The average US employee has taken little more than half (54 percent) of his or her earned vacation days in the past 12 months.
29 percent of respondents reported being contacted by co-workers while on vacation; 25 percent were contacted by their boss.
I was one-man case study for every single one of these points. And my guess is, a lot of you are, too.
For more than 25 years, I worked 9 to 5 in an office. Email, cheap mobile/data plans, and willingness to let it happen pried the work window open further, adding an hour or two of work to two or three nights a week. And honestly, I expected that would be how my career played out.
With the October 2017 shuttering of my employer for the last 12 years, I joined the freelance workforce and have spent the last year getting up to speed on working outside an office and a 9-5 schedule.
Income uncertainty is not awesome; a paycheck every two weeks is a good thing. And I’m lucky that my wife’s job provides the family with medical insurance.
But there’s an exhilarating freedom of working and writing for the clients I want to, where I want to, and when I want to.
But my story isn’t unique.
Improve your employee engagement in less than two minutes
I’ve plunged into the ocean of freelancing and the new reality of the mobile employee at a key inflection point in the way work happens.
Dude, Where’s My Workforce?
In less than a decade, the composition of the workforce has experienced tectonic shifts away from a salaried workforce toiling away in a central office with all of one’s coworkers just one desk (or floor) away.
Gallup reported that 43 percent of workers did so remotely as far back as 2016 and these numbers have only continued to grow.
For employers, there are cost savings to be realized in lower facilities and equipment costs, the ability to expand and contract teams as needed, and access to specialists and skills sets that might otherwise be prohibitively expensive to keep on salary.
Just one of countless examples: Megabankco’s marketing department contracts with an experienced video producer on a full-time 3-month engagement to produce a series of corporate videos. Through weekly in-office meetings, and maybe even a hot desk, the producer has the facetime at Megabankco to get the project done.
From cost-savings standpoint, contract/freelance can be a very attractive option. The producer is an outside expense. But the department acquires the expertise to get the project done without adding to overall headcount.
And in its exhaustive study on The State of the American Workplace, Gallup reported that among remote and flex-scheduled employees, the highest rate of engagement was among employees who worked remote three to four days a week.
However, both employers and their mobile/remote/freelance/contract workforces face new challenges in making work happen efficiently. Assuming company leadership has committed to making a remote workforce work, agreeing upon a shared rhythm for the work day and work week can help overcome many of the barriers created by a scattered team or department.
Establishing and adhering to a set schedule is an obvious first step.
“When’s Webster coming in?”
“Good question. I think Wednesdays after lunch?”
No one’s happy with that arrangement. Where physical presence in the office is a requirement, having a previously agreed-upon schedule and publishing that schedule widely helps avoid the kinds of missed connections and misunderstandings that make remote work difficult.
Too, shifting the idea of what constitutes your workday can be important, especially if your team, department, or company straddles time zones.
Creating a space (or spaces) within your work area for remote and flex workers to sit while they’re in the office makes a huge difference in how connected they feel with the in-office team. Whether your office setup is open plan, cube farm, or traditional offices with doors, a day in the office is much more relaxed and enjoyable when your remotes and contractors have a workspace whose location and equipment can be depended upon.
If you haven’t already done so, expand your communication tool horizons.
“I’m more of a ‘phone/email/Slack/face-to-face guy’”
Strike this thought. Never say it again. If you want to collect the flexibility and productivity dividends created by remote work, you must embrace the tools that make it possible. And you must suss out what works best for whom.
Video conferencing, IM, enterprise-level collaboration through Slack, Teams, or Atlassian can be added to your morning status meetings and all-hands to close the distance between you and your ex-officio team. And the more robust project management and planning systems typically include integrations with these communications platforms. Properly implemented (which means some amount of onboarding), these integrated platforms to make sharing and discussion of projects, workloads, TPS reports, etc. frictionless.
Don’t forget online hours and establishing service commitments to each other. Agreeing upon (then sticking to) how quickly you’ll respond to contact on a given channel is a must if your far-flung group is going to work together smoothly. “Sorry, I wasn’t checking X channel” is a sure way to dial up the cranky and choke down on productivity.
No one formula for how soon an email, chat or phone call returned works for every team. Evaluate your work cadence and come to an agreement as a group on how soon one can reasonably expect responses. The more time zones and remote workers you work with, the more important this become.
What this means in real life is that everyone’s going to need to give a little in the ways they communicate. The Boomer boss is going to loosen up and embrace chat. The Gen Z coder is going to need to answer the phone call instead of letting it roll to voice mail. Everyone’s trying to do good work. So we owe each other some flexibility in how we get that work done.
Whether you’re a freelancer working from the armchair in the living room of your worldwide headquarters, or a full-timer with four ten-hour days on and one day off, the nine-to-five, butts-in-seats, retire-with-a-gold-watch era of work is drawing to a close.
In its place, a more flexible (if somewhat less secure) workforce is emerging. Successful companies and employees will embrace the change. In doing, we may actually increase engagement and productivity along the way.
About the Author
Web Webster is a writer and extremely mobile member of the modern workforce. He writes for TechnologyAdvice.com, covering technology, marketing, education, and healthcare for companies across the US.