The New Normal: Remote Work Requires New Skills And Old Values
If we are going to be leaders of the future, we must be agile, resilient and intentional. And the current working environment during the pandemic exemplifies the need for these values more than ever.
With the pandemic entering its seventh month and no end in sight, it’s essential to adapt to the demands of the public health crisis if we are going to stay in business.
That means we have lost the liberty to be purists. We must adjust. We must change the way we work.
We have two choices, or a combination of the two. We can demand that all employees report to the office in person and make appropriate changes to keep them safe, such as spreading out to maintain social distance and enforcing masks and hand washing. Or we can choose remote work. Schools, churches and other institutions have updated their technology skills, and we must, too. Certainly, remote work is more cost-effective than renting a larger space or installing shields around every employee.
The researched-based consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics estimates that “56% of the U.S. workforce holds a job that is compatible (at least partially) with remote work,” and that 25-30% of the workforce will be working at home multiple days per week by the end of 2021. While a small percentage of employees — around 3.6% — were already working remotely, it appears that the pandemic will hasten us into the inevitable future of telecommuting.
This change can affect your company culture in both positive and negative ways.
The pro: Embracing remote work can improve employee satisfaction, reducing turnover, recruitment costs, absences and employee costs. And the reduction in meetings and interruptions increases productivity by an estimated $1.3 billion per year in the U.S., according to Harvard Business Review. Global Workplace Analytics estimates “a typical employer can save an average of $11,000 per half-time telecommuter per year.”
The cons of remote working are headlined by difficulties with communication. It’s more difficult for employees to bond “around the water cooler” when they aren’t working in a physical office. Newer employees, especially, may not feel like they are part of the team because they haven’t had the opportunity to form friendships and loyalty to the company. Employee engagement may suffer when expectations and processes are not clear. Your culture begins to erode when poor communication leads to disengagement. Top-performing employees may jump ship.
So what can businesses do to maintain and even improve their culture while some — or maybe most — employees are working remotely?
Communicate, communicate, communicate.
First, make sure you are grounded in your mission, vision, values and culture statements. Make sure every employee knows them. Talk about them frequently, whether your employees are working remotely or on-premises.
Second, use good communication software. There are many options for video conferencing and file sharing. Choose the software that works best for your company’s unique needs.
Third, check in with your remote employees daily or even more often to keep them engaged and informed. Plan online virtual meetings with teams regularly and celebrate achievements. Meet one-on-one with your employees and address their concerns about work as well as anxiety and stress about their personal circumstances surrounding the pandemic.
Fourth, communicate trust. Don’t micromanage your remote workers because you fear they may be “slacking off.” Emphasize productivity, not a schedule. Many employees are dealing with children attending school online as well. Pressuring employees to maintain a schedule increases their stress and decreases their ability to be productive.
Are you adjusting to the new normal, or are you frozen in the old reality and hoping that things will soon be back to the way they were? It’s time to embrace what is happening in the moment and will likely continue into the future. The trend of remote working will grow even after the healthcare threat is over, and companies must adapt their culture strategies to accommodate it.
By Shelley D. Smith, a best-selling author, consultant, and Founder & CEO of Premier Rapport consulting firm, first published on https://www.forbes.com/ October 2, 2020