Remote Work.

Remote Work.

I played tennis with an attorney friend last weekend and I learned a few things. First, I learned my knees and right shoulder are not as young as they used to be. My joints groaned like the hull of a wooden ship in a heavy storm. Ice and Advil were my best friends for a few days after our match.

Second, I learned about a huge law firm taking 90% of their employees and attorneys out of the office and allowing them to work from home permanently. 

In the recent “Ask Me Anything” exercise where I opened the floor to questions from our members, remote work was a recurring theme. If you participated in the “Ask Me Anything” exercise, you now have the 75 page report in your hands. For everyone else, the report and mentioned resources will be available later this fall, as our promotional calendar permits. You can pre-order here and secure lowest-available pricing.

We’ve allowed our administrative teams to work at home. Financial coordinators, patient and treatment coordinators work from home all the time or as much as their job duties permit. Phones and insurance work can all be done remotely. Outbound treatment coordinator duties can be done at home in addition to many of their inbound duties. We’ve found our remotes teams are actually more productive and reporting the highest job satisfaction ratings we’ve ever seen.

What Does the Research Say About Remote Work?

Dr. Tsedal Neeley is a professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School, and author of Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere. Here is some great advice from Dr. Neeley based on the business literature and research. 

Don’t Treat Your Workers Like Children.

The pandemic taught us that many of our management techniques from 2019 centered on control. When workers left the office and worked from home, bosses “worried that teams’ productivity would nosedive.” I’ve heard from more than one member at Burleson Seminars who is terrified that their remote employees are binge-watching Netflix, taking their dogs for long walks and avoiding work. 

But this is a shortsighted leap to a conclusion without any evidence. For years, we’ve assumed more hours worked means better results, but that’s not true. We’ve treated employees like they are unable to self-manage their time for their own best interests. This is infantilizing and goes against the research, which shows employees actually thrive when given autonomy over their work.

Your employees want to do a great job. Many of them need more control over their work day and can be much more productive without the commute and the ability to schedule their time and control their environment without distractions of working in the direct line (i.e., distractions) of patients and coworkers. 

Something as simple as being able to control the thermostat has been a significant source of joy for our remote teams, and that’s just scratching the surface. Employees report feeling more connected to their families and pets and report better personal and mental health during a very stressful time, knowing they have control over their day and ability to get their job done with more autonomy. 

Millions of Workers Have Tasted Freedom. They Aren’t Giving It Up Easily. 

With 10 million open positions in the United States and 40% of the workforce saying they are prepared to quit their jobs in the next 12 months, I’m not sure most employers really understand the HR tsunami that will hit every industry.

In a short NPR segment this week, the owner of a popular restaurant in Philadelphia was interviewed who made the difficult decision to shut down her business during the pandemic. A significant portion of her revenue came from catering to large businesses and a university in her restaurant’s neighborhood. Today, she freelances as a restaurant consultant, creating menus and fine-tuning recipes for large firms who have weathered the storm. She also worked with a distributor to bottle some of her most popular sauces from the now-closed restaurant and is selling them nationwide. 

She doesn’t miss cooking all the time. She’s one of millions of workers who have pivoted and asked the question “What am I willing to give up in order to pursue this career?” Don’t be surprised that a ton of workers just aren’t that interested in what most dental and orthodontic offices have to offer.

Dr. Neeley reminds us, “the fact is that most employees are more available to bring their A game to work” with less stressful commutes and more work flexibility, but in the same breath warns, “the question is whether bosses are prepared to accept this.”

A recent McKinsey & Co. survey shows only 11% of executives have a detailed plan in place and communicated with pilots started. 

Critical components to the best plans I’ve seen to-date include prevention of tech exhaustion – avoid too many meetings, set standard hours for availability like 10am-2pm but not earlier or later than this. They also acknowledge that many of the work-life boundaries we established pre-pandemic came crashing down when we could all see into each other’s lives on virtual meetings. 

Dr. Neeley summarizes the research on this quite nicely:

“The home became our office. Virtual meetings were windows into one another’s lives: the paintings and plants that decorate our homes, our kids and pets that pop into the frame, the voice of our partners in the other room.

In the middle of a global health crisis, we were compelled to be honest with one another about our fears and struggles. This vulnerability was the key to our strength and solidarity in a time of unprecedented challenges.

Social scientists refer to this vulnerability as ‘self-disclosure,’ and research has shown that when we share our thoughts and feelings, our peers find it easier to give us their trust and empathy. When we tell our co-workers that we’re worried about our parents’ health, or that we’re looking forward to our vacation, it shows that we are willing to be honest, and implies that we are accepting of others’ vulnerabilities as well.

As some of us return to the office, managers cannot make the mistake of reverting back to the old ways of distant professionalism. For one thing, many employees don’t want to go back; they liked the new openness. But in addition, working during a stressful (to say the least) pandemic has shown us just how crucial that catalyst is to team morale, especially in a remote format. Managers who relinquish vulnerability by hiding behind a shell of cold, impersonal leadership will lose out as we transition back into the office.”

Our team leaders have organized walking tours of Kansas City, coffee meet ups, community service opportunities and other ways for remote workers to come together each month with our in-office team to continue this pursuit of openness. 

Finally, Re-Think How You Evaluate Performance.

I fell into this classic trap for many years – I assumed whoever showed up first to the office and stayed late was clearly a “hard worker” and a “high performer.” 

Maybe. Maybe not. 

Working a lot of hours is not always related to performance. It might be, but it’s more important to focus on the work and measure several KPIs per employee so you get an accurate view of performance and not a biased approach, especially because managers will be tempted to reward those who they see in the office working long hours. 

Unless we’re all intentional about making remote work effective and efficient for all stakeholders, it will be very easy to slip back into bad habits.

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Worked at Burleson Orthodontics. Attended University of Missouri–Kansas City. Lives in Kansas City, Missouri.