- Businesses are considering long-term remote work plans
- Switching from temporary to long-term remote work requires large changes
- Communications will be pivotal to succeeding
Before 2020, remote work was a highly-sought-after work perk for most. But after COVID-19 lockdowns forced companies’ hands, permitting remote work—albeit temporarily at first—remote work went from luxury to necessity overnight.
In late October, Reddit announced plans to allow employees to work from home—or the office, wherever it suits them best—even after the pandemic subsides. They’re just the latest organization to sign on to the work-from-home movement, following other tech giants like Microsoft, Twitter, and Facebook, all of which made similar announcements this year.
This shift isn’t for tech giants only. Across sectors, companies of all sizes say they will permit remote work even after the pandemic. In fact, just 5% of businesses say they’ll fully return to mandatory office life post-COVID.
Permanent remote work on the horizon
It’s easy to see how the pandemic has accelerated the shift to more flexible working arrangements. Though some businesses took tentative steps in the direction of remote work prior to COVID-19, many managers had concerns about reduced productivity and slacking off.
These haven’t borne out. In fact, a majority of workers say they’ve been equally or more productive working from home these last few months than they were in the office full time. Once the pandemic abates, allowing remote work could also help to improve levels of employee happiness and satisfaction and save companies money to boot.
But while the rapid work-from-home shift of 2020 stemmed from immediate necessity—and required businesses to transform into remote workplaces with little or no preparation—making remote work a permanent option will require more forethought.
Enabling sustainable, long-term remote working arrangements isn’t as simple as telling employees to just stay home. Instead, businesses will need to think about how they can best support workers and optimize things like productivity and collaboration in ways that will continue to make sense and drive benefits for employers and employees alike.
If your business is considering adopting remote work, here are three important questions to consider.
1. Do remote employees feel supported?
Though productivity has remained high through the pandemic, other metrics related to employee well-being and satisfaction have dipped. Workers say they’re working longer hours than they were in the office and are reporting a significant increase in burnout and mental health issues. Homebound employees also report that their ability to collaborate with others, to coach, mentor, or manage employees, and to know what’s happening within their companies is lagging. Other workers have reported that difficulties balancing other obligations, such as childcare, can make it difficult to get work done.
Unaddressed, these issues could lead to greater feelings of isolation and stress, reduced engagement, and even erase some of the productivity gains seen to date. For remote work to be successful, companies must proactively address these shortfalls, thinking about how to support remote employees—both professionally and personally.
2. Do workers have the right tools?
Successful remote working arrangements require different tools than physical office buildings. Even while apart, remote workers must be able to have both formal and informal conversations, access shared information, collaborate on documents, and perform all other aspects of their jobs as seamlessly as they could when everyone worked in one place.
Many organizations, however, haven’t yet implemented the full suite of tools remote employees need. In one survey, nearly half of respondents said they don’t have access to all of the infrastructure, hardware, data, and platforms they need to be productive at home.
Failing to implement the right tools can also have security implications, as employees are forced to come up with ad hoc ways to communicate and collaborate. If remote work is on the permanent roadmap, businesses must re-evaluate the tools people use every day (as well as new ones that may be required to get work done virtually) and make sure they fully meet the needs of a remote workforce.
At the minimum, leaders should look at solutions for team messaging, video conferencing, and virtual calling. Even better if the solutions came in a single platform such as unified communications, where switching between messaging and video calling is only a click away.
3. How will I determine if remote work was a success?
Establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) and success metrics at the outset is an important part of any business strategy—and remote work is no exception. That’s because defining a performance measurement plan in advance provides a systematic way to objectively determine what’s working and what isn’t. Such a plan includes determining both what to measure and how to measure it.
What metrics should a business use to measure remote work success? Some will be common across teams and organizations, while other KPIs will be unique depending on job function. Some may also be indicators you’re already tracking. For example, many sales teams likely have quotas and metrics in place to monitor the success of conversion efforts and other tactics. These can also be used as indicators of productivity.
In addition to looking at performance, businesses should also consider how to evaluate the impact of remote work on workers. One-on-ones with managers and company-wide surveys can be useful tools for monitoring employee attitudes and ensuring employees feel engaged and supported.
Preparing for the future of work
Remote work isn’t so much transporting where work gets done as it is a holistic re-envisioning of work itself. This requires careful planning, including new tools, new processes, and other new considerations to best meet employee needs.
Communications—and the systems that enable communications—are central to this redefinition of work. Without a physical office to connect employees every day, communications platforms must fill the function of virtual workplaces, providing the same seamless, secure connection and collaboration that used to happen automatically in person.
It’s a steep mandate—but with tools like unified communications, organizations can equip remote workers with the foundation they need to find success.
Originally published Nov 06, 2020