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Remote work: Preparing your team for the future norm

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This guide outlines the future of remote work, and what staff and employers are looking for in new arrangements. One of the great changes in society’s lifestyle that has come and will remain for the future in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic has been remote work — teleworking – the popular home office.

Advances in technologies that allow workers to be punctual and productive wherever they are were already a reality before the pandemic. The changes in behavior required by social isolation only accelerated the realization of a trend in the day-to-day activities of companies and their employees: remote work. Whether it’s the surprise with the increase in productivity, the economy or the practicality, the fact is that many organizations are already preparing to implement this model as of 2021. Infobase’s 2020 Marketing and Technology Trends: Humanity Redefined and New Businesses study and Institute For Technology, Entrepreneurship and Culture, predicts 30% growth in the home office model after quarantine.

For a minority, working remotely pre-coronavirus was the norm: working from home, a trendy co-working space, a local library, or even in a favourite coffee shop. The enforced shift of working patterns since the implementation of social distancing and lockdowns around the world won’t have been too severe for these nomad workers. However, for the majority used to commuting to and working in bustling office environments, the changes of the last few months have been nothing short of seismic.

Organisations have had to adapt like never before. Some will have managed the transition smoothly whilst others will still be getting to grips with changes in communications and the lack of co-working rituals that make a company a culture. There is opportunity in adversity and those who focus on the positive and adapt with open minds will be the ones to thrive in the post-covid landscape. This article sets out some simple ways for building strong foundations for the future of remote work.

Desire for remote work arrangements

However, will the home office gain traction as the pandemic subsides with mass vaccination? According to a survey by Technology Review, one of the world’s leading technology and business publications, the future will be hybrid. The study interviewed 1,400 professionals electronically and anonymously to identify the future path of remote work.

The publication also gathered evidence from other institutions such as KPMG and the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

According to the researech, 93.5% of people want to have at least one remote work day a week. The rest of the sample (6.5%) said they no longer wanted to work from home. With regard to age group, the survey shows a break with the preconceived idea that remote work is fashionable among young people.

Almost half (48%) of respondents between 35 and 44 years said they no longer want to return to the office. For younger people, the percentage is much lower, being only 8% among those under 24 years of age. Among respondents aged between 25 and 34, 12% said they no longer wanted the face-to-face model.

However, one expectation was confirmed by respondents: everyone believes that, when the pandemic ends, companies will adopt a hybrid model, alternating days at the office and remote work at home. Therefore, for MIT Technology Review, the “ideal model of hybrid work would be a day or two at home and the rest of the week at the office”.

Companies seem to be aligned with their employees regarding the teleworking regime. Data presented by MIT Technology Review shows that 80% of companies must have some post-pandemic home office scheme. The publication also cites a study by the consulting firm Cushman & Wakefield with 122 executives from multinationals.

According to the consultancy, 73.8% of companies intend to establish the remote work home office as a definitive practice after the pandemic.

Advantages and disadvantages of remote work

Even with the apparent good acceptance of employees and companies, the remote work home office, as well as the face-to-face model, has its pros and cons.

Among the advantages, the MIT Technology Review lists improvements in productivity, more focused meetings and cost reduction, both for companies (rent, electricity, etc.) and for the worker (food). The increase in the quality of life is also pointed out as a positive highlight, with more free time for the employee – without commuting – and with the family.

On the other hand, the study highlighted the loss of infrastructure as a disadvantage of the home office. Apart from the structural problem, damage to interpersonal relationships is also negatively listed, such as lack of contact with colleagues, less participation by some people in meetings, difficulty in aligning and even loss of concentration due to household chores.

Back to basics

With the huge financial impact of the pandemic, many organisations have had to drastically restructure in their attempts to survive. Whilst governments have stepped in to varying degrees around the world, there are few who won’t need to make some serious changes going forward if they haven’t already. For most, this means standing back and working out what the core values and principles of their organisations are. This process will drive key decisions regarding potential redundancies and long-term strategies.

Despite the challenges and difficult questions it can pose, going back to basics should be seen as a positive step and an opportunity to redefine mission and impact for the new future ahead rather than the future we were anticipating and planning for before the world was brought to a standstill.

This process doesn’t have to – and shouldn’t – be done behind closed doors. Top-down hierarchical organisations may struggle to be open about fundamental decisions, but it is likely that those who embrace policies of transparency, or even radical transparency, will find more creative and innovative solutions.

Communication in remote work

A remote workforce made up of individuals used to being together requires careful management and clear communication. Without contact and guidance, teams can become dislocated and disengaged from the crucial work at hand.

A key starting point in any digital communication strategy should be clear differentiation between the types of tools used for each form of interaction. Most organisations will be using a combination of email, instant messaging (via MS Teams, Slack etc.), video conferencing (via Zoom, MS Teams, Skype etc.) and good old fashioned audio only phone calls. Instant messaging tools are crucial as replacements for those unplanned interactions in the office; bumping into a colleague in the kitchen or in the bathroom. These impromptu mini-meetings often spark ideas or remind people of something important.

Video conferencing has become the dominant form of communication for teams but shouldn’t totally replace the phone call. Try keeping things varied to avoid the dreaded ‘zoom fatigue’ by only using video calls for meetings and other conversations that you would normally only have face-to-face. Making sure your workforce is technically equipped to use these tools is of course vital and proficiency on all software should never be assumed.

Take your virtual communications to the next level by using extras such as zoom virtual backgrounds or breakout rooms to keep your remote teams engaged and staying positive.

Planning

The spontaneity that is possible in physical meetings is a casualty of going virtual. In general, more thorough planning and meeting design will be required for virtual meetings. However, this can also be seen as a positive process and part of the ‘back to basics’ approach outlined above. Sharing round responsibilities such as chair, minute-taker, or mediator can be a great and easy way to keep everybody engaged and bring their best to the virtual table. Virtual meetings should be kept as short as possible and, if done well, can lead to increased productivity rather than slowing things down.

Looking forward

Surviving the short term is the main task for many organisations around the world. Those with the luxury of looking further ahead should be doing so with ambition and innovation and the forefront of planning strategy. It is clearly the case that open-minded and bold organisations will be the ones to survive the crisis and thrive in the future. Now is the time to be building new foundations with remote working at the heart of any sustainable business strategy.

About Susan Melony

susanm@thebusinesswomanmedia.com'

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