Let’s be honest. The trades are the inventors of 'remote work.' For decades, we’ve been dispatching remotely while technicians are awarded company vehicles to drive home each evening. They begin their mornings from the comfort of their own homes by receiving their work log for the day through walkie-talkie, text, email, slack, pager… remember those? Shoot, we’re awesome — others should take note!
The evolution of change is in pursuit as it knocks on the door of all businesses large and small — the workforce has evolved as well. The hard-working, blue-collar generations paved the way for the new ‘millennials’ addicted to gaming systems — hey, I know, I know; not all millennials are addicted to gaming. Heck, I think I’m even a millennial, and I can’t even clear a round of Pac-Man. But my point is simply, along with the passing of generations, the wave of change is bringing a new workforce with new demands, and as we’re seeing, those demands include a more ‘flexible’ work schedule. The new generation ‘likes’ working from home.
But here’s what really bugs me down to my core — the business owner slaved through blood, sweat and tears to build, nurture and grow their baby. Then, through fear and trepidation, they hired their first employee as the payroll ball and chain attached itself.
An entitled workforce
Now, fast forward to present day, and the workforce is entitled; they deserve to work from home! How did this happen? Since when did we blur the lines between home life and work life? I love technology, but in this case, I blame technology — with technology comes the evolutionary waves of change. Like them or not, they come in waves.
I have many friends in mid-level management at Fortune 500 Companies. When COVID-19 arrived in the states back in March of 2020 and we began our first lockdown, they raved about how wonderful their new home work life was. And I quote, “I love working from home! If I need to mow the lawn in the middle of the day, I can just zip out there and get it done! Laundry? Easy! Start dinner, walk the dog, straighten the house…check and check.”
Yeah, no kidding… and therein lies the problem. Everyone I know likes to brag about how scheduled and productive they are when they work from home. Recently, I polled social media, asking for suggestions for managing remote employees. Shockingly, or not so shockingly, the managers and owners didn’t come out of hiding to share their remote managerial skills. Instead, the employees bragged about how much they loved it and how organized they kept themselves.
Don’t set schedules and patterns that don’t work for you as the manager and owner. If you can manage it, then explore it.
Are your employees producing or just merely working?
OK… so perhaps they are able to work from home and get things done, but my question is, are they feeling accomplished at the end of the day because they completed a long list of to-do items by checking them off one by one, yet failed to chip away at the ‘highest and best use of their time?’ Did they make a dent in their HVAs = high value activities? Because it’s easy to feel productive by setting the crockpot, sending some emails, attending a zoom call with wet hair and your camera off, and walking the dog.
Hey, maybe I’m a grumpy old soul who’s having a hard time accepting the waves of change — but it’s only because as Romans says, “You know because you know.” I know our work-from-home force blurs the lines between work and homemaker — wasn’t it back in the 1960s that women were insulted to be coined as Suzy Home Makers? Because that was their role — and shoot, I’m a woman, I totally get it. I have a home to make, children to feed and laundry to clean, too. But as a business owner, my 8-to-5 is dedicated to the growth and well-being of my company. Working from home blurs the lines and takes away from your main thing — moving your company forward.
Now, I have no problem going on record admitting, I hate this whole flexibility phase we’re in — and yes, I have remote employees. Do they do a great job? Yes. Are they valuable team members? Yes. But would I rather them be in the office where the team cohesion is fluid and the communication lines are white and black without grey? Yes.
Defining the role and privileges up-front
So — if you’re considering or already working with a hybrid workforce — spend the time to put some serious thinking into each position and define what the HVAs are for those positions. Be sure you can tie generating new revenue or saving revenue to those positions in measurable ways, so you can manage productivity based on those HVAs. If the big things are moving forward in the company, do you really care if your team is working 30 or 40 hours a week? Well, if they’re on salary… I should be able to say I don’t care, but call me old school. I can’t help it; I do care — I can’t help but to feel we’re stealing from the company. So, figure out the hours it really takes to achieve the HVAs for each position, and what the heck, why couldn’t we move to a hybrid 4-day work week? Or perhaps simply a 7-to-2 or 8-to-3-time window instead? And while we’re at it, if the world wants flexibility, by George, field personnel does, too, so why can’t we have an A and B shift with less hours per person per day?
If I could predict the future, I wish I could say the hybrid work from home schedules were going away, but I doubt it. I fully believe they’re here to stay, so it’s a great time to accept that times have changed, and pre-determine what works for you in your company. As Ben Horowitz says, “Sometimes the best rule is one the CEO can follow.” Don’t set schedules and patterns that don’t work for you as the manager and owner. If you can manage it, then explore it.
A few key takeaways
Preset requirements for work from home: For example, who owns the computer, phones and technology? Who pays for internet? Are there required daily check-in times and required daily team meetings with cameras on? No camera? Then you’re not considered at work. Keep it simple with a well-defined organizational chart and managerial hierarchy — if they can’t see that their boss is in when they have a question, who do they go to first with issues?
Is it just me? Employees reading this may think I’m selfish and crazy, but from business owner to business owner perspective, I don’t like managing remote workers; it takes a new kind of effort, and we’re often already maxed out — but because we aren’t soulless a-holes, we care about our people, and we try to make their life more comfortable as a thank you — thank you for serving our company and our customers, and thank you for showing up with a good attitude and big smile ready to work. But let’s all remember — working from home or having a hybrid schedule is a privilege. If, at the end of the day, the work output isn’t matching the financial input, it just might be time to make a change.
And lastly, along with identifying your HVAs, let us not forget about our HVPs = high-value people. If you have a team member that you determine is an ace, they are one of your HVPs, and they want a more flexible work schedule, ask yourself, “What is my relationship with this HVP worth?” And “How do I maintain this HVP relationship?” Sharpen your pencil and get creative, this new evolution of flexibility could be a huge asset in your benefits package for securing and retaining key team members.