It wasn’t so long ago where working remotely was an allowance for the normal business environment. If you worked remote you were most likely “given permission” due to unfortunate circumstances such as your job function, a family situation or out of medical necessity.
This concept of “given permission to work remotely” looks so strange to us now that we have navigated through a pandemic. The pandemic forced us to learn how to work remotely out of the need to keep companies and jobs viable.
Global disruptions, shifting marketplaces, and other unexpected situations have created a need for flexibility and new ways of working. The ways in which we work has changed drastically. Quickly adapting to a fully remote workforce is one of those critical transformations needed to survive abrupt changes we have seen with the pandemic. Remote work offers untapped possibilities to ensure businesses operate without interruptions.
Remote work enables agility and creates competitive advantage. By implementing the methods, policies, and technologies required for remote work, companies are prepared to pivot and adapt as needed to global situations or are poised to respond to new opportunities as they arise.
Although remote work has been steadily gaining traction for the past decade, it’s not surprising that in a recent Gartner Group study, 74 percent of CFOs said they plan to make remote work, a permanent part of their workforce- and cost-management plans.
We learned almost overnight that building a remote work strategy may be good for the company’s bottom line. It can save costs such as absenteeism, infrastructure, office leases, travel expenses, and turning on the lights. While this is good news for the bottom line, organizations need to look beyond the bottom line and see the reality of a remote workforce.
Creating a culture for all employees to thrive is key to a successful remote workforce. Employees appreciate flexibility, and enabling remote work is one of the best ways companies can provide it. Not only has remote work been shown to increase productivity, but it also goes a long way toward building a healthy, safe, happy, and engaged workforce.
While all this sounds positive there is the other side of the coin we must address. There are surprising challenges many remote workers face. Digital transformation and emerging technologies have brought people together across regions and time zones in ways that weren’t even imaginable a few years ago, it has also isolated us and underscored the need for social connections.
We are social beings. Our need for social interaction and connection is intrinsic. A study by Alex Pentland coined the phrase “the water cooler effect”. This found that informal conversations around office hallways and the watercooler was critical in forming social bonds, innovation, and aligning business goals. The study found that the cohesion among colleagues is critical factors for increased productivity and job satisfaction.
Although employees like working remotely it can produce a sense of missing out, isolation, and a perceived lack of information. When employees work remotely or from home they can fear being perceived as absent or inaccessible. Most people working remotely experience having a hard time turning work “off” at the end of the day, especially if they work with teams across different time zones. Remember, longer hours don’t always equate to greater output.
The latest Quartz survey shows 67% of employees believe being “always on” has a significant negative impact on their health and wellness. The same survey revealed that 81% of employees believe being “always on” has a significant negative impact on their health and wellness. Also, 40% of the day is spent switching between apps and actual work, and it’s killing productivity.
Remote employees often work extended workdays. In a recent poll, 77% of respondents said they work the same hours or more when working from home. But always being on can quickly lead to employee burnout—and studies show that extra hours don’t improve the amount of work being produced.
In fact, productivity quickly drops after 50 hours a week. That’s according to analysis by Stanford economist John Pencavel.
The good news is that there are a few simple things you can do to minimize those challenges — and many of these are a benefit to all employees, not just those working remotely.
- Communicate Often- a little extra communication will ensure all employees know what’s happening in the company and where to find important resources.
- Lead with Trust and Transparency- Be clear about expectations for remote employees and then back those up.
- Give employees flexibility- When employees have flexibility, they’re able to adjust their schedules somewhat to accommodate other life priorities—without having to sacrifice work quality. This helps fosters gratitude in employees, which drives loyalty and retention
- It doesn’t have to be all or nothing- Remote work doesn’t have to mean employees are never in the office. A lot of companies now offer some flex days and have all employees come into the office on specific days of the week to get face time.
- Encourage physical wellness– Physical wellness helps improve stress, decreases isolation and burnout, and keeps employees feeling good.
- Support digital wellness- Apps that streamline controls, automate administrative tasks, and enhance mobility go a long way toward boosting productivity.
- Prioritize the right tools and tech– That means integrated and consolidated solutions that give remote employees the same access to tools, people, and data as those in the office.
- Value what your employees value– Corporate responsibility is more important than ever. That’s because today’s employees want to work for companies with values that align with their own.
In the end, the initial lesson has taught us that through cloud services, collaboration apps, remote technical support, and the willingness to allow flexible work schedules, we can work remotely and thrive. Business owners quickly learned not to concentrate on how many hours employees work at home and began considering how productive the employee is.
The real lesson is that while we can work alone in separate virtual pods, human beings are not meant to be alone. Social interaction with others is essential for us to thrive in the workplace. I’m certain as we navigate through what everyone is calling the “New Normal”, we will definitely find a “New Balance” when it comes to our hybrid work environment.