April 16th, 2021 | Sterling

Part 2: Liam Martin Answers Q&A’s About Tech Companies and Quarantine

Part 2 of our Q&A with Liam Martin, Co-founder of the Time Doctor and Staff.com, one of the most popular time tracking and productivity software platforms in use by top brands today. Liam empowers workers to work wherever they want, whenever they want.

In our last Q&A with Liam, we discussed the benefits of working remote, the importance of managing employee productivity, and the role of background checks for remote workers.

In our newest feature, we asked Liam about current remote work trends, communication tools, and the future state of the virtual workplace.

Q. What trends are you seeing as people move into remote work and how are you feeling about what you are seeing in the market?

A. I’ve been working remotely for the past 15 years and am currently running the software company, Time Doctor, a time tracking tool for all teams. We’ve been remote for almost 10 years and I have never seen this much growth in remote work. It is quite literally unprecedented.

I think we’ve seen the largest shift in labor since the Industrial Revolution that’s happened one year to the month last year. Pre-pandemic, 4.5% of the US workforce was working remotely. We’re now floating at approximately 45% of the US workforce working remotely. This has massive implications for real estate, productivity, even work-life balance. Everything has completely changed.

I see the positive aspects of remote work and how it’s going to completely change society. I think we’re going to have a lot more time with our families. We’re going to be able to, have a much better work-life balance than we had before and will be a lot less stressed out in in our jobs.

Q. Most people thought we would be back in offices by 2021. What are you hearing about how people are feeling about working from home at this point?

A. Depending on the study, approximately 70% to 85% of criminal background checks say they would like to continue working remotely at least some of the time.

Right now, there are three major choices. Stay completely remote, which is a company like ours. We’ve been completely remote since the company was founded and have criminal background checks in 43 different countries. The second option is to go completely back to the office, meaning once this is all over, everyone will go back to doing exactly what they were doing before. Lastly, there’s the hybrid model, which is the in-between. Part in the office and part remote.

On the employer side, they are questioning the value of bringing employees back into the office when 30% of their PNL is just in office space. They can cut those costs, and since we tested this assumption, we now know that employees are effectively as productive at home as they were in the office pre-pandemic. I think we are probably going to see 50% of the people that recently went remote to stay completely remote, about 40% of those people will be going hybrid, and 10% will be going back into the office.

Q. You mentioned the hybrid model. With this model, you lose the cost savings from a corporate perspective but can still gain some of the efficiencies of bringing people together. Can you elaborate on this?

A. I think 2021 will be the year of hybrid just as 2020 was the year of remote work.

I’m going to give you my personal bias on the hybrid model –  employers and employees lose. You get some of the advantages of being fully remote, but you are not taking on the full advantage of a remote working relationship. Generally, the desire for in-person collaboration is the reason why people are going to shift to a hybrid model. People think seeing each other face-to-face contributes to a much faster way of getting work done.

There’s an accepted inefficiency inside of the in-office model, where is everyone commutes into a single space every single day. You have almost a buffet model of communication and collaboration, meaning it’s an all-you-can-eat package. You can collaborate as much as you want to, because the employer has already paid for everyone to come into the office.

Remote teams have an a-la-carte model, meaning they can choose when they want to collaborate. Communication is something that remote companies seem to get really good at, because more effort has to be made to do so. Remote workers try to make collaboration as quick and efficient as possible so that everyone can return to work.

This is the major difference.

As the hybrid model evolves over the next year, we’re probably going to see the majority of those choosing the hybrid model eventually choosing either in-office or remote work. I think probably 10% to 20% of the companies that are going to go hybrid are eventually going to go fully back to an office. The majority, around 60% to 70%, will probably go completely remote, and then there will be a small middle ground that will remain hybrid into the future.

Q. Regarding collaboration, one thing that is missing in remote work is the collaboration outside of your job – often referred to as water cooler chat. Employees often feel this way of communication is missing in remote work. How do you close the gap in this unique type of communication?

A. Right now, we’re using the term “work-from-home”, but that’s not remote work.

We work from home if there’s a scary virus outside that may or may not kill us at any point. I can’t go to a restaurant. I can’t go to a co-working space. I can’t travel. I don’t have access to all the options that are classically available to remote workers.

As the vaccine rolls out, this situation is going to get significantly easier for quite a few people. I think as things open up and people have options, they might change their tune with the hybrid option of work and want to move to a fully remote model.

We also should talk about the component of accountability. Even though we are all working remotely, it’s important to be able to make sure that all team members are accountable. We need to make sure that employees area actually are putting in the time that they say they are. Remote work can be a privilege, and accountability ensures no one is taking advantage of the situation and that it’s fair for everyone.

There is a bit of a disconnect on accountability between employees and employers. 74% of employees say they feel more productive working from home, while 67% of employers believe their employees are less productive when they work from home. There is a big gap here in terms of understanding those two pieces and for both the employee and the employer to be able to work efficiently.

There needs to be some layer of accountability. At Time Doctor we are working on accountability right now, and I think as those issues start to melt away and trust increases, you’re going to see a lot more companies move to a fully remote model. Both employers and employees will then experience all of the fantastic advantages of being completely remote including cost savings, flexibility, and the potential for increased productivity.

Q. What happens to productivity when we’re not forced to work from home and more things begin opening?

A. You can work whenever you want if you put the time in.

What are your core KPIs and how can you measure against that? What’s the goal of the company? How do we break those all down into individual responsibilities that come into longitudinal metrics?

Do a weekly check in to make sure that you’re hitting your targets. Define a quarterly target. That’s what we do inside of our company – every single employee has a quarterly target and we map against it. Are you on track, off track, or you somewhere in between?

Once you’ve defined that, then actually all the details become very simple. Go to the movies, do whatever you want, as long as your KPIs are met. If this doesn’t happen, maybe we need to do a bit of a course correction. Is there an issue there that we need to address? The key is that everyone is highly focused on their KPIs. If you have more companies that put KPIs at the forefront, the actual hours that employees work become a lot less important.

As Liam stated throughout our interview, when done correctly, remote work can offer stronger collaboration, productivity, and flexibility that a hybrid or in-person model may not offer to the full extent. With remote work comes a level of trust and safety with employees, and background checks and tools like time trackers can help build that foundation for your remote workforce.

If you are interested in learning more how background checks can help your remote workforce, contact us here.

This blog post is part of a Q&A blog series, where we interview industry experts to get their insights on the latest trends, best practices, and recommendations for building great cultures and foundations of trust and safety.

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