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Remote work: an integral part of the ‘new normal’ for business

How can organisations use pandemic-related learnings to optimise remote work strategies for the future?

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Table of Contents
Experiencing remote work during the pandemic allowed many employers and workers to understand both the benefits and the challenges. Now, as organisations look to a future where working remotely may be as normal as coming into the office, what steps do they need to take to optimise remote work strategies for employees, managers and the business itself?

Pre-pandemic, remote work was already a recognised trend. Many knowledge workers enjoyed the freedom and flexibility of remote work — from home, co-working spaces or other non-office locations — some or all of the time. Employers were also benefiting from remote work, with reductions in workplace real-estate needs and costs as well as broader, more flexible talent acquisition opportunities. Since the pandemic led to an increase in remote work (primarily working from home), what advantages and disadvantages have been revealed? And how might organisations optimise remote work strategies for the future?

Work from anywhere for a better work/life balance

When an employee is able to work remotely, they can experience many personal advantages. They can, for example, combine remote work (that may also allow flexible hours) with any day-to-day caring responsibilities they may have. They can live further away from the office if they don’t need to commute in every day. Remote work means they can even relocate with a partner whose job takes them to a different part of the country or overseas. For many workers, the flexible approach available with remote work leads to a better balance between work and home life, and associated benefits such as improved health and greater happiness. Many also report feeling more productive when working remotely, owing to fewer distractions and disruptions.

Remote work: the business benefits

Employers that willingly enable remote work recognise the advantages it can offer, including:

Financial benefits — if a proportion of your employees are remote workers who no longer need permanent office space, you could make savings on workplace real estate and other infrastructure costs.

Ability to cast the recruitment net more widely — employers with a remote working policy aren’t limited by their location when looking to fill vacancies. If a new hire can accept the job without moving from Berlin to Boston, for example, remote work becomes a recruitment miracle. A remote working policy can also make it possible to employ people unable to commute for other reasons, such as a disability.

Simplified involvement of contractors and freelancers — a business that’s set up for remote work can more easily engage with remote freelancers and contractors. So an employer can complement in-house teams with specific skills as needed, without putting more people on the permanent payroll.

Make remote working work for everyone

‘Work was and is where many live, thrive, have their struggles, have their identities affirmed or negated or some mix of the two.’

Susie Orbach in ‘Working from home: how it changed us forever’, The Observer, February 2022

Given the many benefits remote work has to offer both employees and businesses, it’s no surprise that many organisations are considering giving knowledge workers more choice about how they work in the future: continue to work remotely, come back into the office full-time, or a blend of the two.

Of course, people working remotely need a virtual digital workspace with technology that makes communication, collaboration and access to information as easy as when they’re in the office. The technology that supports remote teams can do the same for frontline staff — people in location-independent roles, such as construction, social care, transport and logistics; as well as those working in non-office settings like retail stores, warehouses and factories. And everyone needs to feel connected to their colleagues and their managers, no matter where they’re based.

Here are four considerations to help you make virtual and remote work a successful element of your future working strategy for both your people and your business.

1 Support management and mentoring

When team members work remotely some or all of the time, managers (who may themselves work remotely) will need tools and training to help them assess workload, evaluate performance and define professional development plans just as they would if everyone shared a physical workspace.

Part of the management role will be to help remote workers build and maintain connections with colleagues and the company itself. Regular video one-on-ones and virtual meetings with the remote team as a whole will play an important part. And if it’s feasible, managers could consider bringing the whole team together in person from time to time: for occasional team meetings at the workplace, for example, or for a team-building or other event.

2 Enable the social aspect of work

Employees who work remotely all of the time may miss out on the social side of working in an office environment that many of us count on. Even something as simple as chatting at the coffee machine can be enriching. Not only that, it can lead to a valuable exchange of information or serendipitous innovation. Full-time remote work also means there’s less opportunity for newer or more junior team members to learn informally by working alongside their peers and seniors.

To bolster the social side of work, managers can encourage remote workers to communicate and chat online with colleagues, and perform regular check-ins with each other, rather than limiting themselves to work-specific communication. Regular virtual team get-togethers with a social rather than a work-related objective can help. And to support and promote learning from others, it may be necessary to set up formalised mentoring arrangements.

3 Provide the right technology

In a Konica Minolta survey, almost half of SMBs said that the lack of necessary employee hardware or software was a difficulty associated with home-based working. Making sure employees have the right hardware to be productive wherever they work has to be a top priority. As well as a laptop, smartphone, tablet or other device they need, they’ll also need suitable mobile data allowances or broadband services at home.

As well as everyday office productivity software, employees will also need chat and videoconferencing services to communicate with each other, and collaboration tools for remote team working. Adopting cloud-based services like Microsoft 365 can simplify access to a wide range of tools from any device and location, for remote and frontline workers alike. To protect your organisation’s data and infrastructure against cybersecurity threats, you’ll also need to implement appropriate security services, and educate remote workers on best-practice processes.

Research shows that servicing and supporting remote working hardware and software is a challenge for 44% of IT decision-makers. Outsourcing remote workers’ IT to a third-party specialist can bring peace of mind, enable increased productivity and enhance business continuity.

4 Enable access to information

For 37% of respondents to the same Konica Minolta survey, locating files is an IT challenge associated with working from home. When it’s hard to find the information they need, employees’ productivity can be negatively affected. Time spent searching for a file can hold up a task or process, or lead to information being unnecessarily duplicated. Accelerating digitisation — by scanning documents, for example, or rolling out easy-to-use enterprise content management (ECM) solutions — can help to resolve the issue of remote information access. At the same time as making it easier for everyone to find the data and documents they need, digitisation can also help you improve information security by giving you more control over who can access what.

Advancing your remote working strategy

The pandemic enabled more organisations and employees to experience both the advantages and the disadvantages of remote work. Organisations learned that there are adjustments to be made — in terms of technology, training and management effort — to ensure that teams can collaborate and get things done; and that individuals can develop professionally and have their performance fairly evaluated.

As the pandemic continues to play out, many organisations are planning a flexible, blended approach to working styles that combines remote and office-based work. To make this a success, it will be critical to give everyone access to the tools, technology and support they need, and to create a company culture that helps everyone feel connected to their colleagues, their managers and the company itself.

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