Move Beyond outdated 8 to 5 working models

Remote Work Unleashed: The Five Pillars of an Effective Remote Work Strategy

Recently I had a chance to participate in a panel discussion at the CXOutsourcers mind share conference in Glasgow, Scotland to discuss the topic of recruitment and retention with some industry leading business process outsourcing (BPO) providers. Inevitably, the subject of remote work quickly emerged, and it was clear, it continues to remain a hotly contested subject for many companies.

Remote work has witnessed an exponential rise in popularity, fueled by advancements in technology, changing workforce demographics, and the global pandemic. According to a study by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics, remote work was already on the rise prior to the pandemic. They found remote work grew by 159% from 2005 to 2017. The COVID-19 crisis simply acted as a force multiplier, forcing organizations to quickly switch their operations from in-office, to fully remote, almost overnight.

During the conference, Helen Beaumont Manahan, head of training and development at BPA Quality UK, introduced an intriguing concept she called “the magic weekend.” This term aptly describes the unrealistic expectation that someone can be promoted on a Friday and be fully prepared for their new role come Monday, without any substantial training or development. Similarly, this term resonates with the sudden shift in work culture that occurred when the pandemic hit. Overnight, employees went from working in the office to navigating remote work without proper planning or defined expectations. Companies were left with no choice but to hope that their workers would adapt and find a way to make it work.

At our company, we were fortunate to have initiated the transition from in-office to remote work several months prior to the onset of the pandemic. As someone who has long advocated for remote work, I have witnessed both its advantages and challenges based on my previous experiences. I can say with confidence, there is no such thing as the magic weekend when it comes to setting up a remote work program. Successfully implementing remote work requires meticulous planning, effective communication, reliable technology, and above all, a strong commitment from leadership to ensure its success.
Remote work may not be suitable for every company, especially those that rely on physical presence for certain tasks. For instance, your local coffee shop barista wouldn’t be able to prepare and serve coffee from home (although that could be an interesting concept). However, for companies that have the capacity and willingness to adopt a remote strategy, it is crucial that they do so effectively. Whether it’s a fully remote setup or a hybrid approach combining office and remote work, one principle holds true universally: if you fail to implement your remote strategy correctly, its chances of success will be greatly diminished.
Backed by extensive studies, research, and my own firsthand experience, creating a best-in-class remote work strategy relies on five fundamental pillars. These pillars are indispensable for a successful remote strategy, regardless of your business vertical, yet they are also the areas where many companies falter when attempting to implement a remote program.
1. Establish clear working expectations
Establishing clear working standards is crucial when implementing a remote work program. While remote work offers numerous benefits, it’s important to acknowledge that not all employees are well-prepared or equipped to work from home. A recent Stanford study found that many Americans lack the facilities to effectively work from home. Only 49 percent of responders said they were able to work privately in a room other than their bedroom. The other major issue was acceptable Internet connectivity. Only two-thirds of those surveyed reported having access to proper internet connections. The remaining third have such poor internet service that it prevents them effectively working from home.
Just as your company establishes specific hiring requirements for in-office employees, it is equally important to set clear expectations for remote workers. In our organization, we have established certain criteria to ensure the success and productivity of our remote workforce.
Just as your company has certain hiring requirements, the same should hold true for remote workers. In our company, we require our remote workers to have a dedicated workspace that is conducive to focused work, and free from distractions. This allows them to create an environment that mimics the professional setting of an office, promoting concentration and efficiency. They must have reliable internet connectivity. This ensures smooth communication and minimizes any potential technical challenges that may hinder their productivity. We establish expectations for regular communication, whether through video conferences, instant messaging, or other digital platforms. By fostering open lines of communication, we encourage a sense of connectivity and ensure that remote workers remain engaged and connected to their teams.
Every employee also completes a 60-day onboarding process, regardless of their position. This onboarding program goes beyond simply defining their role and setting expectations. We also emphasize the importance of their role in relation to our larger company mission. By instilling a sense of purpose and illustrating how their contributions directly impact our overall success, we ensure that our employees understand the significance of their work beyond just earning a paycheck.
Setting clear expectations, being transparent about requirements and holding workers accountable for performance is paramount in building a best-in-class remote program. Companies that focus on setting proper expectations around remote work have a higher likelihood of success.
2. Foster a culture of trust and accountability
I cannot stress this enough; trust is vital in remote work arrangements. Companies must focus on setting clear expectations, empowering workers, and emphasizing results rather than micromanagement. If you do not trust your workers to work remotely, then you are not hiring the right people for the job. It is the number one issue I hear from companies who are reluctant or opposed to remote work.

