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VMblog Expert Interview: Sahin Boydas talks future of remote workforces and overcoming remote teams' most common challenges

interview-remoteteam-boydas 

The 2020 pandemic has caused a dramatic increase in the number of companies supporting a work from home shift for employees.  VMblog had the chance to speak with Sahin Boydas, founder and CEO of RemoteTeam, an expert in the industry for remote work.  So we spoke with Boydas to learn more and understand some of the most common challenges facing organizations.  

VMblog:  Many companies tasted remote work for the first time during the pandemic.  What advice do you have for those companies that want to remain working remotely even after the pandemic?

Sahin Boydas:  For many companies, what they are experiencing when it comes to working during the pandemic can't accurately be called "remote work" or "full work from home" -- but rather an "emergency remote work" condition. As companies wanting to remain working remotely even after the pandemic, there are few important things to consider:
  • Eliminate the "emergency" part of remote work. If you're a company planning to work from home forever, management has to take deliberate steps to implement company culture, employee benefits, and more to suit the remote work environment. You have to eliminate office politics and practices that will hinder productivity but weren't considered when we were all rushing to go remote and keep the ones that will help. 
  • I will also advise and encourage companies to reassess their tools, do away with unnecessary ones, keep the important tools, and put in place plans to help their team use the right tools to make work easy and exciting. Doing these imperative exercises will eliminate the "emergency" decisions that were made during the pandemic and set your organization up for permanent remote work.

VMblog:  Why do you think working remotely is hard to adapt for many companies into their everyday working schedules and lives?

Boydas:  Adapting to work environments, in general, isn't an easy journey and usually requires a gradual process. This means adapting to remote work conditions is hard for companies with in-office employees and harder for a remote workforce. At RemoteTeam.com, we've been working remotely from the beginning, but we still face and deal with certain challenges when it comes to adapting.  While there are numerous challenges, the biggest one is the difficulty companies face trying to disconnect remote vs. in-office conditions.

I have talked to many company executives about remote work from the perspective of an in-office environment and this is probably the biggest pressing challenge to transitioning. Many companies want to migrate their office working conditions directly into the remote work environment. For these organizations, going remote means the close supervision, the bureaucratic processes, and many of the practices that they deem "company policies" must continue when employees are working remotely. Migrating these policies into the remote working field means less trust for employees and an overall loss of trust in the organization. It also means cumbersome processes and boredom, which are despised by people working remotely.

The way out is for companies to ditch many of their "company policies" that were developed in the brick-and-mortar office work environments. Beyond this, companies also need to create new remote work policies based on their company situation. And new policies should create open working environments remotely, the existence of trust among workers and between employees and managers. 

VMblog:  As a result of COVID-19, workforces have been forced to go remote.  How do you predict this will shift in the years ahead?

Boydas:  There's no doubt that COVID19 has sparked the largest remote work experiment ever. While this emergency trend has popularized the remote work revolution, I think there are going to be different branches of work conditions after the pandemic. The biggest branch, of course, is going to be remote work. This will be the default work condition for many startups, software companies, media firms, and many of the companies that can work remotely without any issues. However, I also see flexible work conditions being a bigger part of this future of work years ahead. This will inculcate both remote and office work together, where companies have some days or months for employees to work from home and other days or months to work in the office. The future of work will also see companies making remote and flexible work conditions based on what they want to pursue - a lean startup, ditch a costly office rent, get access to a wide array of talent worldwide, deal with employee loneliness, or tackle diversity and inclusion. 

VMblog:  What are a few of the most common challenges companies face in taking a business remotely?

Boydas:  There are many challenges companies face when trying to move their workforce to remote teams. While these challenges may depend heavily on the size and type of organization, there are many that cut across:

  • Keeping employee engagement vibrant is one of the common challenges that companies face when trying to make their teams remote. In the brick-and-mortar office environment, employee engagement largely happens unconsciously during breakfast, random walks to the washroom or chit-chats in cubicles. And in the startup environment, the presence of ping-pong tables makes employee engagement seamless. Taking a business remote means that a company has to keep employees engaged while they work away from one another, and it's a huge challenge even for companies that have been working remotely for a while. 
  • Besides employee engagement, companies also face other challenges, including communication, maintaining company culture, measuring productivity, and dealing with the loneliness that comes with a remote work environment. At RemoteTeam.com, we are working on solving the operational challenges that remote teams face and we see a future where managing remote employees are more seamless.

