This is the third edition in a new Waterloo EDC series on remote work. Stay tuned for posts featuring a variety of perspectives on the subject, including our Q&A with SkyWatch for lessons from a digital native company and OpenText to learn why they shut 50% of its offices to go remote.
The very nature of how we work is shifting.
Remote work was possible a decade ago, but wasn’t common. It took a global pandemic for many workers and businesses to get their first taste of working from home. Some were able to adapt quickly and, for others, it came as a culture shock.
Many predictions suggest that flexible schedules and remote work will become more common post-COVID-19. If they’re correct, it will bring significant changes for employers and prospective employees alike.
How can companies best prepare for the shift in workforce expectations? How will a remote future affect the interview process and recruitment?
Waterloo EDC caught-up (virtually) with Kristina McDougall, Founder and CEO of Artemis Canada, an executive recruitment and consulting firm, to discuss the opportunities a remote future might bring to forward-looking companies and what they can start thinking about today to best prepare for the future of work.
Q: Before we dive into remote work and the potential opportunities it may present, could you share what you’ve heard from teams who’ve abruptly shifted to work from home? Have you noticed any trends in how teams have adjusted?
MCDOUGALL: Companies have fallen along a spectrum as they’ve made this transition. Some had already put in place technology and processes that have enabled work from home or collaboration among remote employees – and so their transition was relatively smooth. Others have lacked the tools, the know-how or the management styles and culture to effectively carry-on with employees working entirely remotely. For these companies there has been a bumpier road.
A good transition requires three things. First, ensuring that employees have a workspace in their home that provides for mostly quiet, uninterrupted, ergonomically sound work. Second, the quick adoption of collaboration tools like Slack, Zoom and other online collaboration tools. Third, managers who prioritize the psychological safety and wellness of their individual teammates and support a new definition of productivity.
As all companies redefine strategy and priorities, communication among employees is more critical than ever.
Q: Artemis has published a fantastic how-to document for virtual hiring. Could you provide a quick summary for business leaders who are interested in conducting virtual interviews but have never done it before?
MCDOUGALL: Hiring a new teammate without having an in-person meeting is new for most companies, but it is possible without sacrificing the necessary skill and fit assessments. It is equally new to most candidates who will be accepting a job without ever entering the office or meeting their new boss.
To prepare for this, you need to think through your process and re-design it using the most effective tools. How can you a) explain the role and generate enthusiasm, b) assess knowledge, skills, aptitude and attitude and c) collaborate effectively as a team to make a confident decision? Moving all of this online requires some planning and you can expect that you’ll need to make tweaks as you go.
Interviewers need to be more purposeful in making a personal connection with candidates before diving into questions and assessment. Moving to video might eliminate a physical connection between candidate and interviewer, but we can’t lose the human connection.
Q: One of the biggest concerns with remote work is that it sacrifices productivity and collaboration. What are some things that companies can do to spark brainstorming and group collaboration virtually?
MCDOUGALL: It’s important to remember that productivity can be easier to achieve for many people in a remote environment, where they have opportunity for uninterrupted focus. Eliminating a potentially stressful commute also enables many workers to kick-start their day with more energy.
Teamwork can be challenging with a remote group. For companies who have previously relied on boardrooms and whiteboards for group brainstorming and creative teamwork, it’s daunting to try to replicate this environment in a virtual space. I’ve seen that this can be more easily achieved when there is good personal connection among the individuals in the group. Make sure that you create a safe, respectful space where everyone can contribute their ideas and participate.
Interestingly, I have heard from many people that the introverts on their teams really shine in a virtual collaboration environment, where there are more ways to put out ideas than just being the loudest voice in the room. Perhaps most importantly, remote work opens the door to more diverse teams. When you pull individuals from different regional and demographic groups into a collaborative environment, there are many more perspectives. Assumptions will be challenged and sparks will occur when differing views come together.
Q: What opportunities can remote work present to a company’s access to top talent? Do you think companies that adopt a remote work policy now will be at a recruitment advantage?
MCDOUGALL: I’m very excited about how a transition to more remote work could become an advantage for companies. It opens up talent markets globally. When contained to a local talent pool, even when it is a high quality talent pool, employees will have similar education, work experience and even socio-economic backgrounds. This creates a workforce that lacks diversity. Broadening the talent pool to individuals with rich and differentiated education, experience and professional networks will lead to better products, better customer and world views and a richer employee experience for everyone.
This is also an opportunity for individuals to find employment with companies outside their community and the chance to learn from and work with an incredible variety of co-workers.
It is critical that companies know exactly how they can support the success of remote employees – ensuring that they can contribute ideas, work on important and interesting projects and access career development, mentoring and promotion opportunities. Companies will have limited success with a strategy to only move tedious or ‘non-essential’ work to their remote teams. If the remote group is of a lower internal status, it will impede the effectiveness and the job satisfaction of the employees.
Q: Do you think remote work applies to specific types of job? What about types of companies/size? Is it possible to make remote work an option for all office jobs?
MCDOUGALL: Well, I primarily work with tech companies, but I’m seeing the successful transition to remote work in many industries beyond tech – including financial services, call centres, professional services and the administration and support functions for manufacturing, distribution and other businesses.
The move to secure business software systems that can be accessed from home was a critical step. I think the next big barrier, that I hope we’re working through now, is the perception that you need to be in the same room with the people you manage – to see that they are working, to give them in-person direction and to supervise their activities. I’ve heard this called “management by walking around.” This is tougher hurdle to overcome as it a fundamental shift in leadership style, trust and autonomy. Managing for quality results is much harder than managing for attendance, so we collectively need to make sure that we develop great management skills in our people.
Q: From the employee perspective, working remotely will present some unique challenges. They may have fears related to lack of visibility and opportunities for advancement/promotion. There’s also a psychological and emotional dimension. How can companies address these issues?
MCDOUGALL: The current situation is unique and doesn’t represent a typical remote working environment for most employees. We are seeing uncertainty, fear, family demands and other stressors affect the psychological and emotional state of most people. Managers and leaders at all levels need to realize that psychological well-being is a prerequisite for productivity. We need to first make sure our teams feel safe and secure, that they belong and are heard and that they have visibility into what is happening in the broader business. Once this is established, most employees will be looking for ways to contribute and be engaged.
With any remote work situation, employers need to be purposeful in including remote employees in formal and informal conversations. I’d actually advise that if everyone can’t be in the same room for an important meeting then no one should be. Employers need to make sure that no one is put at a disadvantage. It forces a more purposeful approach to relationship building, collaboration and decision-making. This also makes leaders aware of the experience of a remote employee and will ensure that priority is given to ensuring that tools and process are in place to level the playing field for employees, regardless of physical location.
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