Will “Work from Anywhere” Die Before It Even Gets Started?

By Will “Work from Anywhere” Die Before It Even Gets Started? Holger Reisinger

Just barely in its infancy, the powerful new way of working known as “Work from Anywhere” is already under threat – from the very things that make it possible.

Will “Work from Anywhere” Die Before It Even Gets Started?

Hooray! We’re working from anywhere these days.

But how long that lasts is anybody’s guess.

“Work from Anywhere” (WfA) may be today’s hottest business concept. You probably know it by one of many other names, including telecommuting, working remotely, work-from-home, work-on-the-go and others. By any name, it’s all the same: Organizations give their employees wide latitude to do their jobs from anywhere they’d like.

And anywhere means just that: Kitchen table, hotel conference center, airport lounge, city park bench, even the backseat of an Uber ride, I’m sure.

Work from Anywhere sprang up for many reasons, mostly related to employee satisfaction, productivity and cost. It’s also the right way of working at the right time. The increasing speed of today requires faster, more efficient ways of collaborating. WfA makes our organizations more nimble and agile by putting an end to the days of having to coordinate our schedules, physically get together in a conference room and painstakingly hash through decisions.

Adding Up the Benefits

The benefits to both employees and employers are eye-opening. Employees gain much needed flexibility in their jobs – both in working hours and location – helping them establish a better work-life integration. Plus they feel more empowered and trusted and thus tend to be more engaged and dedicated.

Companies, of course, reap the rewards of higher employee productivity and satisfaction. Plus greater employee wellbeing helps attract additional winning talent. And then there’s the immense benefit of reduced infrastructure and overhead costs. With employees largely off campus, there’s less need for pricey real-estate.

Overcoming the Threats

With all these benefits, companies are – rightly – falling all over themselves to adopt this new way of working. But there’s a big difference between merely doing something and doing it right. Ironically, the most dangerous threats to WfA are the very things that make it possible in the first place: Technology and culture.

The companies that will be most successful with WfA will be those that have both a robust technology infrastructure and an equally robust corporate culture. A lack of those two key components could lead to employee disillusionment and a rapid return to the old, slow-footed, ways of doing business.

Technology Threats to WfA:

  • Cloud. At its heart WfA is about sharing information, and sharing requires bandwidth. Organizations must invest in the latest cloud and software technologies to ensure WfA employees can quickly share and access the files and data they need.
  • Audio. Imagine having to make an important business decision based on a garbled or incomplete conversation. Inferior audio leaves colleagues or meeting attendees disengaged or, worse, lacking in details or comprehension. For a winning WfA experience, organizations need outstanding sound technologies, such as high-quality headsets and speakerphones.
  • Connectivity. WfA employees need to be certain that the technology they’re relying on to do their jobs is going to work all the time. Yet 63% of workers say that their performance is routinely negatively affected by technical issues. Organizations must have the technical infrastructure to enable more remote employees to work effectively.
  • Video. Without video, WfA loses much of its personal appeal. Video enables us to see facial expressions and gestures, which are indispensable to collaboration because they convey more meaning than mere words. To do WfA right, organizations must make the financial and technical commitment to support high-quality video.

Cultural Threats to WfA:

  • Trust. WfA rests upon a foundation of trust. Managers must be confident that their knowledge workers have the dedication and professionalism to perform their jobs autonomously. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. In a recent U.K. study 28% of business owners said they didn’t trust their employees to work autonomously. Without 100% commitment from management, WfA is unlikely to succeed.
  • Balance vs. integration. WfA can be successful only if organizations embrace the new notion of work/life integration over the old one of work/life balance. Rather than trying to balance work and personal lives, under work/life integration employees organize their work to seamlessly blend job and family time, enabling them to achieve their tasks when they’re most productive and when it’s most convenient for them.
  • Autonomy. Working autonomously isn’t for everyone, and some employees function better when in close physical proximity to others. To make WfA possible, managers need to ensure that only the knowledge workers performing the tasks or have the desire and skills to work autonomously are the ones who adopt WfA.

Work from Anywhere offers rich benefits to organizations and employees alike. To realize its promise, organizations must ensure they have both the cultural and technological infrastructures in place to support this powerful new way of working.

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