VMblog:  What technologies are most important to prioritize investing in for a remote team?

Boydas:  The future of work, which is, and will largely be characterized by remote working conditions, will be impacted by many technological inventions. But I think if we want a vibrant and robust remote work future, these are the technologies we should focus on:

  • 5G and high-speed internet connectivity. This is a must for the remote work revolution. The meetings, the conferences, and all the online presentations that we need to go through as remote workers will need high-speed internet, and 5G is a great invention that will get us there.
  • Always-connected and remote work-oriented notebooks. In the remote work revolution, laptops and tablets will be our primary working tools. We need to build these devices with always-connected capabilities to enable people to work wherever they are. These devices also need to come with better cameras and audio as we would be doing more video calls and conferences. 
  • Investing in AI and virtual reality. This will help propel a seamless digital world that makes remote work environments seem more like in-office ones. We also need to build the technologies that will make our homes, our primary working environment in remote work, a vibrant place to get work done without facing loneliness. 

VMblog:  What are some tips for maintaining a cohesive company culture, when employees are working in different locations?

Boydas:  Company culture is hard to build and maintain, even for teams under the same roof - after all, it's about people and people are complicated. However, it's not impossible if you set out to build a cohesive company culture in your remote team. Here's what I think matters most for companies:

  • Create an environment for employee engagement to thrive. Building culture requires companies to create an atmosphere that allows employees to communicate with one another and with management without hurdles. Companies shouldn't assume that employees will build connections "automatically".  Employee engagement helps build culture and is a deliberate step for companies to take when their employees are working remotely.
  • Build personal connections beyond work. One sure bet to maintaining company culture is to build personal relationships in the remote work environment. This could come in different forms, including organizing virtual after-work parties, virtual games, and slack channels for employees to network and get to know one another. 
  • Spice up your company culture through physical connections. Companies should organize retreats and bring employees together once in a while to help employees connect on a personal level. Retreats aren't just about bringing the entire team together. Companies can organize small retreats for employees living in the same state or country as well. This builds lasting relationships and helps keep the company culture going.

VMblog:  What is the most important piece of advice you'll give to a brick and mortar company transitioning to a remote workforce?

Boydas:  The remote work revolution is huge and a lot of companies see it to be ideal not just for the cost-effectiveness of it to the company, but also the freedom and flexibility it gives employees. 

As brick and mortar businesses transition to a remote workforce, they should differentiate between what their tools can do and what they can't. I have seen a lot of companies that transitioned to remote work with the assumption that there are "many tools" to make their work easier. While this is largely true, these tools are not replacements for the human resources that an organization has, and who are even more important in a remote work environment. 

VMblog:  What are the critical sectors do you think remote work will disrupt the most and how should the workforce in such industries prepare for the future?

Boydas:  Cities as we know them will change forever. Remote work is one revolution that will disrupt cities dramatically. Not only is remote work democratizing the "centers of innovation" and "workplace" roles that cities have played for centuries, but it is also helping humanity create a new kind of city. The workforce in this industry made up of builders, developers, and investors, need to look at a remote work-oriented city. One that's less busy, provides more open spaces and champions clean energy both for transportation and powering city resources. 

Residential living and the housing industry. Our homes and neighborhoods will also be impacted highly by the remote work revolution. Homes will have to serve an additional purpose of being a "workplace" or an "office" in addition to their existing roles. This means that property developers and investors need to rethink how they build the homes of the future. These homes should not just come with high-speed internet facilities, but also have offices and office-related environments such as ping pong tables to keep families engaged and entertained even during working hours. Our neighborhoods also need to evolve to include more open spaces that allow people to work outdoors. 

Digital security industry. As we move to a remote work environment, one area that will be hard hit is the securities industry. Programmers, companies, and investors in this area need to build new security protocols and tools that will keep company resources safe and secure while employees work from home. Other areas where remote work would impact include the cloud computing industry, the human resources industry.

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Published Wednesday, September 02, 2020 7:32 AM by David Marshall
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