Embracing flexibility in remote work

By Amy Laski
President and Founder, Felicity PR: Inspiring Communications

Before I founded Felicity PR, I worked at a couple of top PR agencies in Canada, followed by a big corporation. I had two kids while there, and when I was set to return from my second mat leave, I requested flexible work options. But I was told that they weren’t a flexible organization and that my job was full time. I could take it or leave it.

I decided to take my experiences both client and agency side, and create a virtual agency that would fulfill some of the shortcomings that I’d experienced as a client. At the same time, I wanted to enable others like me to do the work that they love, in a flexible way.

Few elements of work are entirely fixed. Most of the way that we work is out of habit or convention. As remote leaders, a huge key to success is challenging those conventions that are so deeply ingrained in us from all those years of working, living and seeing how society works.

Embracing flexibility means getting over roadblocks

Making flexibility happen successfully in remote work settings involves being aware of those roadblocks – oftentimes mental ones – so that organizations can achieve their goals while empowering team members to succeed in the way that suits them best. Here are some of the common roadblocks that I see come up:

Do you have to see an employee to believe that they’re actually working? This was a question I got all the time when I started my company nine years ago and would tell someone that my team was working remotely. They would always ask, “How do you know they’re working if you can’t see them?”

Roadblock 1: Seeing is Believing

Do you have to see an employee to believe that they’re actually working? This was a question I got all the time when I started my company nine years ago and would tell someone that my team was working remotely. They would always ask, “How do you know they’re working if you can’t see them?”

Believe me, when they hand in their work and the work is really great, I know they’ve been working. I might not know when or where they’ve been working, but all that really matters to me is that they got the work done well and on time.

There are certainly many tasks that require collaboration in my business. When those come up, we make sure to line up our schedules to work together. When teams require more off-the-cuff interaction, you can set up different office hours where team members are working online synchronously.

Roadblock 2: False Productivity

By virtue of coming into a physical office, people tend to feel more productive. Going to an office for eight hours can make you feel like you’ve done something, even if you really haven’t. This is a false sense of productivity. In a remote setting, your perceived productivity is less clear when you work in the same place as where you woke up in the morning.

I recommend that leaders focus instead on results, instead of where, when and how work happens.

Time management and productivity expert Laura Vanderkam is one of my favourite authors and really supports the notion of managing by task, not time. For remote workers, what this can look like is setting a couple of ambitious goals each day or each week. Consider that workday or that work week a complete success when those goals got crossed off.

Roadblock 3: Busy work vs. productive work

What kind of work keeps you busy but not actually productive? Knocking off those new emails sitting in our inboxes can help us feel productive, but not actually get us moving toward our business goals. Identify the actual work you need to do to deliver results.

Roadblock 4: All or nothing

The notion that there is “work” on one hand and “life” on the other is outdated. Even if leaders wanted their people to check their life at the door, the reality is that life sometimes seeps into work, and vice versa. You do life at work, work at life.

I like to refer to it as a work-life integration. The pandemic has peeled back the curtains on our lives, and things aren’t going to go back to the way they were. As a leader, acknowledge that your people have lives and that they also can be good at their work. These aren’t mutually exclusive.

Can you identify with any of these roadblocks to flexibility as a leader or as an employee? Let us know in the comments.


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