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Harvard Talks: How Engineering Companies Enact Remote Work?

There is little doubt that remote work will be on the increase at energy, construction, manufacturing, industrial and tech organizations

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Remote Work


We all have had conversations over the last few weeks with people working from home (remote work) for the first time while sheltering from COVID-19. I’ve tried to use the opportunity to conduct an informal survey: How is it going? Do you think you’d like to change your work habits to continue working from home?

The responses I’ve been getting are fairly positive: “It’s going pretty well. In the future, I might like to alter my schedule to include at least some portion of my time working from home.”

Platforms for Engineers

Many of us have participated in meetings on Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and other meeting services. Some have engaged in telemedical appointments with doctors. Social distancing has even penetrated our television viewing:

Our favorite news and opinion shows have been little affected by social distancing. (In some cases, they’ve improved, perhaps due to the increased availability of celebrities sheltered at home. You also see what your favorite pundit has read since most seem to broadcast in front of their bookshelves.)

The experience is different from working side by side as social animals, but thanks to 5G, internet, and cloud capability that didn’t exist just a few short years ago, we’ve communicated without too much difficulty.

It all suggests that responses to the virus may hasten a trend already in process, that of more delivery of work performed remotely.

The pros and cons of working remotely have been hashed over repeatedly. Consulting organizations have found that policies permitting consultants to live anywhere have been effective ways of recruiting talent. However, while these people may live anywhere, they carry out most of their work in teams on the road. My concern is the impact on an organization’s culture that a significant increase in work from home may have, particularly where the culture is thought by management to be one of the organization’s strengths.

The Critical Mass

A case in point is Critical Mass, a 24-year-old digital experience design agency based in Calgary, Canada, with 950 employees employed in 12 offices operating around the world. CEO Dianne Wilkins says, “Our greatest threat for years to come centers on talent.”

The organization’s culture has been an important competitive advantage for the Company. As she describes it, “You’re likely to meet your new set of best friends when you join Critical Mass.” Much of the organization’s work is in teams.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Critical Mass for some months was in the process of implementing a new program for remote work called Liquid. Nearly 10 percent of its talent now works from home. The intent is to accommodate those preferring to work from home in the future.

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Sara Anhorn, Executive Vice President of Talent, commented, “People want a different way of working … people with the type of talent we need at Critical Mass live everywhere, not just near where we have different plans to open (an office).”

A basic challenge for Critical Mass is maintaining the organization’s highly valued culture. One policy intended to support that goal is to require that those working from home maintain the same schedule as those working from an office.

Remote work raises questions:

  • What effect does it have on employee loyalty?
  • What can be done to engage remote workers more fully in their work?
  • What has to be done to assure adherence to an organization’s values by everyone?
  • Do effective organization cultures and remote work mix?

Well, what do you think?


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Engr. Alicia White
Studied Industrial engineering at Went to University of New South Wales and human resources at Melbourne Business School. Ex Rio Tinto, now with BHP Billiton and GineersNow. Follow me on


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