Modern society tends to define itself generationally. Our grandparents lifetimes often represents the outside limit of what we think of when we broadly think of "modern" – at least that's been my anecdotal experience. While this is understandable, it's fairly egotistical if you think about it. Especially when so much that underpins what we presume to have come in the past 50 years or so, were supported by hundreds, and sometimes thousands of years of human experimentation, trial, error, failures, and successes.
When thinking about work, our go to place has come to assume that humans can only get things done when cloistered together in a room or building for hours and hours on end whether we interact with one another or not; this is also a fairly recent evolution of collective thinking. Much of the advent of collective face-time working environments go does come from the industrial revolution, where early manufacturing, machines, tools, and larger dedicated spaces were created, mostly out of the need of sheer space, special equipment, and the need for humans to gather together to operate machinery as well as collectively build the resulting goods.
We often forget that the by-the-hour from-home-to-office how-to-be-productive self image has been nurtured and propagated for generations now. This pushed largely from the requirement for any kind of organization to get anything done, it needed the similar on-site manufacturing model to apply to any business interaction; this mainly for technology reasons. Modern systems such as phone, faxes, telex, printers, typewriters, were all centrally funded and organized pieces of the then-modern workplace operating requirements. Obeying the same logic as manufacturing, it was, mostly – logical at the time.
The more things become integrated, automated, and sophisticated, that same logic applies less and less, or not at all. There will always be the need to get together, to be in the same room, the same space – it's a kind of connection I hope never goes away. However, the terms, times, and expectations that surround that have been torn up in this new working model. Given that illness, the threats of pandemics (Coronavirus, SARS, H1N1 and more) appear to be an intermittent and recurring reality, it begs the question: how does our work and productivity culture embrace all the different ways we can be productive, interactive, and accountable to one another, customers, and business goals without forcing a physical model rooted in 1890 and ramped up in the early 20th century?
Remote team members do need to be effective with their presence. I mean that in multiple meanings of the word. They need to be effective when writing, into your business systems. They need to be effective when speaking in real time to other team members. They need to be effective when interacting with customers or clients. And they need to be effective when developing your business whether strategic planning, marketing, sales, financials, operations, or product development.
None of these require a constant physical presence.
Connectivity has quickly replaced the story in our minds of what it means to get work done; and stories are one of just a few superpowers humans have. By understanding the story of our cultural interactivity across the room, building, city, or planet, humans can "see" interactions as having the same value, the same impact on one another. By cultivating, encouraging, and embracing that connective effectiveness from mobile-remote - inwards (a play on the software "mobile first" concept), we leverage that super power such that our team feels one another's presence from local to crossing oceans.
Studies demonstrate that while remote work is not a panacea (not that anyone claimed it was), it demonstrates measurable improvements in productivity, focus, lower stress, better managed work life due to lower or eliminated commutes. Work itself, is shown to be more distraction-free with fewer instances of random or distracting converations and fewer, but overall more effective, manager-staff interactions.
Remote Work != working from home sometimes
Personal life needs and professionally "designed" workdays have lots to complement one another in ways never before possble. We need to embrace the advantages this offers businesses, and rather than fearing what is a largely dispelled challenge of lack of productivity, lollygagging, and general lack of productivity, waste, and generally bad business team output.
Evidence suggests quite the opposite. Where staff had personal errands requiring attention, they tended to attend to them more seamlessly intervowen into their workday rather than leaving the workplace entirely. In other words, the lack of physical work separation results in a greater ownership of the ongoing workday not being mentally linked to needing to travel back and forth to a physical building.
Before diving into this question, let's clarify one thing. Remote Work != working from home sometimes.
What's in it for The Company on embracing this, is streamlining all your information and communication interactions for your whole company. In creating an environment where your travelling, remote, and in-office teams can interact with each other and the world as a seamless and interwoven part of the company regardless of their location.
This is a very important point to embrace when considering how you approach your team being physically separate on a recurring and regular basis. You don't need to approach how your remote worker logs into your file server; or how they talk to other team members via phone or conference system; or how they securely use company email and VPN in to secured data areas. These are all important tools and systems, but you must define how your entire team interacts whether they're physically present or not. It must feel natural all the time to your entire team. It must be as device agnostic as possible, allowing for simple and efficient text, file, and voice communication in real time.
Remote Work = improvement to your workforce effectiveness
These are both self-hosted and cloud-based platforms and just a starting list, not comprehensive. There is no one correct approach as long as your entire team has complete access regardless of their location.
Ultimately you must be focussed on best team performance, workplace, and productivity output. This is, in part, defined by your customer's needs as well as your team's. When you see remote work as part of your entire organization's culture shift to get the most out of fast and agile collaborative sharing, your entire business benefits. It's never been about remote work. It's been about better work.