During a recent conversation with a senior leader of a call center company, I inquired about his reservations regarding remote work. His response was rather telling: “I just worry that people will be too distracted and not give 100%.” However, it became clear that the issue at hand extended beyond remote work itself and delved into a more fundamental matter of trust. To cultivate a culture of trust, it is essential to adopt a mindset of positive intent. This means genuinely believing that the individuals you hire are committed to performing their best for the company. If there is already a preconceived notion that employees are inclined to slack off, trust will struggle to take root and flourish.

Being transparent about expectations and holding workers accountable for performance is paramount in building a best-in-class remote program.

Positive intent is not just a mere concept, but a fundamental value that is a cornerstone of our company’s culture. I firmly believe that it can be the differentiating factor in the success or failure of a remote working strategy. By embracing positive intent, we establish a strong foundation of trust in our employees, fostering meaningful connections and collaboration. In our organization, we actively encourage our teams to openly communicate their availability and commitments, whether it’s stepping away from their desk or attending appointments during working hours. Need to run an errand? Simply inform your colleagues. This practice promotes transparency, openness, and a sense of mutual accountability among the team.
Emphasizing cultural fit is crucial when building a remote workforce. While hiring based on skills is important, it’s the alignment of values, attitudes, and work ethics that truly determines success in a remote working environment. Each team member serves as a vital link in the chain, and any weak link can pose a risk to the entire operation. Therefore, it is imperative for companies to meticulously evaluate candidates’ cultural mindset to ensure they are well-suited for optimal success in a completely remote setting. By prioritizing cultural fit alongside skill set, companies can foster a cohesive and collaborative remote team that excels in achieving shared goals.
To build a successful remote work program, fostering a culture of trust and accountability is crucial. Companies must set clear expectations, empower their workers, and focus on results rather than micromanagement.
3. Invest in the right technology
Having the proper technological infrastructure is essential for a best-in-class remote program. It enables effective communication, seamless collaboration, streamlined workflow, data security, and supports worker engagement and development. Investing in the right technology empowers remote teams to overcome geographical barriers, enhance productivity, and achieve business goals.

Having a well-defined technology plan is crucial for remote work success. It encompasses not only essential components like reliable connectivity, robust security measures, and adequate storage capacity, but also the right set of tools for seamless communication, efficient collaboration, and enhanced employee engagement. In a recent interview with Felix Serrano, Co-founder and CEO of Activus Connect, —an industry-leading provider of outsourced customer experience solutions employing over 2,700 remote agents across the United States—he emphasized the significance of a comprehensive remote work strategy, stating,

“Working remotely requires a technical environment that enables users to perform, to the best of their abilities. Much like a physical work-location that has the basics such as a workstation, badged access and restrooms so does it have methods for socialization, collaboration and team-based work, all of which are equally essential in a well-designed remote work environment.”

No matter the tools you chose, your teams must understand how to properly use and engage with them. Our company uses Microsoft Teams as the vehicle for all internal communication and collaboration. We have set up various channels, each with a unique purpose, to help our team better prioritize the nature of their communication. From general channels where workers can simply chat and share stories to more formal channels dedicated to certain aspects of business, workers have a clear understanding of when and how to communicate.

Fit-for-purpose remote environments have contemplated the user experience, not just at a basic technology level, but well beyond in the context of team-based-collaboration tools, socialization channels and even tech that encourages physical-fitness designed for the remote user.

