How Does Working Remotely Affect the Bottom Line: Hot Performance or Hot Mess?

Getting Gen Z & GAIA Insights Sept 2015 – – 

As a stereotypical member of Generation X and a dedicated employee of the ever evolving corporate world for over twenty years, I am proud to state that I have witnessed, tested and thrived on the lifetime benefits of our information age. I make sure my “office space” (aka closet) is free of noise from the daily Amazon delivery truck, barking, echoing tiles, and outrageous ring tones. 

Technology has improved our work/life balance beyond belief.  I remember that moment in 1994, sending my first external email from my apartment to another, emailing outside the corporate walls.  Then in 1999 becoming the first employee of a global corporation to work part-time because technology allowed me to juggle and enabled them to keep tabs on me. And today as I work from home, some of my most productive meetings are held in my large master closet, that’s right a closet with sound-proof walls, because my entire family works from home and having four offices is just not an option.

But has technology improved our work/life performance? “Of course it has”, we all say! But not every generation, or individuals within each generation, agree. Old habits and strong preferences die hard for some folk like those from Generation X. Nor do some businesses who wonder why their employee stops into the office to deliver bagels but rarely stops in to deliver good results. Today’s office is like an airline’s hub of all communications and collaborations, a central meeting place to check in when necessary.

Before we assume technology has enhanced work performance for all generations, let’s look at some drivers of performance.

1. Collaboration has become easier – – 

Most collaboration is done virtually. “Seventy-nine percent of people work on virtual teams,” said Rick Puskar, SVP of Customer Experience & Services for Unify. “What’s interesting is that in most organizations there is a preponderance of using yesterday’s tools.” Working together without ever being together, and having never met, seems very difficult, especially to us overachieving and rule-following Gen Xer’s.  Most Gen Xer’s prefer face-to-face collaboration, at least occasionally, because we feel strongly about knowing our colleagues, connecting with them and knowing how to work with them. This helps to increase our performance and that’s our #1 goal. Obtaining and sharing knowledge 24/7 is becoming easier and faster and this is accelerating as mobile and internet devices are becoming more accessible in emerging markets and from more remote locations.

2. Concentration is becoming harder – – 

Years ago, going into the office was a concentration haven for Gen X, a place to finally get some peace and quiet and tackle a major project without any distractions. But some of us hid behind closed doors, and that wasn’t good for collaboration. Today, most office floor plans are now open seating with constant noise and interruptions which doesn’t work for Gen Xer’s. Allison at Accenture says, “I can’t concentrate in the open floor plan. I get so much more done when I work from home.

For aging Gen X, and maybe every generation, concentrating will be a bigger challenge no matter where we work. I find working from home incredibly challenging; Gen X needs the freedom but we are still not used to it. I re-create my “office space” free of barking, echoing tiles, ring tones and the daily Amazon delivery truck. Then I turn up my boundaries and lower the screens. With up to five screens going simultaneously, no one is fully engaged unless they work hard at it. Employees need to find the right space that works for them in order to produce the top results.

3. Communication / Connection still needs a human touch – – 

As we avoid the corporate “hub” and fly solo in our domains, our human connection diminishes. Does this matter and what does this do to performance? According to an article in Forbes, “The surprising truth about social networks is that it fills the humanity gap many global workers feel in cold, impersonal email chains and conference calls.” I don’t agree, most people will tell you, they want some human connection on a daily basis. As Brene Brown, the American scholar says, human connection gives people a purpose, a sense of worthiness and if you feel worthy, you are more likely to succeed in life, i.e. to perform.

4. Results are so long-term these days – – 

I see “results” losing center stage among so many employees. As our attention spans shrink, to 8-seconds for Gen Z, employees are concerned about their day-to-day performance more than the long-term, the end result of their performance. We have so much freedom to complete our part that we procrastinate more and more. We can pull all-nighters if we have to. However, so far, most organizations have stronger results due to technology. Some employees take advantage of the virtual freedom and negatively affect results. If so, managers have to get tougher and do a little babysitting. Virtual employees need to be held accountable more than ever, e.g. bringing them in for a monthly check-in.

No doubt the benefits of our evolving technology outweigh the challenges for Gen X.  The benefits of freedom, flexibility, balance and independence counteract with the common issue of “always on call”.  Most of us cannot help our growing screen addiction. Some boundaries and corporate support will help everyone optimize our changing life in the information age. Let employees know the corporate “hub” is here for them and provide an open-door policy 24/7. And even if you are a hot mess when working from home, make sure you hide it for video calls.

Written for GAIA Insights Blog Sept. 2015.

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