The CEO of Timehop, an app development team that helps you create a photo album for the digital age, recently tried out something new and innovative. In the middle of a blustery New York City winter, Jonathan Wegener sent all of his employees home with instructions to work remotely, preferably from warmer locales. While some of Timehop’s employees remained in NYC, others went to Orlando, Dallas, Denmark, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Venice Beach to work.
John Greathouse, a contributor for Forbes, called the experience an “epic fail,” but was it truly such a dismal failure? Based on what Wegener had to say about the results of the two weeks of work-from-home, it certainly doesn’t seem so dramatically negative. Wegener admits that “within a couple days, we all noticed that our focus and concentration improved.” The downfall? “Collaborative tasks became much more difficult. Meetings had more overhead to setup and were less productive. The team missed being around each other, and lack of facial and body language sometimes led to misunderstandings.”
This sounds like the normal adjustment phase to learning how to work remotely, and AppAdvice managing editor Bryan Wolfe says that “the tools used are essential.” According to Wolfe, “being able to meet physically would enhance the process. I’m not saying it’s a necessity, but it wouldn’t hurt.” Almost all of AppAdvice’s employees work remotely, many from vastly different time zones, and Wolfe points out that the biggest hurdle to such a work environment is ensuring everyone is on the same page and receives the same information.
Ian Gooden, chief executive at HR consultancy firm Chiumento, agrees that social interaction is an enhancement to the experience and an important aspect of working relationships. Gooden, who often doesn’t visit his office for weeks at a time, insists that such interaction can still be included on a daily basis. “I talk to everyone on a regular basis,” Gooden says. I’ve just created ‘chat spots’ in my diary when I go out and seek dialogue – rather than waiting for it to happen. And when I do go into the office I make sure my day is largely about social interaction – not just about meetings.”
For human resources practitioners and managers who oversee work-from-home employees, making their work environment a successful one is largely about empowering those employees and encouraging them to engage with their colleagues, both socially and professionally. Tools like Slack, a platform for team communications that brings real-time messaging to both the group context and private conversations, are essential to aiding such social interaction.
Wolfe and Gooden both believe that the work-from-home landscape is the new future. HR professionals and managers need to learn how to guide their employees towards making such a work environment productive while also helping the remote employees feel connected to their colleagues. Gooden says, “You just need a new breed of leader (rather than manager) to make it work.” The work-from-home employee does not necessarily need to feel “out of the loop” and disconnected from colleagues, but may need some guidance from HR to find ways to maintain engagement and interaction with others employees.