Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

The Modern Workforce

Work From Home - Image Credit, OboLinx.com

No doubt, the “modern workforce” is changing. We’re seeing a rapid evolution of what it means to “work.” Yes, there are still some salaried industries that rely on coming in by 9, leaving by 5 and taking your negotiated 1-hour lunch break. However, that approach is becoming the exception, not the rule.

Some 10 years back, when I was living in Omaha, Nebraska and working in digital marketing for ConAgra Foods, a senior exec educated me on “office space.” He explained, in a perfect world, the organization would have no office space. Physical space is an incredibly expensive liability on the books. With physical space comes rent, insurance, maintenance, overhead, taxes and a host of other line items. As he explained, if the company cooks fully eliminate its physical space cost, it could reinvest into compensation, R&D and other areas.

Fast forward a few more year’s and I’m at The Campbell Soup Company. Our CIO was light years ahead in thinking. Not only did the concept of world with zero real estate make sense, he argued companies should go a step further and embrace a full being your own device model. BYOD is often used for cell phone. You bring your phone, you pay for the service and the company lets you access your corporate email on the device. He wanted to embrace a concept where the organization would provide the “software”, but the employee brings the hardware. If you want to use a Mac, cool. ChromeBook? Fine. What happens in this model? Well, the cost of the device shifts to to the employee, as does maintenance, repairs, etc. The company wipes a great deal of liability off its books.

As we step into 2018, we’re not just ready for these two concepts to collide, we’re already seeing the value of it. This sponsored advertorial in Inc lays out a lot of the benefits of organizations that embrace a work from home model. At UnitedHealth Group, we’re routinely a top employer for remote and work from home staff. More than 40% of employees across UHG and its companies are remote. We’re at the forefront of this evolution and have been for some time.

Work from home, for a number of reasons, will become the default, instead of the rarity. Now, as Uncle Ben told Peter Parker, with great power comes great responsibility. Marissa Mayer famously found out, quite easily, that remote workers, were, well, not working.

When you’re remote, you need to be even more present than when physically in the office. You can’t be “that person” on a conference call, clearly tuned out. A work from home model can quickly go sideways. For example, regardless of the reality, the optics of a situation where someone “works from home” on Friday and Monday, are never good. There will be a portion of the employee population that assumes they’re simply taking a 4-day vacation, every week.

Then, you have a situation, I’ve unfortunately seen too often. Combine a loose work from home policy with employees who basically take 2-week vacations every other month, by “working from home” at their vacation destination, and you have a powder keg. Rarely is this successful. We may be embracing the future, but old habits die hard.

I’ve also seen the very best in remote workers. At Walgreens I had employee who lived more than 4 time zones away, but was not only one of the most engaged employees, was also one of the best performers.

The challenge with the new modern workforce environment is that each person is still unique. I could never thrive in a fully work from home model. I enjoy the face to face human interaction. I also think I’m more effective presenting and collaborating in person. However, other team members function better in isolation and seek it.

Having a high functioning team is, to me, more important than having a single high performing team member. No person is above the team. If a single person’s work-style preference negatively impacts the sum of the team, their preference is rarely worth it. Opportunities should be given to make work style preferences, well, work. However, there’s a difference between providing meaningful opportunity to succeed and being asleep at the wheel. Candidly, some employees are not cut out to succeed I’m working from home.