Talent Development Centre

Working Remotely — An Opportunity and a Challenge!

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Eagle

What Working Remotely Means to Eagle:

It has been over 5 years since Eagle formalized a distributed work strategy — WORKshift.  It is now a fully integrated part of our company’s DNA and is part of the reason that Eagle has been recognized as one of Canada’s “Great Places To Work” for the past 4 years.  Our staff appreciate the flexibility it provides and allows our team to contribute wherever and whenever they can be most productive.  Our WORKshift program incorporates a number of different scenarios including: Time Shifting (working outside of non-core hours, either earlier or later in the day), Work from Home, Mobile Working (accessing the full suite of corporate tools when out on calls), and Distributed Teams (we build functional teams between office and across Canada for projects).  WORKshift means happy, productive staff members and the ability to accomplish things more quickly than we could without this ability.  It has been very good for our business.

What It Means to You, the Contractor:

There has been a lot of information about Remote Work online, in the news, and around boardroom tables.  Technology has progressed to the point where standard, mainstream applications allow companies and people to work in a distributed sense without the need for customization or special processes and protocols.  It’s available to the masses and is becoming more mainstream in business.  As a contractor, you can benefit by being able to work for organizations in other cities or manage between multiple contracts as you no longer need to be physically present to contribute.  Travel time can be greatly reduced, meaning more billable hours available.  It also may allow you to collaborate with other independent contractors to form virtual teams to provide deeper value for your clients.

Challenges That Working Remotely Raise:

Of course anything this valuable comes with its share of challenges.  Security, for example, is a big issue.  Some companies allow for VPN access but many are extremely sensitive to allowing non-employees access to corporate resources.

Being able to compete for work regardless of location is a two-edged sword.  Certainly that can open new opportunities to capable contractors.  However, it also means that competition for jobs/roles can come from practically anywhere if the job to be completed is truly irrespective of the work location.  In the future, certain roles may be bid on by a global labour market.  Already we see off-shoring in the mainstream, but individual contracts have the potential of being next.

Team management and oversight is another hurdle to successful remote work arrangements.  There are new skill sets required to be an effective leader (or worker) in a distributed work environment.  Some people are better suited to working remotely than others; and managers/project managers also can be taxed by the requirements of managing a virtual team.  Managing to deliverables vs. direct observation is a big cultural change for many companies.  Anyone familiar with the concept of presenteeism understands the fallacy of assuming people are working just because they happen to physically be at work.  The world is quickly moving towards deliverable-based evaluation, which is something already very familiar to the contractor community.

The following chart from Work EvOHlution shows key attributes of leaders for distributed work strategies:

chart from Work EvOHlution shows key attributes of leaders for distributed work strategies
Source: Work EvOHlution

In academia and consulting firms, more and more research is being completed to prepare companies and people for the realities and complexities of distributed work.  In Eagle’s experience, we partnered with CED (Calgary Economic Development) who was pioneering the business application of WORKshift, and also with “The Leadership Store”, a research-focused company affiliated with the University of Calgary that specialized in distributed work systems.  They are now operating under the name Work EvOHlution and provide a number of assessments, readiness strategies and coaching options to companies, teams, trainers and individual workers who wish to maximize the effectiveness of remote-work business practices.  Both organizations – CED and EvOHlution – were invaluable to Eagle as we set up our own WORKshift strategy.

Setting Yourself Apart:

Regardless of your own personal work-location preferences, the world is moving towards this work-from-anywhere/anytime paradigm.  Consideration should be given as to your own preparedness for this shift.  Most everyone should be able to work as part of a remote work force, but only those who are most prepared and have the necessary skills, communication and work habits will be able to flourish.  It just may be a way to differentiate yourself from others who are muddling through these newer changes to the work environment.

BONUS: Tips for Working on a Distributed Team (From Work EvOHlution):

  • Not everyone is suited to working remotely on a full-time basis, but most people can do a mix of office and remote work.
  • Kick-off new teams face-to-face.
  • Learn communication preferences of each team member.
  • Don’t over-rely on any one communication method (e.g., e-mail).
  • Avoid communicating constructive feedback or frustration through e-mail/instant messaging.
  • Set response time deadlines verbally and in writing and stick to them.
  • Match the communication medium to the purpose.
  • Create goals and measures that are accessible and achievable.
  • Set up mechanisms for feedback.
  • Celebrate and reward successes. Find creative ways to celebrate from a distance.
  • Develop a distributed team charter.
  • Use technology (video conferencing, teleconference, chat, email) and train your team on the software being used; when introducing a new software have a pilot period where everyone is expected to give it their best shot and report back on pros and cons.

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