Adopting a Flexible Remote Work Policy

Soundtrack: “Trance Frendz” by Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwS9YmF22Po

This morning, I got out of bed and walked to my office to wake my laptop up from sleep. Like today, for the past 5 years I’ve had a 60-second commute. The four years prior I had a 5-minute walking commute from my apartment to my office in Newton Corner, Mass. Prior to that I endured another 4 years of hour-long commutes across the San Francisco Bay Area, only to arrive at work irritable and feeling behind the gun before the day even began.

My second month at BU began to make it clear that what’s in the way of adopting a flexible work policy within our organizations is not quality of work or technological capacity, but rather cultural nostalgia. The infrastructure supporting remote work continues to evolve to support the human experience. My remote work toolkit (libraries edition) has six  essential categories:

  1. Hardware: Laptop with 8+ hour battery life under heavy use, Wi-fi Hotspot, Noise-cancelling headphones, Back-up, non-battery dependent headphones
  2. Productivity: Microsoft Office 365 (or Google Suite), Things Task Management
  3. Meetings: Zoom, Google Hangout, Conference Phone Line
  4. Messaging: Slack, Teams, Telegram Secure Messaging
  5. Travel: Google Flights, Google Maps, Lyft, mTicket (Mobile Boston Commuter Rail Passes), Concur, Weather, rewards accounts with all major airlines and hotel chains
  6. Health: Strava, YouVersion

Conversations about remote work or flexible work usually begin with a small group of proponents at an organization, and usually die out once met with the resistance of the old guard. The dialogue tends to focus on all of the reasons why it shouldn’t be adopted, as opposed to discussing the opportunities. Below, I make several arguments for organizations to understand why a robust, flexible work policy is not just as a fringe-benefit, but a strategic investment into future-proofing your organization.

1. Smart Recruitment

The most common argument for adopting a flexible work policy is to attract the broadest pool of talent. By limiting the applicant pool to the percentage of people who are willing to relocate to where you are, or who already live there, are we unlocking the true potential of our teams and getting the highest ROI on our compensation investment?

Given the season of life I’m in, living in my home state of Louisiana is something that I wouldn’t trade for the world. An institution 1,500 miles away was able to recruit me for a uniquely qualified position because they decided to invest in a flexible work policy as a way to future-proof themselves.

2. Smart Retention

Life happens and seasons change. To retain our best talent, our work policy has to be flexible enough to accommodate new circumstances among our workforce. Sure, in the eyes of an employer, it would be ideal for our workers’ situations to be the most predictable and consistent. But childbirth changes things. Changes in spousal or partner employment situation. Taking care of aging parents. Financial ups and downs. Inevitable events that rewire an employee’s ability to physically come to work should not call in to question their commitment to their work and the organization.

In 2014, I was forced to choose working for my employer or moving home to help take care of a family member. Looking back on that decision, it was 100% avoidable, and I have no regrets. 

3. Equity and Gender Parity

Women taking on the role of caretaker for their own children or other family members is more common than my situation. Maternity Leave policies are a factor in flexible work environments that can be used to increase equity and gender parity in the workplace. To not place pressure on new parents to return to work too soon, or to have to choose work over their child, strengthens commitment and produces greater output from that staff member.

4. Better Communication and Inclusion

Including underrepresented voices in the decision-making process at a macro level is great, but on a conversation-by-conversation, meeting-by-meeting level is arguably more important. Many employees don’t contribute in meetings not because they lack ideas or aren’t engaged in their work, but are not comfortable competing for airtime among extroverts.

Remote work necessitates written, asynchronous communication, which also moves conversations from the serendipitous hallway chat, to the serendipitous private or group message thread.

Starting off my 4th stint as a remote employee has made me realize the importance of written communication – not just in relation to a given meeting – but as a culture. Documenting ideas, thoughts and minutes improves organizational memory and increases opportunities for contribution and engagement.

5. Greater Diversity

The diversity conversation on campuses is beginning to shift from an acknowledgement of a problem, to formulating an action plan. Part of the action plan is to wrestle with the larger question of roadblocks preventing people from underrepresented backgrounds from applying for jobs or accepting offers to work at our institution. Geography is a large factor in this equation, as people are not only moving to a location for work, but also to live.

https://twitter.com/zanders/status/1141059484799918080

6. Succession Planning

One of my first projects at BU last month was designing a staff offboarding process at the libraries, and managing it end-to-end for one of our retirees. This was an informative process that made it clear to me that a formal flexible work policy would demonstrably improve succession planning.

When employees leave on good terms, they are often left with no options on helping the organization transition despite willing to. Institutional knowledge is lost, and the team is forced to make a rough transition end of business on their final day. Adopting a flexible work policy would allow staff members to propose a reduced work schedule, from a location of their preference, to aid in their successor’s onboarding.

Conclusion

Having experienced virtually every combination of work arrangement, you probably have gathered that I’m an unabashed proponent of organization’s work policy being robust and flexible. If we believe that each employee is unique unto their own, and that we’ve hired the right person for the role, an undervalued perk is to offer that person the ability to work from wherever they want. This is not the same as organizations in Silicon Valley who adopt 100% remote policies to cut costs on real estate, but rather adopting the value that place of work will not hinder our organization from recruiting and retaining the best talent.

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