Ending Remote Work Isn’t The Answer


Originally published June 2019. Just as relevant in July 2021.

As of June 2019, Remote work is on the rise and expected to grow exponentially in the coming years. Yet, some companies are changing course by banning and limiting remote opportunities, finding comfort in supposedly having more controlled work environments in brick-and-mortar offices.

An article published by SHRM (“Why Are Companies Ending Remote Work?”) discusses the reasoning behind the shift of large corporations such as IBM, ATT and Yahoo to recall remote employees. Specifically, the author identifies the following concerns with remote work:

  • Employers allow people to work remotely without giving them the proper training or resources to do so productively.
  • Supervisors—untrained on how to properly manage and monitor remote workers—find it easier to manage someone face-to-face.
  • Some supervisors—perhaps because they feel they must be in control or don’t trust their workers—are uncomfortable having employees work offsite.
  • Employers find that remote workers—and the teams with which they work—aren’t as productive as when they’re onsite

Whether merely perceived or not, these commonly cited concerns support Marissa Mayer’s motivation behind Yahoo’s 2013 recall of its entire remote workforce, which was reportedly due to a lack of collaboration and innovation. (In 2021 Apple faces backlash from employees over return-to-office plans.) Moving backwards like this, however, represents lost progress for everyone—the legitimacy issues remote teams face will persist if more companies opt to rescind remote work policies.

What if we find solutions to the identified problems vs. calling it quits altogether?

Two of the key issues highlighted in the article that prompted the demise of remote work were centered around training: training for workers and training for leaders. At Workplaceless, we often get the question “why do I need to learn how to work remotely?” As founder Tammy Bjelland points out in an interview with Whereby:

“While so many of us ingrained in remote work and teams recognize the benefits, we also know you can’t just take a high-functioning in-office team and ask everyone to work from home without changing some of your processes. Some of the same rules of in-office engagement just don’t apply in the same way for remote teams.”

Training needs for remote leaders:

Historically, leadership skills have been centered around building up your team’s strengths, showcasing their accomplishments, and addressing issues where there are gaps. But how do leaders do that if they can’t see it? Many traditional leadership strategies hinge on visual cues, such as body language and witnessing colleague interactions. But remote leaders need to hone leadership skills specifically within the context of a remote environment. This will motivate their teams in a way that is actually relevant to them, and will also foster a remote culture that recognizes the benefits as well as the challenges of remote work.

To adapt to the future of work, leaders need to search for leadership training experiences that don’t just center on leadership skills, but specifically on the challenges unique to leading remote and hybrid teams. Leadplaceless is one such program.

Training needs for remote workers:

For workers new to remote work altogether, or new to remote work at a specific company, it can be more difficult to ask colleagues where to find all the relevant resources and processes you need from day one. For first-time remote workers, the opportunities can be incredibly exciting, but can also feel overwhelming and isolating. In hybrid environments, it can be especially tricky to ensure an individual’s voice on a conference call is valued as equally as that of a colleague in the room. How does an employee or independent contractor develop these skills for the nuances of remote teams? Training.

Individuals and companies need to search for skills trainings that prepare workers for the challenges of remote work as well optimize the opportunities for team collaboration and autonomous productivity. Workplaceless Remote Work Certification is one such example.

Training needs for remote and hybrid teams:

While each worker can certainly train alone, there are significant advantages to developing an aligned learning program across your team. This way you’re all speaking the same language, starting off with the same expectations, jointly establishing best practices and processes for collaboration, and navigating new structures as a team. Critical when building remote team culture, and especially remote team trust – again an issue highlighted in the aforementioned article from SHRM. A remote enablement program like Goplaceless starts the vision setting process at the executive and change management level.

The tools are available. Why aren’t more companies investing in formalized training and development programs?

Resistance. To. Change.

It’s sad, but true. The fear of the unknown and ceding control are huge factors influencing a hesitancy toward instituting learning and development for employees. As identified in our Remote Leaders: Ignore L&D At Your Own Risk post, the biggest obstacles to launching a training initiative are:

1) alignment (ensuring your people operations and business goals are aligned);

2) buy-in (getting your CXOs to recognize the value of such an effort);

3) and budgetary constraints (allocating fiscal resources that may be in short supply).

Of these, getting your company leadership on the same page to see the inherent value and positive business impacts of remote work training is critical.

An effective learning and development program can address the hurdles of remote productivity, collaboration, innovation, and trust. A solid training plan will give you the control you need to build the kind of trust that makes training—and remote work—actually work.

Kristi DePaul and Simone Beltz contributed to this post.

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Workplaceless envisions a workforce that thrives in a flexible and digital-first future—where performance and growth are not constrained by location. Our team goal is to share insights and practices that will help professionals and companies achieve this aspiration.
Workplaceless envisions a workforce that thrives in a flexible and digital-first future—where performance and growth are not constrained by location. Our team goal is to share insights and practices that will help professionals and companies achieve this aspiration.
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