From productivity to job satisfaction, remote working has brought several benefits to businesses and employees in the last year.
And both seem to be enjoying it.
But while remote working has become increasingly important, and will likely be a “fixed” feature in the future, it brings with it new challenges.
As businesses prepare for remote or hybrid working models, what are the key challenges they’ll need to overcome?
While working from home can remove the stresses of commuting to and from work, it can lead to employees feeling isolated.
One poll found that 20% of employees cited loneliness as a drawback of remote working. That’s a fifth of the workforce saying they feel cut off from colleagues.
With this in mind, businesses need technology and procedures in place to ensure employees continue to feel like part of a team.
Simple things like regular video catch-ups, either one-to-one or company-wide, have been proven to help reduce feelings of isolation.
Similarly, communication tools, such as Microsoft Teams and Slack, can also help employees stay connected. They also provide a less formal way of speaking to colleagues in comparison to meetings or emails.
And rather than building separate communication channels in isolation, all of the above can be achieved using unified communications — every aspect of communication is built into a single system.
With unified communications, employees can simply pick and choose the best form of communication of the task at hand from a dashboard — whether they want to catch-up with colleagues on a quick call or run a company-wide video conference.
During periods of disruption, an employee’s need to be recognised for their contribution increases by about 30% according to a study by Gartner.
This is particularly true for employees working remotely as their managers can’t physically see when they’re working or what they’re working on.
This could lead to employees feeling their career progression might be hampered in the future if managers or leaders aren’t getting visibility over what they’re doing.
Businesses need to address this ‘out of sight out of mind’ perception that employees fear. Especially with the younger members of the workforce who are just getting started in their career.
For positive outcomes, the management team must be encouraged to retain regular contact with their teams, carry out routine performance reviews, and continue to set specific targets and goals for people to work towards.
Work-life balance is one of the most treasured benefits employees value in their career.
So dealing with a new work-life dynamic as a result of the pandemic is a tough balancing act — particularly for those who aren’t used to working from home, feel they need to “prove” they are working, or become concerned about presenteeism.
This largely comes down to culture.
Ultimately, we need to change the workplace to review the progress of projects, rather than timesheet focused analysis.
If projects are falling behind, then taking time to help employees manage their workload or understand why they’re struggling, rather than simply interrogating how they’re spending their time.
While studies show remote workers can be more productive, they are also subject to more distractions.
In a study by Statista, more than half of US employees said using smartphones during work hours was the biggest source of distraction. And this isn’t limited to just those working remotely.
For remote teams, businesses can restrict the use of apps downloaded on work phones to reduce the potential risk of distraction.
To help maintain productivity, there are several productivity tools available that can be used across teams. Even something as simple as using G Suite applications (so employees can work simultaneously on projects from anywhere) can improve efficiency.
Also, by making employees more accountable to each other — and using project management tools to see who is working on what — you can reduce the risks of employees falling behind from distractions. The other benefit of this is that employees can work closely together, retaining that feeling of teamwork they had when working in the office.
Outside of technology, working with employees to develop more productive work methods at home is going to be essential. Businesses might also consider investing for employees to set up a home office space where they can work away from distractions.
Even more so as many businesses plan to make remote working a permanent fixture in the future.
Moving to remote working provides businesses with an opportunity to re-evaluate their approach to training and development.
Rather than focusing on general group training, they can start to tailor programs to individuals based on their needs or skill gaps.
Or they can start to provide ad-hoc training platforms and self-service training for employees looking to improve their skills.
One interesting finding from employees’ time working remotely, is that 45% of people who say they have completed training outside their normal working hours while remote, did so because they enjoyed it.
Poor communication is often cited as one of the biggest challenges of dealing with remote working.
It’s not surprising given that many businesses and employees are taking on the challenge for the first time.
It’s also challenging for businesses with limited communication options.
When it comes to communication for expanding remote teams “over-communicating” is better.
Setting regular meetings with staff to inform them of company policies, activities and changes are more important than ever.
As is encouraging regular team catch-ups and video conferences so colleagues still feel they’re connected to work, in the loop with what’s going on, and working in a culture where people look after each other.
Again, digital tools can help improve collaboration and increase communication among remote teams.
Employees won’t run the risk of feeling like they’re working individually and will maintain the sense of communications and teamwork that can be such a challenge in a remote environment.
Many businesses have invested significant time and money in defining and promoting their company culture.
According to McKinsey, companies that find the right balance between how they perform and how they’re run by management to benefit employees outperform competitive threefold.
Having a strong culture has many benefits for a business. It fosters better relationships and improves employee retention.
Employees who identify with their company’s values are more likely to be happy and productive.
Part of this culture change could be how the company expects employees to use technology to collaborate and communicate with each other. For example, getting remote workers to join video calls at the start of the week to catch-up and set priorities, rather than simply relying on voice or text communication.
With so many changes in the way we work, now is an ideal time for companies to revisit their culture to make sure it’s still relevant and reaffirm what it is they stand for in a remote world.
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