matter. Do they look productive? Good enough. It’s weird and frankly, it makes me sick.

Whether or not people are actually getting things done doesn’t seem to matter. Do they look productive? Good enough. It’s weird and frankly, it makes me sick.

This year one thing has become abundantly clear to me–remote work isn’t flexible. There is a significant gap between remote work and flexible work. Remote work essentially means you can decide the location where you will set up to work. That’s about it. You don’t get to decide when you are on, how you spend your time, what you’re focused on, etc. The only ball in your court is location. Because employers often are nervous about team members working the system they instill bizarre check-ins and other mechanisms really designed to catch people not working. It’s pathetic.

Remote work essentially means you can decide the location where you will set up to work. That’s about it. You don’t get to decide when you are on, how you spend your time, what you’re focused on, etc.

In January we doubled down on the flexible work environment. We got crystal clear about company-wide objectives, department goals, and individual performance expectations. Then we said, go get ‘em! Our team members can choose when, where, how, and what they work on. We removed any ambiguity around performance metrics and broadened the highway from two lanes to ten. At the center of this shift is a belief that if we are hiring the right people, and we trust them, then why would we put any constraints in play that could inhibit them from executing at the highest level possible?

More than that, with this approach, we can actually hire top talent that we wouldn’t have access to otherwise. It’s hard to find a job that’s truly 9-5. We have people who start their workday at 5am, take a break from 7-9 to hang with their kids and get them off to school, then jump back in mid-morning. We have folks who love working late into the night, some who refuse to work on a Friday, and others who love working on Sunday mornings. In truth, I have zero visibility or pulse on our team members’ work schedules. I look at our weekly production reports and all I see is great work. The once-a-month all-team meeting is a total blast, our GIF game on Slack is at an all-time high, and combined with regular one-on-ones we do a great job of staying connected.

At the center of this shift is a belief that if we are hiring the right people, and we trust them, then why would we put any constraints in play that could inhibit them from executing at the highest level possible?

When it comes to leading our team there are two things I care about the most. 1) Do they love working here? 2) Do they know where they stand with their manager? I believe if the answer is yes to both questions then the sky’s the limit for us.

We’re growing and need some great folks to help us get where we want to go. Who’s in?