The Great ‘Remote Work’ Debate

Now the world is steadily moving toward ‘normality’ post the pandemic, more and more business leaders are looking at remote work and saying ‘’is this (still) right for us?’’

From the employees side, Amazon workers recently staged a walkout to protest the company’s office policies.

Google recently started tracking employees’ in-office attendance and more and more stories of employees being terminated are coming out as a result of them failing to adhere to return to the office policies. The reality is that both sides hold a degree of ‘power’ in these situations and as the conversation becomes more and more ‘emotional’ it becomes more difficult to reach a mutually satisfactory outcome.

Collaboration between leaders and employees is the answer although for many businesses it is hard for leaders and employees to agree on remote work. We’ll provide a few tips below that will enable leaders to have an open discussion with their people on the matter that covers the needs/ concerns of both groups.

The main reason differences of opinion exist between employees and employers on remote work is that both parties are looking at it purely from a cost/ benefit trade- off position.

Before firm opinions are take on the merits of remote working in any business the ‘5 best friends’ need to be deployed. These are pertinent questions starting with the words – who, what, where, when, and why.

Asking these questions allows consideration of both sides of the issue. They provide a more complete perspective. From here, leaders in particular, can take the lead and use this as the basis for discussions with their people. Through this process the needs of both sides can be considered. Let’s examine each of our ‘5 best friends’ in the context of remote work:

Why is flexible work a discussion topic in the first place? It may be, for example, increasing or protecting productivity for some business, or attracting/ retaining top talent for others. Other businesses may look at it on the basis of relationships with staff and their ‘social signal’. At the outset you need to get the motivation for the discussion on the table.

The next step is to determine what it is we are talking about. Most of the conversation on remote work revolves around the performance delivered as a result of the work location. Some businesses see it as a benefit – others as a cost in terms of performance. Why is this? It’s because we rarely agree on the definition of performance in the first place. For example, is it productivity as in lines of product produced? Is it quality as in amount of rework required? Is it efficiency as in output per effort expended?

Commute time is a typical centre of discussion. When commuting is perceived as wasted time, cutting out the commute is a clear benefit. But when it’s viewed as a ‘buffer’ between work and (let’s say) a frenetic home environment or a mechanism that allows socialisation with and learning from people, its elimination carries a cost.

All businesses are different – there are different paths to achieving different kinds of work. Answering customer service calls can be done anywhere, while packing product into boxes is constrained to where that product is. Considering the types of work being done has to set the boundaries for discussions around policies. There are some aspects of work that cannot be done remotely.

Business leaders and employees often struggle to think effectively across time. Employees experience certain benefits of time policies in the short term but feel their costs over the long term. For example, granting employees an additional day of flexibility might have the short-term benefit of eliminating a commute but the longer-term consequence of a loss of ‘mentorship’ from the ‘in office’ experience with experienced colleagues, when schedules no longer align, may be considerable in terms of the employee’s career growth through learning.

This tends to be at the root of most of these disagreements. Work policies don’t have the same effects on everyone involved. For example, are we considering the effects at the level of the individual or the collective? A policy that allows employees to work from home at-will will benefit an individual’s work-life balance but may come at the cost of the collective company sense of culture.

Leaders need to think about whose interests or outcomes they are prioritising. This becomes much easier to do once there is clarity on the 5 questions above.

Keep in mind that these 5 questions are a tool to help ensure you get all the information on the table as the basis for a fruitful discussion — they’re not wholly independent elements. Take, for example, decisions around which work is suited for more flexibility. While this is a discussion about where (which is contingent on what you define as key outcomes), it has major impacts on who receives the benefits, with consequences for employees’ in sense of fairness and equity.

Remote working is a complex subject and somewhat delicate – but the 5 ‘W’s will help you clarify the need for it (or not) and enable your business to plot the future with a degree of confidence, with employees complete understanding of why the work is delivered where it is…

We can help you with this challenge. For a no obligation discussion, get in touch with us for a free at or call us on 0116 232 5231.

Why not have a look at our online learning platform, E-Learn, where you can find our interactive video-based online courses which combine professional presenters, animated graphics, interactive games and questions to keep participants engaged and are available anytime, anyplace on any web-enabled device. E-Learn courses are developed in accordance with current legislation, accredited by industry leading associations and approved by professional bodies.

Click here to access an E-Learn free trial.

The Tinderbox Team

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