While the demise of the office may be overstated, there’s no doubt that remote work is here to stay. Even before the pandemic made it necessary for millions around the world to work from home, this shift was already well underway.
It’s not possible to simply pick up the workplace and plop it down into an employee’s living room. There are vast organizational and technological changes necessary to create an atmosphere where remote workers are happy and effective.
Let’s explore the facts surrounding this global sea change, what issues it creates and, most importantly, how organizations can take advantage of the new way business is done.
Enabling Remote Work Has Become Mission-Critical …
Long before anybody had heard of COVID-19, workers were increasingly doing their jobs from home. In the United States, the percentage of people who only worked remotely rose by nearly one-third over the past decade, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, fueled by a combination of expanded high-speed internet access and an economic shift to digital industries. While only about 6% always work from home, almost 30% of all workers had the ability to work remotely, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2019.
Then came a global pandemic that upended daily life all over the world. Suddenly, many types of work that could conceivably be done remotely would need to be done that way. In the U.S., that meant at one point, more than half of people (51%) were working remotely, and a similar percentage of UK workers (47%) were doing some work from home in the early stages of the pandemic.
In many companies, a return to normal life will mean bringing their workforce back to the office full-time. But all signs point to COVID-19 having accelerated the shift to remote work. A Gallup poll found that 35% of American workers said they’d prefer to work remotely if given the chance.
The likelihood of remote-work expansion is affected in part by the specific job and industry. A Gartner survey indicated that about eight in 10 employers planned to allow at least partial remote work after the pandemic is over — but those surveyed were in just four industries, HR, legal and compliance, finance and real estate.
… But It’s Easier Said Than Done
Realizing that they can expand the use of remote work is only the beginning of a long journey for organizations, particularly if they haven’t previously permitted employees to work from home or have limited the privilege only to a select few. Remote work presents new challenges and can deepen existing issues within companies.
For those responsible for ensuring that the expansion of remote work is a benefit to the company and its employees, that means tackling a host of potential pitfalls, including:
- Balancing a split workweek: Few organizations seem poised to shift to an entirely remote workforce, though the precise ratio of time workers can expect to spend in the office will depend largely on their industry and specifics of their jobs. In Canada, about 14% of all workers expect to spend at least half their time working remotely, but that rises to nearly 37% for information workers. Still, the most common arrangement for companies that do expand access to remote work is that employees will spend some but not all their time working remotely.
- Creating a smooth experience: Remote work is only effective if employees remain productive and satisfied. Gartner’s survey found that about 13% of business leaders weren’t sure they could provide a seamless employee experience in a hybrid future.
- Onboarding employees: Training any new hire is a costly proposition that can have ripple effects across the organization. Even in traditional office settings, ensuring recent hires are up to speed is an ongoing process that can take years. In fact, according to job-posting platform Betterteam, the average employee doesn’t reach their productivity potential until at least a year into their tenure.
- Providing effective supervision: Even for leaders who aren’t the micromanaging type, it’s not easy ensuring accountability when supervision isn’t as simple as looking across the office to see what people are up to.
- Avoiding stilted communication and enabling collaboration: It’s no secret that the easy conversation that occurs in an office setting simply isn’t possible when people aren’t in physical proximity.
- Ensuring information access: Another existing issue that can be exacerbated by remote work is the time employees spend looking for the information they need to do their jobs. If this benchmark from McKinsey is accurate, the average modern worker spends the equivalent of a full workday (20% of their time) searching internal systems for information or hunting down answers from colleagues.
- Enhancing culture and cohesion: Among the most elusive but pervasive issues in shifting to a partially or entirely remote workforce is ensuring the established corporate culture is nurtured and that employees feel how central they are to that culture. In Gartner’s survey, about one in three executives said this would be a primary concern if their companies were to shift to a partially remote work arrangement.
- Limiting turnover: Doing any number of these things wrong can spell disaster for organizations as they expand the use of remote work, and the cost of allowing turnover rates to increase could be high, indeed. Burnout, poor work-life balance, and micromanagement all are of particular concern for remote workers.
Best Practices for Enabling Remote Work
It’s easy to see the inevitable move to remote arrangements as a burden. However, individuals who find themselves responsible for adapting to these changes have a perfect opportunity to make indelible improvements for their organizations.
