5 Questions CEOs Must Answer To Avoid Remote Work Inequalities

Chief Executive Officer

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Last week I chatted to CEO of Soapbox, Brennan McEachran, about transitioning his business to remote. (SoapboxHQ is an employee engagement tool, which helps you streamline objectives, meetings and morale into one workflow – check it out here, you can sign up for free.)

As the CEO of a business that’s now fully remote, McEachran talked about some of the difficult decisions that need to be made when transitioning to remote – whether the transition is to fully remote or just remote-friendly. In fact, in many ways, a remote-friendly approach makes these decisions even more important than fully remote businesses, since there’s added potential for employees to be working in different ways and to therefore create inequalities across the workforce.

We talked about the fact that a lot of businesses are currently just remote on a temporary basis, but that, in reality, once things return to normal, it will be a new version of normal in which most workforces will continue to incorporate some element of remote, so developing a remote work policy will become de rigueur for every business and addressing the potential minefield of ensuring equity amongst employees with different remote work agreements in place is essential.

Brennan was kind enough to share some of the questions that his organization has already grappled with to help other CEOs determine how to develop their remote work policies:

1. Will your worker’s compensation change, if they go remote?

This is a challenging question to answer – particularly at the moment whilst there is a lot of flux in the market, and a lot of different practices are exerting pressure to keep pace with trends, to stay competitive. A key concern is that if compensation is adjusted, retention can become an issue—particularly if other businesses have not reduced compensation, or offer more flexibility. Added to the mix is the issue of whether to change compensation if the employee leaves the country; should their pay adjust to the local market level of where they are moving to or will it stay the same? And if staying the same, does that begin to create issues if you have different pay-levels across different geographies already? Most employers are paying different rates for different talent in different markets, which arguably makes the case for compensation tied to market economies; otherwise inequalities are created for employees who started in one country but moved to another, where their local peers are getting paid less. It’s a challenging, multi-faceted, prickly question but one that really needs working through, to create clarity and transparency in your remote working policy.

2. What restrictions will you apply to remote workers?

This is particularly relevant for those businesses which don’t yet have a formal remote work policy in place, and just have workers operating remotely, temporarily.  Some of them may already have used this opportunity to move further away from a city, to more affordable housing for example – what level of flexibility will they be afforded, to work remotely, once things return to normal and the expectation to in-office returns?  If you have employees working across different timezones, what level of core hours, to create team overlap, might you want to mandate?  If you’re allowing remote work, but have employees on completely opposing timezones, how do you best manage this vector?  If you’re going completely remote, with employees all over, do you define a specific HQ-time for determining overlap?  Will you allow flexibility within your business, across teams – and if so, how will you manage the potential conflict and resentment this might cause?

3. What’s your long-term strategy?

How do you want your remote work policy to look in two-plus years? Will your business be fully remote, fully in-person with a degree of flexibility for parental responsibilities, etc., or a hybrid of remote and in-office?  Will you look to emulate the likes of Dropbox, which intends to bring employees back to the office for specified tasks, or will you have a 50% in-office, 50% remote offering, and employees can be flexible within that? As with any business strategy, it’s important to work out where you’re heading, so you can best determine how to get there. You need to give consideration to the unintended consequences of remote work and, particularly for larger organizations, how you will manage the different needs of the business, without creating layers of resentment because some teams have more flexibility than others. You also need to consider the impact of your choices on your workforce’s daily lives — if you’re fully remote, employees can essentially live where they choose, whilst partially remote gives them a wider commuting belt, creating more affordable housing opportunities and less commuting time overall.

5. How will you manage and measure productivity remotely?

Whilst output is always the most effective measure of productivity — for sales teams, the figures, for software or engineering, the service tickets, for marketing, sign-ups, etc. —  it is nonetheless recognized that operating remotely can create challenges in both managing and measuring productivity. For some businesses, a fundamental change in how they view employee work is required, in which flexibility is needed to allow creativity and innovation— and if that’s being delivered as expected then whether an employee skipped Friday afternoon or not is immaterial. For other businesses, this level of flexibility is not possible and fits neither with their culture nor the work-output required. There isn’t a silver bullet for this, it’s at the heart of figuring out how to manage and lead effectively, but considerations in this area should feed into the remote work policy in terms of flexibility and expectations. For some businesses, time-sheeting becomes a valuable tool; for others, monitoring tools give added visibility, whilst for others still it’s about getting incredibly good at defining the processes and output and measuring success against those deliberately and consistently. Brennan pointed out that Soapbox is designed to help with this process – they measure productivity in terms of how close they are to accomplishing goals and the key results in those goals, and Soapbox has a library of over 180 goals which can help managers set effective goals for their teams.

5. What kind of culture are you creating?

Finally, it’s important to ensure that culture isn’t forgotten. With remote and partially remote workforces, more deliberate thought and intentional action is required to perpetuate the company’s culture. What you decide about remote-flexibility and how you write your remote work policy in itself will be a product, in part, of the kind of organizational culture you’re striving to create, but it will also become a driving force of that culture, so getting it right is important — and difficult. We’re running a free webinar on managing your company culture in remote and partially remote businesses, with author Brett Putter, which you’ll get a lot from. Here’s a sneak preview of some of the things he’ll be discussing.

These tricky questions are food for thought when writing your remote work policy – we’ll be outlining the broader considerations in writing your remote work policy at www.remotework360.comsign up for our newsletter to get all the latest insights and education around remote work.

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