Embracing a flexible working arrangement
By IMRAN HASHIM
A confession; I’m writing this piece away from the comfort of our office. I love working remotely whenever I can.
Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy being in the office very much (ours was recently featured in Star Property as the top 10 most inspiring offices in Malaysia).
But when it comes to writing articles, the job gets done more efficiently somewhere else.
Thankfully, Leaderonomics is one of the increasing number of companies in Malaysia offering such flexibility. In fact, that is the growing trend nowadays.
According to a 2013 survey by global workspace provider Regus, 53% of Malaysian executives work flexibly for at least half of the week.
Compare that to the global average of 48%, clearly we are slightly more accepting of a more flexible work arrangement. Perhaps it’s the sign of changing times, enabled by collaborative technologies.
But can chief executives fully trust employees to be responsible on telecommute?
As it turns out, 63% of Malaysian respondents in the Regus survey believed that it is achievable, provided that the management team takes the lead.
A good number of efficiency monitoring report systems are available, and most Malaysian companies (61%) are using it.
Video call as a communication channel is also a popular choice by our local companies at 65% of total respondents surveyed.
This kind of arrangement can arguably be seen as valuable from the perspective of the younger workforce.
According to the survey, 39% of them believe that remote working encourages junior employees to be more responsible.
And rather surprisingly, 46% believe that flexible working schemes promote a healthier professional relationship between employees and management.
The numbers seem encouraging. Perhaps more companies and business managers are seeing the advantages of telecommuting.
Why companies opt for remote teams
Some common themes:
- Fast access to more and better quality talent
Often, it is very difficult to fill a job vacancy. Recruitment managers can post job advertisements on various channels, and it will still take months to get the right person.
Sometimes, the right person could have come close to joining a company, but ends up turning down the job offer because of location reasons (no access to public transport).
- Company can save money on overheads
It goes without saying that this would be a great consideration for business if a company were to adopt this work style. Depending on the job function, not all headcount need to be tied to a desk.
As long as the job can be done in an effective manner, it does not matter where or at what time it is being carried out. Besides, there are a bevy of tools available to monitor productivity.
- Commuting time saved = higher productivity
If you work in major cities, you are probably plagued by traffic congestion almost on a daily basis. One accident or a stalled vehicle is all it takes to trigger a long crawl to and from work, effectively ruining the mood for the entire day.
Time saved can be better used to increase productivity.
The three common advantages for remote teams are quantitative in nature. The effect of it can be measured relatively.
But what about the qualitative part?
For one, any company that offers flexibility when it comes to working arrangements can immediately be seen as an attractive workplace.
It is not just welcoming to the younger generation of talent, but also to those with special needs or commitments.
So not only does it enhance the brand of and loyalty to the company; telecommuting can improve the quality of lives. If that can motivate employees, there can be a positive impact on performance.
It’s all about trust, and taking the lead
While remote working arrangements can be seen as a win-win situation for both employer and employee, there are some considerations that have to be taken into account.
The employer might want to encourage teams to work remotely for various reasons, but not everyone is ready or suitable to go down the path.
If people in a conventional office setting still struggle with trust issues, what more of those who work remotely?
A good employee may not necessarily be a good remote employee. It requires another level of organisation, motivation, and focus to be productive away from the office.
Similarly, you can train someone to be good on the job, but how do you train someone to be good when working remotely?
Another consideration is that not having everyone under the same roof could be a potential risk to the culture of a company.
However, some would argue that remote workers can proactively work on building deeper bonds within the team and the company, and there are some truths to that.
In The Gallup Blog, it was mentioned that these employees enjoy the opportunity for collaboration and camaraderie with co-workers. This creates a typical sense of belonging for remote workers.
More importantly, because the team is dispersed, communication that is clear, concise, concrete, correct, coherent, complete and courteous is highly critical and is often emphasised.
Thus, managing remote teams requires greater emphasis on clarity of communication, solid trust, and established processes.
Verbal and written communication can present varying tones and is open to possible miscommunication, hence having remote teams who excel in both is crucial.
Having a remote team can unlock great potential, but it does not come easy. Hiring the right people and meeting in person regularly have to be done to make the difference.
According to Chris Ducker, author of Virtual Freedom: How to Work with Virtual Staff to Buy More Time, Become More Productive, and Build Your Dream Business, ensure that your hiring process of finding the right people includes parameters such as:
A candidate for the virtual team ought to possess good communication and collaboration skills. The requisite technical skills, of course, is a must.
A potential candidate needs to be clear about their time zone expectations.
Ensure you are clear about processes and workflows involved so that you can envision how the remote candidate can help fill in the gaps in the team.
A remote worker should relatively be a self-motivator to work in a remote environment.
During interview via teleconference or videoconference, look for their enthusiasm to work in such environments.
Above all, the leadership will have to be comfortable and supportive of the flexibility.