Unlocking Human Potential Through Remote Working
When I founded ChapmanCG, remote working was the lifestyle I wanted. The idea came about while I was in Antarctica in 2006. Those I’ve known for a long time will remember my ultra-marathons. I did the windiest (Atacama), driest (Gobi), hottest (Sahara), and coldest (Antarctica) in a combined 1000kms of running races over 18 months from 2004 to 2006. During the last one in Antarctica, the CEO of the company I was working for at the time gave me a Blackberry device. After my race, as I sent emails atop an iceberg and surrounded by penguins, at the bottom of the world, I realised one day the world would run by remote devices. Why be in an office? ChapmanCG and this working style of working was my visualisation to reality when it began in 2008.
Truth be told, I just wanted to focus, and my idea of this was to focus on achieving outcomes independent of where I physically was. In 2008, remote was an uncommon concept, and the trick was to focus on not just exceptional quality delivery but also deep connections of relationships. The flow of service would be seamless and high quality, whether one was working from an office or from a remote corner of the world. “Search” was a traditional industry, so taking a completely different “remote” approach seemed counter-intuitive.
We didn’t necessarily keep it quiet to the market, this way of working, but it only came up when it needed to. As ChapmanCG grew and our footprint and team expanded, we spread out across the globe, with our remote structure. It became a definite business enabler of productivity and focus. Our employees connected smartly via technology. While our technology platforms were not cutting edge, they were the best we could manage, and we always innovated in a practical way.
We grew our global event platform, with regular functions across the world hosted by clients, and this gave our employees the excuse to travel and meet HR friends in the locations of the networking sessions. Deep HR leader relationships and connections were established with physical presence, which then made it easier to take these virtual.
Fast forward to 2021, many of us as leaders, employees, teams, and companies, find ourselves in the situation ChapmanCG was founded on a decade earlier, which is the interplay of virtual, hybrid and sometimes physical. As I’ve watched on with interest on the transition of mindsets, I want to advance the following learnings and points of interest. These are my personal views:
- Creating a complete virtual or remote company or team from scratch is easier than having to go physical-to-virtual or physical-to-hybrid. Why? A virtual company has no physical base. A physical company is always pulling back to a physical base for decisions or ultimate “presence”. The trick is in hybrid or virtual, to not create the need to “be in the office” and live this from the top if you are serious about it. Decisions need to be made anywhere. We just focus on outcomes.
- The same applies to management centralisation. In a virtual company, decision making among leaders almost happens in “the one dimension” where location is irrelevant. Naturally, at the other end of the spectrum, in a company that mandates physical presence, leadership and decisions will congregate on a certain location or headquarters, unless we truly get beyond congregating energy in epicentres.
- Time zones, while complicating when calls or meetings can happen, prevent an opportunity to make decisions in a 24/7 fashion. My personal preference has been more on-demand meetings where attendance is not necessary; but agendas, pre-meeting preparation, meeting notes, and collective input post-meeting mean the birth of an even more advanced concept of better well-being by not putting ourselves out at odd hours, whether we are physical or virtual. This is an exciting science of the future if we maintain discipline.
- The more we trust, and can measure outcomes and define jobs clearly, and of course the performance of individuals, the better we can let the brakes off and treat people like humans who do their best work and then balance this with their best lives. I believe what’s often missing from the workplace is the deep appreciation of what we need as humans to perform our tasks. I’ll give an abstract example: when I’m at my farm, natural light is important. Rarely do I miss the sunrise or sunset for a conference call in a dark room. The daily ritual of the sun creates a pattern such that even in a pristine environment, I am mindful of doing my best work. It makes me shudder at the thought of missing these natural moments through being in a dark cubicle.
- Communication has always been key in keeping ChapmanCG’s globally dispersed virtual team connected. This isn’t just about appropriate groups or discussion boards for messaging. It’s about employees understanding how they access what is relevant to them and how they share information. My belief is once you become comfortable with this, communication becomes “in the pocket” via technology. One of my favourite settings is you are “always connected”. Rather than have negative connotations, we realise there is a huge liberation in knowing how to connect with others in an enhanced way that is not sitting beside them at a desk.
As we look to the future, we are only going more remote. The more energy we put into this science by understanding the positive implications of not needing to exist traditionally, the more potential we unlock. As many of us have found, initially the non-physical way of working has been complicated, but more and more I find mindsets thriving on this way of existing. And if I still find myself learning after 13 years of this mode of working, it sets a clear precedent. We will never have the answers. It’s all about constant adaption. I’ll finish with my focus as it stands right now on how to work effectively remotely.
- Tech overwhelm is a real thing. Define your focus clearly and get to “deep work” (a total concentration state) for as much of your day/week as possible, versus [GT1] reactive commitments. This is key for productivity and why need to switch things off
- Push back on expectations for calls/meetings that are odd hours if this creates an unsustainable pattern around your energy. Its why I favour “on demand” situations in global calls. However, this comes with discipline around attendance and contribution.
- Moving between spaces, even if just rooms in the house, changes up the energy. Don’t sit for too long. I find myself doing more stretching and postural exercises, even for 5 minutes, to keep clearheaded.
- Double down on effective communication to keep ultra-connected to your key stakeholders. Once baseline is established on feeling you are on the same page, things are easier.
- Don’t be over-reliant on video. I find myself still on the old-fashioned phone sometimes and not a slave to everything being done on Zoom. Get sharp at knowing what communication tool to use and when.
When I think back to being in Antarctica in 2006 and having the realisation of where we may go on deep work, I have other exciting visions in 2021 of where we will be in 2036. This positivity of how we will continue to transform around the effectiveness of how companies and teams will be designed, all unites around productivity and meaning. The best companies of the future will nail this. I’m excited by what lies ahead.
Matt Chapman is founder of ChapmanCG and co-creator of Thrive HR Exchange, where global HR professionals and people leaders come together to co-create the future of work. Through global connections that foster the exchange of knowledge and fuel innovation, members find compassionate support, meaningful connections and diverse best-practice sharing. Thrive HR Exchange empowers the people leaders of today and tomorrow to become agents of change within their industries.