Myth-Busting: 3 New Realities of the World of Remote Work

A young woman working on laptop outside

In this piece, ADP's Amy Leschke-Kahle shares three mindset shifts HR leaders and executives must make to adapt to how the world of work works.

"But how do I know they're really working?" he asked with a skeptical look.

I had just told this senior executive at a high-performing company that work-from-home is here to stay, and this is not an uncommon reaction from the executives I work with when they're faced with the new role they must play in evolving work. In fact, before COVID-19, many executives seemed to entertain this outdated notion about working remotely.

But in the last few months, the pandemic has shown us just how much the times have changed. According to the Pew Research Center, 71% of employed adults in the U.S. were working from home at the end of 2020, and about 54% want to continue working from home after the outbreak ends. This new model of work is here to stay, and there is an enormous opportunity for organizations to let go of old myths and assumptions about where work can take place.

For this to happen, the highest-ranking executives from these organizations will have to be willing to evolve with the times. Here are three mindset shifts HR leaders and business executives must make to adapt to how the current world of work, well, works.

Today's leaders must adapt to the reality that hours do not equal impact.

- Amy Leschke-Kahle, VP of Performance Acceleration at The Marcus Buckingham Company, an ADP Company

1. Your employees are grownups

The people you've hired to be a part of your workforce are adults, and you hired them for a reason. Too many processes, policies and systems within large organizations are built around the notion that the workplace is filled with people who need more direction and hand-holding than they really do. So, of course, the idea of sending those people home to work unsupervised can be unsettling for many.

But that's exactly the inflection point where leaders have the opportunity to change their mindset, and if you had to switch to close employee productivity monitoring for thousands of employees overnight, guess how much work will get done in your organization?

It's much more efficient and realistic to embrace the reality that your workforce is made up of highly qualified, motivated and professional individuals who are eager to do their work. Yes, there has been a transition period as people adapt to the pressures of working from home during a pandemic, but what they need is not overbearing supervision or oversight, but rather the freedom to work at a pace and on a schedule that works for them at this moment in time.

The pandemic has shown that no matter where they sit, when team members get radically frequent attention from their team leaders, engagement and performance accelerate.

If you can manage this aspect of evolving work successfully, you might be pleasantly surprised by how remote work can benefit your organization.

2. Big data is not smart data, especially when it comes to people

For some organizations, the solution to the uncertainty of remote work during a pandemic is Big Data. However, you can have too much of a good thing, especially when it comes to metrics that measure performance. There are upwards of 300 people metrics you could measure at any one time, and how will you know which metrics would give you the insights into your people that you need to make informed decisions?

The answer is not Big Data, but smart data. It's far better to frequently measure a few insightful metrics to get a clear picture of which efforts are leading to expected than it is to report on hundreds of data points that don't tell you anything. Where should you start? Start with local engagement, team by team. It gives you and the organization visibility into how your employees are experiencing work in the context of the work. Now is the time to carefully consider what data is needed to have confidence in your workforce, both at an individual level and at the organizational level.

3. Hours do not equal impact

Almost overnight, organizations sent hundreds if not thousands of employees home to work, and work got done. But the typical work day doesn't look the same as it did in the traditional 9-5 office environment, and it's unlikely that it ever will again. This highlights how important it is for organizations to empower employees to work in a way that suits them best, knowing that on some days employees might blast through tasks at an incredible pace, and on other days they might invest several hours into just getting the basics done.

In short, today's leaders must adapt to the reality that hours do not equal impact. Evolving work conditions require us to pull focus away from an employee's perceived maturity or productivity monitoring and put the spotlight firmly on what the person does for the business and how they're compensated. Don't put undue focus on the "when" and the "how long," but rather toward the "what" and the "how well," so that every employee has the space they need to achieve their full potential in the current setting.

Doubling down on seeing each other for our own unique gifts and talents creates a differentiating cultural thread that serves employees, leaders and the organization.

Is your organization getting by or getting ahead?

There's a lot we don't yet know about the world of evolving work in which we find ourselves, but there's one thing we do know: the most competitive and successful organizations will not be the ones that cling to confining, stifling and over-structured approaches to work.

Understanding and embracing the progression of new philosophies around daily work will take some time, but leaders and managers who take the opportunity to challenge and rethink their assumptions about people, work and productivity may quickly discover that they have a starring role to play in the new world of work.

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