Helping new workers understand these tools and how to use them should be a big part of the onboarding program. Assuming workers know how to use virtual tools is a mistake. While they may be familiar with the tools themselves, they need to understand the expectation the company has for their use. Best in class remote companies know this and take time to ensure their workers clearly understand these expectations.
Investing in the right technology is crucial for a successful remote work program. It provides the necessary infrastructure for effective communication, seamless collaboration, streamlined workflows, data security, and supports worker engagement and development.
4. Prioritize worker well-being
The essence of remote work lies in its potential to foster a healthier work/life balance for employees. During the initial stages of the pandemic, I recall observing families spending quality time together in their yards—an experience that had been scarce before. The reason behind this transformation was the gift of time. With the elimination of long commutes to and from the office, workers gained the opportunity to seamlessly integrate their personal and professional lives. While the concept of work/life balance has long been discussed, it often remained more of a cliché than a practical reality. However, the pandemic compelled companies to recognize that their employees could be just as productive, if not more so, while working remotely instead of being confined to an office setting.
Achieving a healthy work/life balance is often easier said than done. Remote work, particularly from home, brings forth distinctive challenges and distractions that are typically absent in a traditional office environment. Balancing responsibilities between family, children, pets, and the numerous daily household tasks can easily blend with work obligations. As a result, it is crucial for companies to provide guidance and support to their remote workers, ensuring they comprehend the rules of engagement and maintain a productive work environment.
In our company, we prioritize open discussions about the rules of engagement with every employee. While we fully acknowledge that life can sometimes throw unexpected curveballs, we consistently emphasize the importance of communication within our teams. If you need to step away from work, it’s crucial to inform everyone. Likewise, if you have personal obligations that require your attention, we encourage you to schedule them in a way that aligns with your workload. In a remote work environment, it becomes even more critical for employees to grasp their roles and understand how their work quality and performance are evaluated. By shifting the focus to the outcome and excellence of their work, rather than fixating on the hours or effort invested, we empower both our employees and the company to move beyond outdated 8-to-5 working models. After all, as long as the work produced is of high quality and meets the expected standards, the time taken to complete it becomes less significant.
Remote work challenges old norms and assumptions and if companies are not yet ready to take a step forward and shed old traditional working models, their remote strategy will be impaired, or worse, fail outright.
5. Invest in professional development
Remote work presents unique opportunities for professional growth and continuous learning. While concerns about trust are commonly raised, another major objection to remote work revolves around the fear that workers may feel bored, disconnected from the team, and have fewer opportunities for advancement compared to their in-office colleagues. Effective remote engagement and development can be fostered through the right set of strategies and experiences.

By shifting the focus to the outcome and excellence of their work, rather than fixating on the hours or effort invested, we empower both our employees and the company to move beyond outdated 8-to-5 working models.

There are a wide variety of performance engagement and management tools available on the market, however, our company elected to use a tool called Lattice to manage engagement and performance. With this tool, our teams can easily exchange feedback on a consistent basis, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and growth. This tool empowers teams to provide valuable insights, development advice, and guidance, allowing our workers to gain a deeper understanding of the internal growth opportunities available to them and the specific skills required to advance to the next level in their careers.

Development these days is no longer linear. Workers have more options than ever to learn skills outside of their core role. Cross training and upskilling workers are essential parts of a best-in-class remote strategy, as highlighted by Debbie Wilson, Managing Director of CCA Recruitment Group, a leading provider of recruitment solutions specializing in the call center industry.

“By providing opportunities for personal growth and development it demonstrates a business’s commitment to worker success. It allows the worker to feel a sense of job satisfaction in addition to the role they’re employed to do. This improves morale, loyalty, engagement and investing in the upskilling and cross training of people will significantly increase retention rates in remote work businesses.”

Recognizing the non-linear nature of professional development and embracing cross-training and upskilling opportunities are vital components of a best-in-class remote strategy. By prioritizing learning and development, organizations can empower their workers to thrive in their roles, foster innovation, and adapt to the ever-changing demands of the remote work landscape.

In conclusion, while remote work may not be a universally applicable approach, when implemented effectively, it can be a transformative game-changer. With the emergence of Artificial Intelligence, the proliferation of the gig economy, and the evolving perception of work, companies must carefully contemplate more flexible working arrangements. Whether opting for a fully remote setup, embracing a hybrid model, or adopting shorter work weeks, one thing remains evident: traditional work paradigms are undergoing disruption, and coercing individuals back into conventional office environments may prove counterproductive.