The COVID-19 pandemic pushed a lot of companies into a remote work environment quickly. Many were unprepared and found the transition stressful. Getting work done remotely is different from getting work done when all of the tools and people are in the same place at the same time.
Companies have been working remotely for several weeks now and most companies are getting their processes ironed out. I’ve been hearing from employers that they are considering moving most or all of their workforce permanently to a remote environment now that they have tried it, primarily as a way to save money on rent and utilities.
Before the pandemic, approximately 16% of all companies globally operated with an entirely remote workforce. Most companies have some of their employees working remotely at least some of the time. Obviously, not all companies can operate completely remote—that’s just not the work they do. However, many can, and even for those companies which cannot, there is a potential to move some of their workforce to remote work part or all of the time.
However, remote work is not a panacea. There are challenges to getting work done effectively in a remote environment. Here are some tips as you consider your options.
- Pick the right people for remote work. Not everyone wants to work remotely, and some need the more structured environment of the workplace.
- Provide the appropriate tools. Effectively working in a remote environment requires technology. It requires reliable internet access. Companies should also provide other equipment and supplies needed, whether directly or through reimbursement of expenses.
- Provide training. Employees need training on the tools and processes they will be using, just as they do when they work in your facilities. The time and method of training are up to you, but you need to plan for it.
- Security is a special concern. Companies should have as much or more concern about cybersecurity and the security of company data and intellectual property in a remote environment. It is more difficult to have proper processes in place and to enforce those processes in a remote environment.
- Company culture is still vital. If you think it is hard to develop and to nurture the company culture you want when you are all working together in one location, it is even more of a challenge in a remote environment. Companies need to carefully plan how to develop the culture they want and be meticulous about following through.
- Move emphasis from time to results. Managers worry that if employees are not being observed, they are not getting work done. In most office environments, the average worker is only productive for just under three hours a day. So direct observation and productivity do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. Although you do need to track time to ensure nonexempt workers are being paid correctly under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the focus needs to be on results. Results Only Work Places (ROWP) are relatively new, but need to be the focus in a remote work environment.
- Managers need to develop new skills or refine the ones they have. Managing teams of remote employees is similar but different than on-site teams. We need to pay attention to developing close connections with our remote workforce to encourage engagement and high performance. Succession planning is just as important. Studies have found that remote workers are just as engaged as their on-site peers, but this may be due in part to the fact that most companies with remote workers currently only do so part-time. Regular check-ins are vital and tools to encourage and facilitate collaboration among team members are essential.
- Set boundaries. It is easy for remote workers to blur the lines between work and home. From a compliance perspective, you need to be concerned about ensuring nonexempt workers do not work unpaid. However, more importantly, everyone needs balance in their lives. Set and enforce appropriate boundaries between work and home. At the same time, recognize that personal lives inevitably intrude more in a remote environment than a traditional workplace. Expect it and embrace it. A focus on results, not time, can keep the focus where it belongs.
- Connect. Remote employees can feel isolated. Purposely plan ways for employees to connect. Regular check-ins by managers and some social activities can help cement relationships and a feeling of belonging among employees.
Some level of remote work can be beneficial for companies and their employees if properly implemented.