Societal change is happening faster than businesses can move, slowing the adoption of remote work models within Fortune 500 companies.
There’s a business truism that it takes a business one year to change for every five years that the business has existed. This applies to developing new departments, changing a company culture, or shifting to a hybrid (partially remote) or fully distributed model. Keeping that in mind, some of these hundred-year-old co-located companies are going to take a long time adopting flexible or remote work policies.
It’s no surprise that The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2018 reports 43% of Millennials fantasize about leaving their day jobs within the next two years, and only 28% of Millennials expect to stay at their current company beyond five years. As Millennials begin to move into leadership roles within these Fortune 500 companies, we are starting to see a shift toward remote-friendly policies, but the more learned generations may feel like Millennials are being overly idealistic in expecting flexible work options or the ability to work 100% remote.
For a lot of these large companies, it seems so easy to resist remote work or simply “try it out” for a short stint (i.e. send people home one day a week and call it “remote work.”)
We’ve seen companies like IBM, Yahoo! and Best Buy pull remote workers back to their offices over the last year or two, then claim that remote just doesn't work. Period.
As a result, distributed or hybrid companies begin to wonder whether their experience in running a fully distributed or hybrid company is an anomaly, a fluke. Not a magical future of work experience.
If your company is considering a move towards remote work, here are five things to consider.
Advances in technology
Technology has forever changed the workplace. When we start to look at new technology and cutting edge ways of thinking influenced by technology, the generations growing up with text messaging and Instagram have different ways of engaging with each other. Their ways of working are not based upon location or being in an office. They have an iPhone or tablet and could do work from wherever they are. The old ways of “going to the office to get work done” feels outdated to those coming up in the workforce today.
Work itself is changing
Work itself is more abstract. Employees don’t need to get in a car, drive a half hour, and be productive in some geographical location. It seems ridiculous (even to me!)
This is somewhat the flow of progress. It’s the way that society is changing over time. It’s validating. More than that, it reinvigorates those of us who’ve “made remote work work” to continue helping large companies figure out how to do this, too. I believe there’s going to be a tipping point in the next five or ten years where companies can no longer require employees to work in a co-located office. Remote work is just going to be the way work happens.
Information workers don’t need to take a job in an office. It’s no longer about networking around the latte machine or building company culture at the office foosball tournament. Work has changed. “Going to the office” will feel like the thing old people do. I imagine there will be other ways for people to get together in-person that will be solved by other technological solutions.
Companies who don’t embrace remote work will be left behind because they will no longer be able to attract top talent or keep their best employees. The best workers will expect to be able to work from wherever, whenever. If the right company comes along with a flexible work option and decent pay, they will change employers. Companies will be unable to pretend that remote work does not exist without experiencing a hit to their profitability and employee retention issues.
The tipping point starts to happen when 40% of all workers want to have flexible-work-from-wherever jobs. Companies that start figuring this out now will thrive. Other companies who postpone figuring out remote work will suddenly have a lot of trouble hiring people. To start moving towards remote work at that point, companies will not have the resources, remote management practices, and money in place to make the change. It will be too late.
Takeaway: Identify remote work as a trend that’s not going away. Start listening to the Yonder podcast to hear how other business leaders are making it work. Then, figure out the moving parts of going distributed for your company and start heading that direction now.