The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented upheaval in business operations. According to estimates from Global Workplace Analytics, approximately 9.8 million Americans worked remotely in 2019. That number ballooned to roughly 70 million virtually overnight as organizations scrambled to comply with social distancing guidelines.
This experiment has proven remarkably successful. There were some initial productivity losses as employees set up their home offices and adjusted to the new arrangement. However, many organizations have found that employees are just as productive working remotely — some even more so. Organizations are now viewing remote work as a viable long-term option for most employees.
Remote work arrangements can enable organizations to save on real estate costs and give employees greater flexibility. Before committing to a large-scale work-from-home strategy, however, organizations must ensure they have the right technology, strategy and culture.
Few organizations had all the technology tools to support a work-from-home strategy. Many have had to cobble together remote access and collaboration solutions on an emergency basis. The IT pros who have implemented and supported these tools certainly deserve kudos, but many will want to put in more robust solutions.
IT teams should assess the environment to determine if all remote workers have seamless and secure access to on-premises and cloud resources. An integrated collaboration platform that provides access to video conferencing, chat, presence and other tools from one interface can help make work-from-home employees more productive.
It’s also critical to ensure that workers receive highly responsive support. IT teams will need remote monitoring and management tools to troubleshoot problems and push out security tools and updates. Partnering with a managed services provider can be a good option for organizations with limited IT resources.
Organizations that have adapted their operations on the fly will need to take a hard look at policies and procedures and make appropriate adjustments. This starts with establishing best practices for managing a remote workforce. It will also require changes to business processes and projects that rely heavily on in-office interactions.
While most employees have adapted to work-from-home arrangements, not all have. Organizations may have to adjust their hiring strategies to ensure that new recruits have the self-sufficiency, discipline and tech-savvy to work remotely. Onboarding, training and development programs will also have to be modified.
Business agility and innovation should be considered. Organizations should implement processes for encouraging ideas and facilitating product and service development.
Most organizations will also require cultural changes. Managers will need to find ways to create cohesion among teams of highly independent workers, many of whom will never have physically met one another. Video conferencing can be a valuable tool for establishing that sense of connection.
Casual, run-by conversations in the workplace happen more frequently than most people realize. In a remote work environment, managers will likely need to schedule more one-on-one and team meetings to ensure high levels of communication and collaboration. These meetings don’t have to be formal — coffee breaks and lunches can still happen virtually.
Cultural change also impacts customer relationships. Organizations may need to reshape the customer experience from sales through onboarding, service delivery and long-term nurturing of the relationship.
In a recent ESG survey, 79 percent of organizations said they expect to be more flexible with work-from-home policies after the COVID-19 crisis subsides. The right technology, strategy and culture can help ensure that this is a viable, long-term approach.