Episode 035 — The Digital Broker Podcast

Remote Work: What To Weigh Before Going Through With It


In this episode of The Digital Broker, Steve and Ryan examine remote work. By listening to this episode, you will learn:

  • Why remote work is taking off, and why you need to be considering it even if you don’t think your agency is ready for it
  • How to do remote work right, by leveraging its oft-touted strengths while controlling for the effects of its lesser stated drawbacks
  • What to keep in mind and contemplate when conceiving your remote work policy, and how to guard against unforeseen complications
  • Which equipment and services help ensure a smooth transition between in-office and remote work

Many people hear “remote work” and envision someone slacking off at home. Actually, remote work is to work from anywhere that isn’t the main office. This is still enough to make some principals cringe. If I can’t see them, how do I know they’re working?

Others take a more progressive view. As long as the work gets done, what’s it matter where you do it from? Furthermore, productivity doesn’t correlate with time spent at the office. An industrious remote worker could take four hours to complete what it takes another worker twice as much to do at the office.

There is no clear-cut answer to remote work. Some employees love it, others don’t. Some companies are ready for it, others aren’t. What’s not so debatable is that your agency needs to consider it (2:10). It is hard to find employees these days: unemployment is so low that you’re basically poaching. And today’s generation of workers values time and flexibility over money and rigidity. Agencies that cater to this are attracting, and keeping, the best employees.

(6:59) If there is a legitimate criticism of remote work, it is not to be found in the phrase “If I can’t see them, they’re not working.” Sorry, but this is management by butts in the seats. If you think that to be productive means to be seen sitting around punching keyboards, you’re overdue to rediscover what it means to be productive.

Experience teaches us that it is possible to sit at a desk for eight hours and achieve nothing. You shouldn’t judge your employees’ work on the number of butt-hours they’re logging in, but by the quality of their output in accordance with your company’s goals and measurement of progress toward those goals.

(8:48) Some employees are so happy to be given the chance to work remotely—and so nervous about being suspected of slacking off—that their productivity increases. There are folks in the insurance space who could use a break like this. Producers are notorious for storming the offices of account managers every time they need to drop something off, interrupting the flow of the account managers’ work. Give your account managers a day or two of remote work and watch their productivity flourish.

But the benefits aren’t limited to just a few employees. After payroll, a company’s biggest expense is usually office space. If remote work relieves the density of your workplace, you save money. Local governments are wising up to this and incentivizing remote work through tax credits because they know it will reduce citywide traffic and congestion.

Sounds like a total slam dunk. So why hasn’t remote work become the norm across the board?

Because, remote work is still work. Porting a chunk of your workforce to some far-off place is unlikely to be free from logistical complications. But those aren’t even the biggest issues. Some employees don’t enjoy working remotely. Work is a social outlet for them—they like leaving the house to do it. They thrive in the closeness of the workplace and covet the creativity and spontaneity that come from rubbing elbows with other people on a routine basis. Some of the best companies in the world do well precisely because they provide a stimulating, hospitable work environment. Remote work can affect culture and erode cohesion.

But it’s not as bad as it sounds. Your company culture doesn’t have to dissipate beyond your office walls. Tools exist to foster interpersonal cooperation while allowing employees to work from anywhere (10:26)Videoconferencing is our favorite. We like email and phones and all, but we absolutely prefer video. There is something about seeing the person you’re talking to that is ineradicably useful. Much of the work that goes into designing your company’s remote work policy consists of reconciling the benefits of remote and in-office work while minimizing the drawbacks of each. Beginning at 17:50, we go through a checklist of what you need to keep in mind heading into this transition:

Figure out how you’re going to monitor productivity. Everybody needs to know what is expected and how success is measured. As long as you retain good metrics, you shouldn’t have to worry about being unable to see your employees. Judge their work according to a baseline, and when you start to see deviations, investigate.

Determine who can, and wants to, go remote. This is harder than it sounds. You don’t want to be suspected of playing favorites. Furthermore, some positions don’t translate well to remote: think of a front-desk receptionist.

Consider having your HR personnel send out a survey to all employees, asking who wants to try remote work once or twice a week. Responses inform next steps. Generally, account managers are the likeliest to go remote, but your survey might yield different insights. Develop some fitting criteria.

Make sure employees have what they need. Are their remote workspaces ergonomic? Can they use their own hardware, or do they need to borrow something from the office? If you don’t want your employees to take work-related calls on their personal devices, you can bring in VoIP phones—basically extensions of their desk phones at work. Remote desktop services allow you to remote into your office computer, preserving the continuity of the interface and diminishing the spill of proprietary data.

Stay compliant. You’re responsible for your employees whether they’re remote or inside the office. Make sure that their remote workspaces are safe and consistent with office rules and regulations. If need be, lay down some new rules. If you don’t want your employees to print work-related material outside the office, make it clear that it’s disallowed.

Like hard work, though, remote work pays off. There might not be a more meaningful perk to your employees than remote work done right. So why aren’t you doing it? Do you not see a need? What’s holding you back?

It’s okay to have valid reasons against jumping into it if you aren’t ready. But you need to be having this conversation because your competitors have figured it out. Don’t wait until they start poaching from you. By then, your employees will be “remote” to you whether you like it or not.

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