As the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak has become clearer, organizations from all industries, sectors and geographies are encouraging their teams to work remotely. It is no surprise to see the World Economic Forum pointing to workplace flexibility as a critical matter for employees and employers in the future. There are many reports from organizations like Gallup, Harvard University, Global Workplace Analytics and Stanford University that support the benefits of remote work or a borderless workforce. Two separate studies revealed that computer/information technology industry ranks 2nd in embracing the remote work culture and software & technology jobs constitutes for the highest number of total remote jobs (29.2%) posted over the internet.
Before we dive deeper into this, let us have a look at some of the latest remote work statistics to further strengthen the idea of what we are trying to convey:
- 40% of employees feel the greatest benefit of remote work is the flexible schedule.
- 16% of organizations exclusively hire remote workers.
- Organizations permitting remote work have 25% lower employee turnover than those that don’t.
- 76% of workers would prefer to stay with their current employer if they could work flexible hours.
- The number of people who work from home has increased by 140% since 2005.
- 4.3 million people in the USA work from home at least half the time.
Numerous organizations are encouraging virtual collaboration and meetings in lieu of face-to-face meetings and travel. This strangely unified response to the spread of COVID-19 means organizations are learning a great deal about their IT infrastructure, work culture, protocols, and more seemingly overnight.
However, we cannot deny that it is an extremely challenging time for most of us. Many managers often worry about remote employees being less productive, or multitasking or mixing personal responsibilities with office responsibilities. There are also concerns regarding decreased communication and collaboration among coworkers, along with restricting the informal learning that typically happens in the physical office.
Given our extensive experience in the staffing industry, we are helping organizations with some of these challenges. Here are 6 key strategies that you can use to influence a successful transition to a remote (or partially remote) workforce. We hope they will help in some way, shape, or form.
1. Setup Virtual Workspace
The first important requirement for effectively leveraging remote workforce or a borderless workforce is setting up a virtual workspace. There are many advanced platforms available to achieve this. One such tool is Microsoft Teams; it offers a great platform for your remote employees to communicate through calls, chats, meetings and stay highly productive. It lessens the gap between the office environment and one that employees have remotely from their home, however, one still needs to find a distraction free workspace area at home to provide the best productivity.
2. Effectively Measure Employee Productivity and Ensure Business Continuity
Collaboration is critical when working from home (WFH) or working from anywhere (WFA) and forming clear strategies to maintain it are vital for successful remote working. While working remotely, it is important that everyone has clear understanding of what is expected from and what needs to be accomplished on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. We already discussed having remote collaboration tools to have virtual meetings and establish a sense of collaboration, however, there are other steps organizations need to take to best measure employee productivity and business continuity.
• Managers are advised to observe employee performance and changes in work quality to monitor the influence of remote working environments on their productivity.
• Have open and honest conversations if significant changes are observed and try to understand reasons in an empathetic way.
• If required, offer some flexibility in work schedule to accommodate team member’s personal requirements while they are working from home.
- Many meetings involve complex subjects or knowledge transfer. Under such circumstances, remote workers might have to compensate for the lack of face time by scheduling additional meetings. These additional meetings can be avoided by recording virtual meetings (available in Teams also). The recorded meetings are very useful when you are trying to remember minute details that were covered in a meeting.
3. Ensure Employees’ Physical and Mental Well Being
There are enough studies to prove that isolation or remote work can adversely affect employees’ health and wellness. There is no denying it is good to interact with your colleagues each day and have that human connect. Here are few tips that can help both organizations and employees keep happy and less-stressed while working from a remote location.
Pro-actively set time to casually interact with team members and other colleagues. For example, scheduling a virtual coffee session as a group can help replace those “water cooler chats’ or “breakfast chat” that typically happen each day in the office.
• Employee wellness is multi-faceted and it is important to measure it from multiple angles to establish a clear picture. At the organizational level ensure employees’ physical and mental well being by conducting certain polls and surveys: –
Monitor current work-life balance and engagement through regular surveys. Watch for large fluctuations (positive or negative) in the cumulative amount of time teams are working.
o Conduct a poll on employee health and well-being. Data from such surveys can provide useful insight about any significant changes in employee health and ability to successfully perform job responsibilities. Encourage staff to talk about this and understand if they have imminent challenges they need to deal with related to the outbreak.
On an individual scale, employees working remotely should try and keep to their normal routine get ready as if they are heading to work.
• Take short breaks, hydrate and exercise (have you tried chair yoga?).
• Take time to regularly talk to your family and friends from outside the office and have virtual lunch or play online games with them.
4. Set Boundaries
When working remotely, it is very important to separate your work and personal environments as they tend to blur very easily. At a fundamental level, this means setting specific hours for work and finding a dedicated workspace. We also recommend taking more nuanced steps to separate work from your personal life. For example, set a time to switch off your office laptop and spend time with your family. Such steps are very effective in recharging you for the week ahead.
5. Allow Greater Employee Autonomy
Organizations allowing employees to work remotely should also grant employees true autonomy and flexibility, rather than trying to micromanage their remote work. Greater autonomy helps enhance employee productivity and creativity. Giving your remote team more self-rule and freedom shows you trust them. This makes them trust you in return. Employees who trust their managers are always ready to go the extra mile as they know their efforts are recognized and rewarded.
6. Provide emergency contact information
During times of crisis, it makes sense for organizations to have an emergency communication application tool for sharing information like emergency contact details, latest news corporate communication, etc. Microsoft’s Crisis Communication App proves to be a very useful tool for such purposes. Organizations can create customized company-specific content including remote working policies, emergency contacts and links to support channels. This PowerApps based application also supports RSS-based news feeds to provide real-time information from reputable sources such as WHO, CDC, or a local authority, etc.
There are many benefits of working remotely. To name a few; improved productivity, reduced turnover, greater employee autonomy, increased savings, cost-effective projects, improved health and safety and easier access to top talent worldwide. Remote work is not going anywhere any time soon, however, to get the maximum benefit and high productivity, it is important that we make this transition smooth and stress free for employees.
Even further, companies would be wise to prioritize the “remote work revolution” as a strategy to enhance their top objectives in this new era. If you ask us, hiring a remote team or a borderless workforce is a future proof investment.