According to a recent study, 77 percent of employees say they’re more efficient when working remotely rather than in the office. I, too, have found that I’m more efficient when working remotely. However, I’m not entirely sure why. And so, to try to get to the bottom of this, I spoke with Tim Eisenhauer, who’s been working remotely for nearly 15 years with various startups and for the past nine years with a company he co-founded call Axero Solutions. Axero, which provides companies with a social collaboration platform that’s said to be more effective than email and traditional intranets, doesn’t have offices, workspaces, or weekly meetings. Everyone at the company (approximately 25 people) works remotely, from all over the world, from various time zones. Last week, I interviewed Eisenhauer via email. Below is an excerpt from that interview.
VAULT: In your experience, why are remote workers more efficient than in-office workers?
EISENHAUER: Fewer distractions and more flexibility with when and how people work. Working in an office can be incredibly distracting. When you're working from home and you have your workspace set up properly, it’s likely to be quieter than an office, with fewer distractions. The unfortunate side of things is that businesses that attempt to take the route of hiring remote employees often do so without setting in place the tools needed for their staff to get the job done properly. Email and phone conferences certainly have their time and place, but they only scratch the surface in terms of what’s possible.
VAULT: What are some of the results of increased levels of remote working? Does it affect happiness, productivity, retention rates, health, etc.?
EISENHAUER: Better work/life integration is probably the biggest benefit in terms of employee morale. Contrary to many fears and perhaps conventional wisdom, offering flexibility and not requiring people to commute to an office results in employees working more, not less. I’ve found that this is especially true for quick questions. If an employee is at home doing something else on their computer but gets a notification that a coworker needs their help, often times they’ll do a quick five- to ten-minute work sprint that saves the person on the other side hours of trying to do it themselves.
VAULT: Why do you think more companies don’t let their employees work remotely?
EISENHAUER: The biggest obstacle for most companies is they don’t trust their employees. They fear that they’ll slack off and not work. Chances are these organizations measure employee engagement by number of hours worked instead of output—and since they can't track remote hours effectively, they’re concerned. But focusing on hours worked as opposed to results does nothing for morale.
Another obstacle is not having the right tools for asynchronous collaboration. A company that’s still heavily dependent on meetings is going to have more difficulties than organizations that realize that meetings aren’t a very efficient way for employees to know what's going on with a project, or for sharing their views and updates. You need to make sure you have a robust social intranet and communication space, or some type of social platform that connects people, gives them access to each other, and gives them access to the information and organizational knowledge they need to do their jobs. Collaboration with colleagues is all about the tools you implement. Meetings aren’t that effective for collaboration, given the costs of scheduling and convening them. Even a simple comments functionality associated with a document can be more effective. However, you need to be able to tailor these tools to how your people work.
VAULT: Are there any industries and/or companies that are getting this right—giving their employees the right amount of remote working opportunities?
EISENHAUER: We [at Axero] never meet as employees, unless it’s to have fun—we sometimes vacation in each other’s cities. Yet, we pound out new ideas and ways to implement customer ideas constantly. I think a lot of this comes down to company culture. Culture is not something you put down on paper. It’s what people choose to do without being told. It’s built from trust. Train your people to learn by trial and error, to look for improvements, to try new things, to take small failures in stride. The companies that recognize this are the ones that are going to be successful with remote working.
VAULT: Anything else that employees and employers should know about this subject?
EISENHAUER: It seems that “empowerment” and “engagement” are the key words here. Don't force your employees to be productive and passionate. Get out of their way and let them work. Think of Google offering employees a certain percentage of their time to work on side projects … it just works.
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