• Founder, Investor, Advisor

The Future Of Work: Remote Native Tools

If we can work remotely, why can't we manage remotely?

December 13, 2021
In July - August 2020, Mercer Consulting found that approximately 94% of employers said that productivity had stayed the same or improved since their employees first started working remotely as a result of COVID-19.

Bane: working remotely before it was cool.

And, employees seem to like their new, more productive remote work setup.  Bloomberg reports that a survey done in May 2021 shows that 39% of employees would consider quitting unless their employer was flexible about remote work.  Among Millennials and Gen Z, nearly half (49%) said they would consider quitting in that circumstance.

You would think that employers would be falling over themselves to make remote work a permanent thing.  You don't necessarily see opportunities every day to improve productivity by offering a working environment that employees really like.  On top of which, remote work offers companies the opportunity to save significant real estate costs.  This study from Savills Studley covering the period 2011 - 2015 shows that companies in the S&P 500 spend between 0.5% and 2.0% of revenues on rent.  Over that time period S&P 500 companies averaged operating profits of roughly 10% of revenues.  Very roughly speaking, those figures suggest that eliminating rent expense could boost the average S&P 500 company's value by something like 5 - 20%!

So, moving to remote work offers companies a way to boost productivity, make employees happy and directly improve the bottom line.  Seems like a pretty straightforward way to maximize shareholder value to me.

Tony Stark isn't in the office, is he?

And yet, I see a lot of companies focused on planning for when employees will be coming back to the office.  The Omicron variant has delayed these plans, but the fact remains that the plan (however long delayed) at many companies is for employees to come back to the office, rather than shift to remote work permanently.

Personally, I think those plans are likely to be delayed indefinitely at many companies, no matter what happens with future COVID-19 variants.  We've come a long way since March 2020 in terms of understanding how to work remotely, and I don't think there's a way to just put the remote work genie back in the bottle now that employees see how much they like it.

Even so, I am very interested to understand why so many companies are so committed to their back to the office plans, in spite of the business incentive to commit to remote work for the long run.  I think a key driver is that managers find navigating remote work challenging.  In the surveys I have seen, managers tend to feel that working in the office is beneficial.  This survey from Future Forum shows that 44% of executives want to return to the office full time, compared to 17% of non-executives.  75% of executives want to be in the office 3-5 days per week, but only 34% of employees want to do that.

As we have moved to remote work, we've adapted many of the tools that we used to use in the office.  SaaS has been a big part of enabling that transition.  Just because SaaS tools are remote-compatible, however, doesn't mean that they are remote-native.  Managers are, I think, particularly exposed to the lack of remote-native tools.

A remote-compatible tool usually helps people manage work.  Salesforce helps people manage sales, Hubspot helps people manage marketing, Github helps people manage code, etc. etc.  Most of these tools help you record some project or task, and then manage that project or task through a pipeline.  What they aren't focused on is helping to manage the performance of the team in charge of that project or task.

We have a zillion tools to keep track of tasks, but very few to help us understand the health of our organization.   Managers who have been used to flying under visual flight rules, now have to fly by instruments, except the cockpit has no (very few?) instruments they can use.  I'm interested to explore this area.

Not the kind of flying by instruments we need.

Kind readers, if you'd like to login (there's a button to login with your Google account on the right near the top of the page.  I assure you the process is painless) and leave a comment, what kinds of questions would you like to know about your organization, so that you (or your manager) won't feel like you're flying blind?

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