Published in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on October 9, 2018.
Today’s topic on the Ante-Millennial is remote work. It is just one of the many aspects of workplace expectations that fuels contention between generations. I could dive down the rabbit hole of office tensions and address everything from dress codes and decorum to coffee breaks, coffee brands and social media time, and maybe I will sometime, but for now I’ll focus on the topic that holds the greatest relevance to life in this valley.
The idea of remote work is a highly contentious issue, and everyone has an opinion about it.
I’ll start with the millennials today.
First of all, if you were hired with the expectation that you would work in the office daily, you need to show up in the office daily. People have done it every day of their adult life and survived. And when you do, it might help if you don’t begin with a minute by minute emotional retelling of your morning commute. Oversharing is not exclusively a millennial trait, but just remember that sometimes it’s OK if your co-workers aren’t your best friends.
Next, if you are going to pursue the opportunity to work from an undisclosed location, aka your favorite coffee shop, please, please get better at phone conversations. And stop being afraid of voicemails. Just because someone left you a voicemail does not mean you’re getting fired or that your pet goat got run over. Not everything can happen over text, and if you want the chance to work remotely, you better double down on your remote communication skills. Video chatting is great, but not always reliable in our rugged land of slow connections.
Most of you are pretty good at hearing and applying feedback, but that is such a necessary part of successful telecommuting, that you should seek out that input regularly instead of waiting for it to be thrust upon you.
Next up, boomers …
You spent your entire life complaining about meetings and wasted time in the office. The movies and comic strips of the last 30 years have highlighted again and again the farce of forcing people to sit down together in a room and work together. Yet now, some of you are completely resistant to a younger group of professionals meeting their work requirements from anywhere besides the physical building with the sign on it. If they aren’t in the office, you assume they are missing out on all that valuable collaboration time that you found so productive in your younger years.
Why the resistance? Might they be on Facebook? Yes, they probably are, but they’d be there in the office, too. Most professionals younger than 35 are quite good at multitasking, and they know how to leverage technology and media to accomplish the same task faster. I think it might come more from a place of resentment because you didn’t have the opportunity to avoid constant exposure to fluorescent lighting and bad coffee at the same point in your career.
To embrace the idea of remote work means to understand that the outcome is more important than the path to achieving it. If an employer can clearly state the expectations and requirements for that outcome, then it should no longer matter how a person gets it done. In our world of diverse and productive technology, the end must be valued far above the “means.” Set deadlines, strong parameters and open a line of communication in case clarification is needed.
In the end, if those benchmarks are not met, or the timeline is stretching thinner and thinner, then treat it the same way you would have in years past when the person was parked in the cubicle across the hall.
And if it works for you better to be in the office, then by all means, please continue the commute.
Bringing it home …
For our valley, once again, the solution involves compromising. Remote work is not possible for many positions, but when it is possible, employers in the Roaring Fork Valley need to be ready to embrace that change. For mountain communities like ours that already struggle against high cost of living, sometimes perilous work commutes, increasing traffic concerns, and a lack of affordable real estate, this paradigm shift is imperative. We need to find ways to encourage qualified professionals to stay and work here. Any way a business can make a position more attractive without spending more money should be taken very seriously.
Small business owners know the brutal cost of hiring, training, then re-hiring for the same position every two years when the next person realizes they can’t actually afford life here. That takes a terrible toll on an already fragile bottom line. So making a position attractive through perks does not necessarily mean compromising anything about the quality of work.
Let younger generations bring their strengths and fluency in technologies. Create very clear end goals, project parameters, etc. and establish a clear and open channel for questions and communications.
If the trust is broken, identify that failure through the outcome, not the method. Just because someone submits a time card where 50 percent or more were remote hours does not mean that time was wasted. Research shows that taking frequent breaks, a change of scenery, exercise, etc, creates much more efficient and effectively working minds. There is no point to forcing the occasional time-wasting distractions (which inevitably happen regardless of location) to occur within the walls of the office.
If you are a determined micro-manager, or there is a high-stakes task to accomplish, then there are so many ways to identify progress on a project. Time logging apps, communication apps, Google doc revisions, and the list goes on. But why crowd the roads, burn fossil fuels and continue to pay rent on a larger space?
Again, this particular divide between generations is one which can and should be bridged whenever possible.