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On Remoting: Ensuring That Working Remotely Really Works

By Chris Colbert

This coronavirus, known as COVID-19, has stalled the global economy and the major corporations that are its engine. In the effort to get businesses moving, while keeping their employees and contractors safe, large employers have made working remotely, or Remoting, an urgent priority. This race to safety and business continuity is largely focused on the technologies required to allow a workforce to work from home (WFH), i.e. providing access to desktops, files, data and each other. Today’s major employers just want to ensure that their employees can still do their functional jobs remotely. And because of the technology available, they now can.

I believe that there is much more to come with the global race to Remoting. After, and perhaps even before the COVID-19 crisis is over, many employers and many of their employees will have realized that the Remoting approach can be a longer-term win-win. For larger companies, Remoting represents a potential savings in office and even some labor costs. With this, some employees may possibly be willing to accept lesser pay in exchange for more work from home flexibility, and zero to nominal commute time and the associated expense. The worker will experience greater autonomy and less quality of life burden and their employer will be freed from the burden of providing expensive office space, and now able to recruit globally with no concern for candidate proximity or relocation. The result: a win, win and the very likely outcome that Remoting becomes a preferred work modality for many large employers and thousands of their employees around the world.

The “glitch” (and of course opportunity) in all this is that once a workforce is WFH-enabled, the employer’s question will inevitably shift from “Are they able to work?” to “Are they working productively?” and even “Are they happy?” The singular focus on worker safety and business continuity will be quickly followed by a need to assess remote labor productivity, employee satisfaction, and overall return on investment.

To extract the full value of Remoting, corporations must embrace the importance of it being a “Protocol-first” endeavor, where standards of team management, development and communications are enabled by technologies and tools and vice versa.

The design task must focus on answering the following nine fundamental questions and then comparing those answers to the current protocols and policies in place in order to identify the gaps and gap fillers:

  1. Foundation: How do we ensure that every employee, from top to bottom, shares the same set of values, truths, and beliefs about the why, what and how of the organization? And an understanding of the organization’s behavioral norms and unwritten rules?

  2. Map: How do we ensure that every employee understands where the organization is headed and how it fits with where they are headed and vice versa? And how well resourced the organization and they are to realize their desired destinations?

  3. Measure: How do we measure the performance of the individual against expectations and ensure that the results are celebrated and/or correctively managed? How do we capture the data to ensure everyone is clear where they stand? How do we capture and share the data that shows where the company stands?

  4. Feedback: How do we ensure that every employee knows where they stand against expectations (functional and behavioral and what they need to do to improve? How do we course correct employees most effectively? How do employees course correct the corporation without risk to their jobs?

  5. Connection: How do we ensure that every remote employee feels connected to the organization, their team and their manager on a 24/7 basis and that there are people who care about them and their success? How can we ensure that human connection persists virtually?

  6. Trust/Respect: How do we ensure that the remote employee feels respected and trusted? How can we develop a mutual respect for both the employees’ time and the production for the company?

  7. Tools: How do we ensure that every remote employee has the technologies, tools and operating standards to eliminate friction and frustration in getting their job done?

  8. Hiring: How do we ensure that we hire people who have the capacity to thrive within a remote working environment?

  9. Growth: How do we ensure that remote workers have the same opportunities for career growth as non-remote workers?

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