When it comes to employer branding, flexibility is in fashion. But when a company touts itself as having a flexible remote work culture in its job descriptions, how can you be sure that they mean it as more than a buzzword?
Ideally, working from home (or, on a hybrid schedule, sometimes from home) should be flexible. But as so many of us learned in the pandemic’s earlier stages, remote work often entails the exact opposite. With uninterrupted hours spent on a screen and no physical separation happening between work and home, it’s all too easy to find yourself transformed into a laptop zombie.
Unfortunately, a lot of companies, whether they’re new to remote work or have been at it since pre-COVID times, don’t do much to discourage that. That’s why, regardless of how flexible a company espouses itself to be, it’s important to know what to look for to understand whether they practice what they preach.
Below, we heard from experts about the 10 things you’ll find in a remote work culture that’s doing more than paying lip service to flexibility. Look out for mention of any of the following in a company’s employee reviews, or ask about them in the job interview, to land somewhere that truly prioritizes flexible remote work.
1. Employees are free to work anywhere — and that means anywhere.
When a company advertises itself as offering remote work, too often that comes with restrictions that aren’t as readily advertised, Perry Valentine, founder of AtPerry’s, said.
“Some companies restrict their employees to stay in one specific state, or they may not hire employees who are outside the country,” Valentine said. “As a CEO, I believe that a truly flexible remote workplace should not limit its employees to staying in one place. Since they are essentially not bound to work in an office, they should be free to work anywhere they see fit.”
2. Employees can work from their respective time zones.
As long as an employee can perform the duties specific to their role, it shouldn’t matter what time zone they’re in, Valentine added.
“Employees who work in content creation, for example, don’t necessarily need to work in a specific time zone to fulfill their duties,” he said. “Whether they work in Pacific time, Eastern, or time zones outside of the U.S., they will still be able to create content for the company.”
Meanwhile, for roles that are more timezone-specific, certain provisions may need to be made to enable workers to do their jobs from the time zone of their choosing.
“Roles such as customer service are more critical and may need to be wary about the time zones they work in, since they have to respond to customers during office hours,” he said. “This means that if you have offshore employees, they might have to take a night shift or a late afternoon shift to properly fulfill their duties.”
3. There’s a strong culture of trust.
Trust is foundational to any truly flexible remote work culture. That’s because a lack of trust in these settings can turn toxic pretty quickly, Kathryn McDavid, CEO of Editor’s Pick, said.
“If your boss doesn’t trust you, he or she can find a technique to track how you spend your time or send you regular messages inquiring what you’re up to,” she said. “This type of micromanagement would have a negative impact on not only your productivity and ability to accomplish your job, but it would almost surely have a negative impact on your mental health, as well.”
Healthy remote workplaces, meanwhile, have worked out “how to build trust among their employees,” McDavid said.
“Giving employees more liberty, in my experience, increases trust,” she said. “We allow them to work with managers to set targets and then keep them informed of our progress. I trust them to get the job done and check in with them periodically at one-on-one meetings to make sure they are on track, rather than installing software that monitors where they spend their time or recording work hours.”
4. Consensus is sought for meeting times.
True flexibility means workers get to have a say in when meeting times work for them, Farnam Elyasof, CEO of Flex Suits, said.
“Consensus should be sought for meeting times, most likely through polls, so that participants can pick the times that are most convenient for them,” he said. “The number of company meetings per month should also be sufficiently low, but team members can have the freedom to hold virtual meetings with one another for effective collaboration.”
5. People are encouraged to create personalized work schedules.
Not just the “where” of remote work but the “when” of it should be completely flexible too, Ling Ling Fung, CEO of Metro Baby, said.
“This may seem like a no-brainer, but having customizable work hours is the very definition of flexibility in remote work,” he said. “For example, if a company implements a remote work model but only offers one or two fixed work schedules for an employee to choose from, then it is not truly flexible. Team members should be able to freely personalize their schedule. This can be addressed by setting shared work hours at a specific time of the day and offering flexibility for the remaining hours.”
6. Off time is flexible, too, but always respected.
Personalized scheduling means that people get to choose when they’re offline, as well — and know that their choices will be respected, Fung continued.
“Off time is strictly off time,” he said. “I believe that a strict boundary between professional and personal life is a vital component of remote work flexibility. Policies should revolve around it. Buffer time for working asynchronously is the key to this. For example, there should be at least a 24-hour period for an employee to respond to non-immediate emails.”
7. Flexibility is more than a word that’s used — it’s baked into company policy.
After all, it’s no secret, as CT Price, CEO of Life Grows Green, put it, that “companies love their policies.”
“It’s a sure sign a company is serious about keeping its remote workforce flexible when, you guessed it, they make a clear policy for it,” Price said. “There should be clear guidelines for when to send emails, to ensure that everyone respects standard work hours and boundaries of the remote workforce. Communication guidelines are also a good idea… The bottom line is that if a company is serious about keeping it’s workforce remote, they’re going to have to hash out the details of what successful remote work looks like and turn it into policy.”
8. Deliverables are clear (and not tied to hours worked).
Transparency isn’t just a key to effective remote work — it’s critical to a flexible remote work culture, too.
“Deliverables are clearly stated and measured, and they don’t necessarily have to be tied to hours worked unless pay is per hour,” Elyasof said. “There should also be a transparent accountability system in place to make sure that everyone is carrying their weight equally, and support is provided fairly.”
9. Employees aren’t expected to spend the whole day in Zoom meetings.
It’s hard to maintain a personalized, flexible work schedule if you’re working on a team that’s meeting-crazed, Andreas Grant, Founder of Networks Hardware, said.
“Having the right tools in place means you are not dependent on having multiple meetings every day,” he said. “As long as there is a tool like Slack or Trello in place, everyone knows the progress of each ongoing project, which means fewer meetings and more productivity… While communication is always important and key to any business, remote work gives you the freedom to get more done with less interaction.
10. Senior leadership has changed company processes to engender flexibility.
In 2020, very few companies had flexible remote working figured out, as most were in keep-afloat mode, with downsized teams to boot. Today, this should look different, Mila Garcia, Co-founder of iPaydayLoans, said.
“Has senior management laid out actual plans for how they intend to continue their commitment to career development, even under flexible working conditions?” she asked. “Have they begun to recruit new leaders to take charge of new remote work enhancements? Has HR already implemented new guidelines on how teams are expected to operate and behave within a remote work setting? These are all clear statements that show a level of commitment from management, as working with HR to change and adapt corporate policies and processes proves they really are accepting a flexible work model as the long-term solution.”
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