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The Globe and Mail

Three ways companies are setting up remote employees for failure

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

Remote work. Mobility. Telecommuting. They're not just buzzwords; they represent the workforce transformation taking place in Canada. Companies are embracing mobility due to advances in secure technology and employees demand for greater work-life balance. In fact, the recent Enabling the Remote Workforce in Canada survey conducted by Citrix found that 45 per cent of employees would trade perks, hours or pay at their current job to work outside of the traditional office setting.

While many organizations have embraced a remote or flexible culture to tap into the benefits, such as improved productivity and increased employee morale, we remain creatures of habit. People inherently dislike change or disrupting the norm, and so with every change comes resistance.

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Some companies may find they are not getting the results they hoped for from their mobility strategy, which is often due to the way remote work has been implemented or embraced in the organization. If your remote workforce isn't garnering the results desired, consider the following before throwing in the towel:

Companies don't understand what 'mobility' is

On the surface, mobility or a remote workforce appears to be a simple concept, but many companies in Canada don't understand what mobility truly involves. In the survey, we found that while 84 per cent of Canadian IT decision makers reported having employees that work remotely, 83 per cent admitted that their company's definition of mobility was simply providing employees with the ability to send and receive e-mails from a mobile device. Productivity is hindered when employees are not armed with the tools they need to do their work well and meet expectations. A remote employee requires access to corporate data, not just e-mail. If employees can't source files or upload a document or presentation from their device, they're limited in how productive they can be.

Clearly defined data access policies coupled with technology that enables productivity from anywhere, like desktop or application virtualization, are essential components of all successful remote work cultures.

As Nathaniel Koloc, co-founder and CEO of ReWork, noted in the Harvard Business Review, companies that allow employees to work remotely at least three times per month were more likely to report revenue growth of 10 per cent or more within the last year, compared to firms without such policies. This was further verified by the survey which found that of the companies with clearly defined mobility strategies, 95 per cent believe the strategy is integral to the competitiveness of their business. That's quite an opportunity awaiting those who properly enable mobility.

The fallacy that productivity can only be achieved in the office

It can be difficult to measure productivity, which may be why some leaders are wary about fully embracing a remote work culture. Many feel they need to see employees physically at work to believe they're working at full capacity. This is a glaring misconception as one of the biggest benefits of mobility reported by IT decision makers is increased productivity.

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Canadian employees agree; two-thirds of working professionals believe they don't need a traditional office setting to be productive while 62 per cent believe it's not difficult to stay motivated remotely.

Mobility is increasingly becoming an expectation, so whether managers support mobility or not is quickly becoming irrelevant. Three-quarters of employees say that businesses should offer the ability to work remotely. Ensuring employees are productive remotely doesn't have to be a struggle. Work efforts can be measured by setting clear expectations, deadlines and opening channels of communication. Once managers communicate clearly, they can begin keeping track of which employees are not meeting the standards set by the company – just as you would in a traditional office setting.

Executives underestimate the longevity of mobility

In 1876, a memo was published by Western Union that stated the telephone was "inherently of no value to us." We see that same thinking today as nearly one-third of IT decision makers believe that remote working is simply a trend that will pass. If the IT team responsible for enabling the technology doesn't actually believe in it, the mobile strategy will be equally ineffective.

Believing that mobility is a passing trend is short-sighted. As standards of living continue to improve, people will increasingly demand better work-life balance. Mobility allows employees to have some control over when and where they work – both of which are essential to balancing work and life. And employees are ready to fight to have this balance; nearly 20 per cent would take a new job opportunity if they were able to work remotely twice a week. So when companies dismiss mobility, they put themselves at risk of losing out on talent.

Companies should stop making excuses as to why new work techniques don't match their company's culture. Instead, focus on how rollout techniques are impacting chances for success.

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Michael Murphy is vice-president and country manager of Citrix Canada (@CitrixCanada), a global company that enables mobile work styles.

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