In my last post, I discussed how organizations use remote work to drive business and human capital objectives — and the pitfalls of not defining these objectives before implementing remote work policies. The takeaway was clear: If you don’t know why you’re using remote work, it’ll be difficult, if not impossible, to determine whether these practices are adding value or falling short.
But organizations can’t stop there. The next step, once you’ve clearly defined your objectives for remote work, is to determine which types of remote work arrangements are best suited for the type of work that needs to get done, and the different employees who do it. To make these decisions, you first have to understand the wide array of working arrangements we call “remote work.”
Remote work: What’s in a name?
In general, we use terms like ‘virtual work’, ‘telecommuting’, and ‘remote work’ interchangeably to refer to employees working outside the office in some form. But remote work, similar to online or e-learning, is hardly one thing; rather, it comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. That said, we tend to see organizations using four basic types of remote work arrangements:
The home office
The first type of arrangement is home-based work, in which employees either work full- or part-time from a home office. This is the most common form of remote work in today’s organizations; in these cases, employees are generally working from home less than full-time, or a few days per week.
Flexible work schedules and job-sharing
The second type of arrangement involves flexible work schedules. These include a compressed work week, sharing a single job and hours with another employee, as well as temporary teleworking, where an employee works from home or some other location one day per week or per month. Flexible work scheduling is also quite common in many organizations.
A somewhat less common form of remote work is mobile work, in which employees work from the road, or as we often say, “out of their cars.” Mobile employees tend to make up a small percentage of remote workers in most organizations, but are more common in certain functional areas, like sales.
Onsite client-based remote work
Finally, there is onsite, client-based remote work. Here, employees are working at client or customer locations as integral members of a project team, to provide more intimate customer service, or perhaps to foster partnerships.
As you embark on your journey to implement successful remote work policies, it’s important to assess the different types of remote work and which of these best fit your organization. The answers are usually not one-size-fits-all; this flexibility is precisely one reason remote work can drive employee engagement. Start by reviewing the different types of remote work and how each supports (or undermines) your business and human capital objectives. Then, use the following questions to assess remote work arrangements from an individual employee and job function/design perspective:
- Which types of remote work are best suited for different employee groups and levels in your organization?
- Which types of remote work are best suited for different job functions and tasks in your organization?
- Which types of remote work are best suited for different employee personality types?
For the uninitiated, these may seem like picky details. But successful HR leaders know that realizing the benefits of remote work requires due diligence. And in policy making, more specificity allows you to better tailor policies and practices, which in turn reduces the risk that some employees are burdened more than others. This perceived unfairness can quickly lead to disregard. Finally, having a clearer picture of which employees are using which remote work arrangements can help you make better resource decisions — about office space allocation, technology investments, or even parking lot size.