Ford Motor Co. Twitter. Facebook. USAA. Google.
The list of companies that now say they are going to give employees the choice to work remotely through the end of 2020 and perhaps beyond because of the coronavirus is growing almost daily.
Experts and surveys agree: More businesses will need to look at remote work as not only a reality but possibly as a boon to their bottom lines. That sparks another issue: How to do you build community while still establishing routines and expectations that focus on worker productivity amid a pandemic?
A recent Gartner poll showed that 48% of employees will likely work remotely at least part of the time after COVID-19 versus 30% before the pandemic.
“As organization shift to more remote work operations,” Gartner said in its report, they will need to “explore the critical competencies employees will need to collaborate digitally, and be prepared to adjust employee experience strategies.”
According to Daron Robertson, CEO of BroadPath, a global remote work service provider, now is the time for companies and CEOs to establish a permanent remote work option now before they are left behind.
Prior to the pandemic and the government regulated shutdown, remote work only accounted for 5-20% if the U.S. workforce. Robertson is predicting that the number of companies who will switch to a permanent full-time remote work model, like Twitter, will increase dramatically and for good reason.
Robertson said remote work has proven benefits, such as more access to talent as employers are no longer restricted by location; reduced costs because of less overhead due to rent, utilities and office furniture as well as better employee retention as workers have less commuting time, better work-life balance in some cases and overall reductions in sick time.
Arran Stewart, co-founder and CVO of the recruitment platform Job.com, agrees. Stewart – a father of five who is now working from home just like his employees – said that considerations must be made beyond laptops and Zoom logins.
In fact, Stewart believes employers must determine how to ensure productive equity by giving employees the resources to work at their best while at home. Moreover, an equitable workplace will look different for every employee: some will need child care assistance, others will require reliable, fast internet and network connections, others still may need money to relocate or drastically change their living arrangements.
The C-suite and management must develop policies that directly address the various human and professional needs of their current and future employees and change the way employers and employees interact.
Robertson has been helping companies convert into a remote work model in three simple stages. The first stage is what he calls “Lift and Shift.” Here, companies need to realize that remote work is here to stay and they must begin or further their remote-work options.
In Stage Two, called Shift to Focus, companies must look, listen and work harder than ever to ensure a work from home model sticks. This is where companies need to establish a protocol to measure performance.
Finally, in what he calls Culture or Stage Three, companies have established performance standards. Now, they must put all of their organizational energy behind creating and furthering an environment that promotes connectivity where employees feel engaged.
Stewart is working with his staff and employers as an advocate for working remotely and an expert in the field of recruitment and hiring. Plus, as a father to five young kids, he knows working from home can be a challenge. Literally, you cannot hide from your kids – especially when they’re in the house with you all day.
He believes companies must look to be more open-minded and having a leadership mindset when it comes to remote management. Companies must review everything from how they provide sick days to telemedicine options to mental health, something that every business must consider in light of these anxiety-filled days around coronavirus.
“The commonality,” Stewart said for most workers, “is stress, uncertainty and a lack of structure.”
Workers need to feel like human beings – their feelings need to be addressed, their ideas need to be valued and their everyday efforts must be engaged. They need structure in key ways as well, such as setting up morning meetings to get everyone going and late afternoon check-in times to make sure the work gets done while still acknowledging the challenges involved in all of it.
“You’ve got a lot of people who are witnessing a cataclysmic shift in the world,” Stewart said. “They’re worried about their health. They’re worried about the future. They’re worried about the companies they work for. They are watching as gigantic brands are now hugely vulnerable and on the edge.”
Vulnerability and anxiety like this is “deeply destructive to productivity,” Stewart said. “When you’re distracted and not feeling focused, that can impact productivity, which is another reason why companies should take this seriously.”
How to help
There are ways to help your employees. First, companies should review everything they’re doing in general from a remote worker’s lens. They’re not used to being in the house all day, Stewart said. They have friends or family who are sick and they are worried for their own health. They may not have the support they need.
This can be addressed by creating support, benefits and structure, Stewart said. Support is through new programs and processes. Benefits is through more of an emphasis and access to mental-health options. And structure is giving workers the tools to do the job, such as computers, as well as a set time to do things and rewards for productivity along the way.
But don’t forget two things, Stewart added: Yourself and your managers. “In these unprecedented times, even your managers need help. Every layer of your organization is vulnerable,” he noted.
Evaluating what everyone needs will be challenging, Stewart admits, and one size won’t fit all. But everyone needs to dig deep on this task. Workers have left what may have been the protective bubble of the office – so help them recreate it within the best of their abilities.
This also means creating new ways to communicate.
“We’re all pack creatures” as human beings, Stewart said. “When we’re faced with challenges, we always feel so much better when we face challenges as a collective.”
At his office, they’re doing Zoom lunches a few times a week where the business pays for the food. Workers get gift certificates or access to food-delivery services through the business as an expense. Then they also have Friday happy hours where they can have an adult beverage or not as they all talk about the week – but talking about work is off the table.
“They feel engaged and part of the team,” Stewart said.