Working from Anywhere – A Strategic & Leadership Challenge for 2021

The global pandemic has posed leaders many short-term challenges to overcome. They have had to pivot product applications and services as well as finding new ways of working pretty much overnight. Those that have succeeded now face a far more interesting conundrum to ponder. Will ‘Working from Anywhere’ become the default organisational design from now on, and if so, is it right for their organisation?

To grapple with this question requires an understanding of the issues and silver linings of the recent past, plus some strategic insights into other organisations that are only now beginning to emerge.

Recent research published by Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury, (Associate Professor Harvard Business School), clearly demonstrates that there are pros and cons for organisations, individuals and society as a whole to think through and consider. Some of Raj’s insights are obvious, some less so, and what is clear is that there will be no ‘one size fits all’ solution to this conundrum. It will benefit from some strategic scenario planning in every organisation.  

Summary of Raj’s Findings

The benefits for Individuals include:

  • Increased personal control creating the opportunity to work flexibly, greater choice in the time to work and the time to play.
  • Enhanced family and friends time, despite lock-down restrictions making connections and checking-in has become more frequent and meaningful.
  • Ability to work for any organisation around the world. A new breed of ‘digital nomads’ are emerging, people who are creating portfolio careers designed to fit their personal lifestyles. In effect we are witnessing the elimination of immigration issues, that for so long acted as a barrier. It has never been easier for talent to be globally dispersed.
  • Decrease in travel costs and reduction in personal environmental impact. Important to many as we all try and look after our world.
  • For some personality types, the increase in focused work time; improved quality of engagement; and improved meeting disciplines required for remote working to flourish; has led to a substantive personal productivity improvement. Put simply, more gets done in less time as distractions have been minimised.
  • Asynchronous ways of working and tech tools are emerging that enables more reflective thought and contributions to be captured. This in turn improves the quality of interactions and the opportunity for radical action conversations.

The benefits for organisations vary depending on the nature of the products and services they provide, but for knowledge organisations in particular can include:

  • Reduction in all office related costs including expenses for re-location; travel; subsistence expenses; etc.
  • Talent in the cloud – access to a global talent pool of digitally enabled citizens – enhancing diversity and bringing in new thinking to shed light on perennial organisational challenges.
  • Reduced environmental footprint, a key objective for every sustainable organisation around the world.
  • Enhanced employee engagement leading to happier and more productive employees and reduced attrition rates

The benefits for Society as a whole include:

  • Reverse the brain drain that plagues many emerging markets, rural locations and small towns
  • Enhanced community minded citizens with an enhanced focus and concern for local community issues, spending money locally, looking out for each other etc.
  • Reduced environmental impact – dramatically reducing CO2 emissions associated with a reduction in commuting and international travel

Whilst these benefits are clearly not available to every organisation, and indeed some present themselves more as strategic threats, leaders need to think through their own strategic landscape and explore how they can capitalise on the opportunity that sits at the heart of the Covid-19 global crisis.

Concerns to Grapple With

There are of course a number of concerns to consider as well, including:

  • Synchronous and remote communication with little or no overlap in working hours can reduce productivity of some core processes. The lack of ad-hoc community collisions can also reduce the opportunity for chance encounters, creativity sparks etc.
  • Reduced opportunity for ad-hoc knowledge sharing, mentoring and support needs some thought.
  • Challenge to how leaders traditionally measure performance and offer compensation. The shift of emphasis from micro-management of task to output management can be a step too far for many control leadership styles.
  • Isolation and loneliness can break out in certain personality types, especially for introverts.
  • Data security and regulation – remote companies have to work a lot harder to protect distributed IT infrastructure and to protect personal, corporate and customer data.

The questions are many, and the solutions are dependent on variables that are unique to every organisation, large and small. If you require any help thinking this through then please do not hesitate to contact us we will be delighted to help.

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