Here are five digital transformation tips that can help organizations ensure their expansion of remote work is fruitful.
1. Reconsider the purpose of the office
Particularly if some or all team members will spend time in the office, it’s crucial to understand exactly why you need them to be there. The organization needs to establish a clear understanding of what tasks take place in every space and why.
Your findings may mean reconfiguring the physical layout of the office to provide more communal spaces, or it may mean making sure that all-hands meetings only take place in the large conference room on days when everyone will be there.
Office hoteling apps and unassigned seating also are popular options, with as many as half of organizations considering these tools as they look to the future.
2. Take virtual connection beyond standards
Regularly scheduled events like daily check-ins on Slack or weekly one-on-ones with supervisors and their direct reports on Zoom have more or less become the price of doing remote business.
In fact, 72% of executives are planning to invest in technology to promote virtual collaboration as part of their efforts to enable remote work.
These well-worn tools can help creative companies ensure productivity, enhance collaboration, maintain corporate culture and so much more. Consider more creative ways of improving connection like setting up a Slack channel that’s just for non-work engagement or use Zoom to set up a virtual game night.
More than a quarter of workers say they feel isolated when working outside the office, and 41% don’t feel connected to their colleagues.
3. Consider digital adoption platforms
Particularly for companies that are mostly new to remote work or that are considering adding new technology to support those working from home, digital adoption platforms can help ensure mastery of tools and systems.
We already know it can take as long as two years for employees to feel as productive as possible when learning a new job, and a shift to online work can be just as difficult even for long-tenured team members.
Without nearby coworkers to rely on or supervisors to quality check what they’re doing, many workers will find themselves floundering. PwC’s 2021 remote work survey found a 16-point gap between how employees and employers rated their organizations when it came to providing training for remote workers.
4. Set new, realistic expectations
The goal shouldn’t be to duplicate the in-office experience for remote workers. Not only is that an impossible fool’s errand, but it ignores the benefits inherent in having staff work from home that may be mitigated if too much emphasis is put on “doing things how we’ve always done them.”
Most studies tell us that remote workers are more productive than their in-office counterparts. In fact, a pre-pandemic study indicated that the average office worker averages about 37 minutes of non-productive time per day outside of breaks and meals; that compares to just 27 minutes for remote workers. But organizations play a key role in ensuring they can realize that added productivity boost. Performance goals may need to change, and workloads will need to be closely monitored. New policies will need to be enacted to create structure and rules around the remote work experience.
Flexibility is key as well, as some employees may find they simply don’t like remote work as much as they thought. This is particularly true for teams with young or inexperienced workers. PwC’s survey found that 30% of inexperienced workers (0-5 years) said they’d prefer to spend no more than one day per week working from home, compared to 20% of all respondents.
Formal evaluations may need to be more frequent for all workers, as entire teams and departments are likely to be affected by this change even if they don’t all work remotely. And companies need to encourage employees, especially those who are fully remote, to disconnect and recharge, which can help prevent the burnout that tends to be more common among people working from home.
A pre-pandemic Buffer survey of fully remote workers found that about one-third worked at companies that provide unlimited vacation but most of them took only a couple of weeks.
5. Celebrate success more than punishing failure
All forms of communication become more challenging in a remote environment, even the fun ones like providing praise. Particularly in companies where the basic management of remote workers and in-office workers amounts to a full-time job, celebrating success can often take a backseat.
Gartner estimates that fully remote workers are twice as likely as their in-office counterparts to find that most of the feedback they receive is corrective, pointing out errors, rather than highlighting what they’ve done right.
Team leaders should consider more open lines of communication that provide for freewheeling conversations about what’s going well (and what’s not), and big achievements should be celebrated publicly and maybe rewarded financially.
Do you know how much time your remote workers are spending searching for crucial information to do their jobs? Or how much they try and fail to use the technology that enables their work?
Change is a challenge for any organization, but as we’ve explored, it also presents an opportunity to build on the good work you’re already doing. OnScreen can help ensure that the digital revolution doesn’t pass your organization by, providing on-screen guidance for SAP and web-based enterprise applications that’s fully customized to your systems and employees’ job tasks.
Contact us today to learn how OnScreen can help enable your organization to effectively expand remote work.