Distributed and Remote Work is Here to Stay

Organizations of all sizes are going to work remotely – what’s your strategy?

Before COVID-19 changed our world, virtual and distributed teams were in the process of becoming important work models in the tech world. Silicon Valley’s talent demand is oversubscribed, and startups need skilled people no matter where they hang their hat. Embracing distributed teams has helped the budding unicorns recruit talented people from all over the world, at a much lower cost.

Critically Assessing Office Value

COVID-19 has changed the way all of us look at remote, distributed, and virtual work. I personally love walking over to a colleague’s desk and asking what they think about a particular project, but it isn’t worth risking the health and safety of my family or my team for that little injection of socially collaborative endorphins.

We’re forced to ask ourselves, exactly what do we need an office for? When you break down what is important about co-location for work in much of the economy, there is very little that can’t be done online (at least when it comes to software- or service-based businesses).

At the New Jersey Innovation Institute, much like everywhere else, we have been transitioning to virtual work wherever and whenever possible. Workshops have become webinars. Meetings are all video conferences. We sometimes even keep a video conferencing line open so the team can jump in and socialize a bit while working.

As it turns out, you don’t need to be in the office five days a week. So why pay for office space at all? Well, there are some things we need to do in person. As much as we may try to move everything online, there are some things that can only be done in person. That’s where we and our VentureLink coworking space come in. For many organizations, co-working provides the lightweight alternative to traditional office space for hosting in-person meetings, brainstorming sessions, and providing a quiet away-from-the-kids workspace.

Designing Your Model

There are a number of non-traditional models that companies (startup or not) should consider. The difference between these models is the balance of distributed versus colocated work. I’ve seen the whole range. Some are fully remote, with only ad hoc in-person meetings. Some mandate a once-a-year in-person colocation retreat. Others give their employees a set allocation of remote days per year that they use at their leisure.

Our co-working space, VentureLink, has noted an influx of companies that had traditional workplaces, but sought to transition to smaller offices with more flexible desk options. VentureLink has per-hour conference rooms, privacy booths, and on-demand desks that can affordably supplement the distributed-work model. These are all tools that can help you make the transition simply, cheaply, and easily.

The one thing you definitely need is the remote collaboration tools necessary in a remote environment. While that definitely means the right collaboration software, it also means processes and habits that create inclusion, combat isolation, and foster innovation.

How To Do It?

COVID-19 pushed those of us that could to work remotely as possible, as quickly as possible. Necessity may be the mother of all invention, but we all got whiplash from the world changing so quickly. As with all big changes, things go more smoothly with a plan. Here are three things you should consider:

  1. Moving to a remote or distributed model must – absolutely must – be led by senior leadership. If tasks are delegated down while senior leaders stay business-as-usual, nothing will really change.
  2. There is a lot of literature on how to make the distributed model work. Everything from blog posts, to TED talks, to business school case studies. Read up and don’t just shoot from the hip. You wouldn’t make any other business decision without the right information, would you?
  3. Talk to the experts. My team runs a flexible co-working space. We can help – it’s what we do. In addition to us, there are whole consulting firms dedicated just to helping traditional office model companies go virtual.

We all hope COVID-19 passes quickly. However, when that happens, it won’t go off like a light switch. Distributed working models are here to stay. Embracing and executing it well will determine success or failure.

About the Author

Will Lutz is the General Manager for Entrepreneurship and Commercialization at NJII and Managing Director of VentureLink.  VentureLink is a startup incubator and coworking space run and managed by the New Jersey Innovation Institute at NJIT in Newark, NJ. Visit us at www.njii.com/entrepreneurship/ to learn more and get in touch with the team.