Navigating Remote Work for the Next Normal

02/15/2021

Tammy Browning

President, KellyOCG

We’ve thrown open the door for remote working for millions of people around the world; is it possible to shut it again?

54% of workers want to continue working from home when coronavirus subsides, according to a report from Pew Research Center. The pandemic has seen many workers experience a fundamental shift in what it means to go to work. No more running out of the house early or battling frustrating commutes, no more cubicles or water cooler moments. It’s even shaping where and how people live, with many choosing to move from densely packed cities or industry hubs to rural or suburban areas. This workforce transformation hit fast and it hit hard, but as the world eyes a post-pandemic future, where do we go from here?

Some organizations are telling us that they expect to see people come back to physical workplaces in huge numbers after a vaccine is distributed – according to a survey by PwC, 68% of executives believe that employees should be in the office at least 3 days every week to maintain a distinct company culture. This represents a disconnect in workforce wants and needs and the expectations of businesses, and it’s one that needs to be resolved.

I don’t believe that it’s possible to turn back the clock on remote work. Instead of asking, ‘How soon can we get people back into workplaces?’ perhaps we should be asking, ‘How can we build ways of working that work for everyone?’ Remote working is a big part of our next normal and we need to find new ways to embrace it that support both organizations and individuals.

The Remote Work Cycle

We have seen remote work move up and down in popularity over the last decade, as companies have balanced concerns about productivity with growing access to remote technology. Understandably, some feel we are experiencing just another trend in this ongoing cycle, but the pandemic didn’t so much accelerate remote working trends as turbocharge them. When remote working stopped being a choice and became a necessity, we crossed a line that we can’t step back over.

Failure to recognize and act on this most recent shift could not only see employee engagement drop, but could also severely limit access to great talent across both the permanent and contingent workforce. Our interconnectedness and growing ability to work from anywhere strips away geographical boundaries to skills and creates a deeper talent pool.

The Productivity Question

I often get asked by clients, ‘How can I make sure that I get full productivity from my remote workforce?’ It seems to be at the heart of nearly every remote working concern and it can be tough to answer. Yes, you could install all kinds of invasive monitoring software, but that can have an equally detrimental effect on morale. The truth is that many employers have seen positive productivity results linked to home working. The recent PwC survey on remote working found that 52% of leaders believe that average employee productivity is on the rise after a prolonged work-from-home period. This is compared to 44% who shared this view back in June.

In the end, it comes down to providing a level of flexibility that enables workers to do their job well from home and understanding that needs may shift from person to person. This flexible support could be anything from easy access to a printer or the latest version of the software they rely on, to more personal needs like a daily schedule that fits around school times or care responsibilities. The PwC survey found the biggest disconnect between employers and employees comes down to childcare productivity challenges. 81% of executives say their company has successfully extended benefits for childcare, while just 45% of employees agree.

Empowering Effective Remote Work

If you have a remote or partially remote workforce, it’s important to think about how you can empower people to not only do their job well but to engage with work and the wider workforce community in a meaningful way. This starts with your employee value proposition and understanding that benefits and values may look different for people who are working from home. Creating opportunities to socialize is also a consideration for remote workforces, and regular use of video calls can help to fuel connections and reduce feelings of isolation. Burnout is another key concern as the boundaries of work and home blur. Creating strong guidance and empowering leaders to model positive behaviors around answering after hours emails and working excess hours can help set the tone and prevent work from creeping into downtime.

The Next Normal

Ultimately, it’s about using the incredible technology and resources we have at our fingertips to enable flexible ways of connecting with work that make sense for the role and for the person. Right now, many of us have more choice than ever before over the way we go to work, and that’s a great thing. If you’d like to talk about empowering your remote workforce or engaging talent remotely, I’m always happy to connect. Drop me a line to talk talent or share your thoughts on remote working and the next normal.

 

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