It has been three months since we went into full lockdown and enforced working from home became the new norm for so many of us, with entire businesses operating remotely. The experience has changed us and there can be no doubt that the future of work is set to look very different post COVID-19.
For many startups, remote working is already part of the normal course of business. However, many other companies who had a more office-based workforce previously, are realising that remote working has been more successful and less complicated to transition than they expected. Organisations and employees have become increasingly more comfortable about working from home or out of the office and are now looking at keeping some or all of their workforce remote indefinitely.
Several high profile organisations have recently announced a shift in strategy, giving their employees the option of working from home permanently and we will no doubt see others follow in adopting a blended approach and offering greater flexibility.
We recommend that employers seek feedback on how their employees have found remote working and adapt future working practices accordingly. Ask them how efficient they feel they’ve been, if they’ve enjoyed working in this way, what type of arrangement they’d like to see going forward, how the company can better support home working etc. Some employees will be unable to stay remote indefinitely due to their home situation (no dedicated working space, distractions etc). Some may not want to return to the office because they are happier and more productive at home. The best solution could be to embrace a mix of remote and in-office working by adopting a remote-first culture. Remote working represents a huge opportunity and potential strategic advantage for companies.
So, what does remote-first actually mean?
Adopting a remote-first strategy means offering the option to work in an office or remotely for the majority of roles. Processes are built from the ground up with the assumption that not everyone is face-to-face. It means there is no disadvantage to working at home versus being in the office as all employees have the same experience. It’s about optionality – offering remote work to employees who want it and if their jobs allow, while maintaining the ability to work from an office for those who don’t, or who need to be office based. This differs from remote-friendly where companies allow some employees to work remotely at least some of the time and don’t make significant changes to internal processes to make sure that those employees are successful.
Hiring and retaining top talent – Opening roles up to remote dramatically increases the pool of candidates available to organisations in a competitive market, coupled with the ability to hire top talent from across the globe, not just from one geographic location. As more companies come to offer remote work options, companies who don’t will be at a disadvantage.
Promotes and supports diversity – Accessing a much wider talent pool results in a more skilled and diverse workforce of which there are many known benefits. Diverse teams are more innovative, creative and perform better. As well, research shows that remote companies have a greater percentage of female leaders.
Global strength – Startups that build distributed teams set themselves up to operate effectively across geographies. This forces companies to build and manage strong communications, to trust employees with more autonomy, and to foster a shared culture across the organisation. Expanding internationally requires exactly the same skill set. In an increasingly global and crowded innovation market, targeting many markets from the get-go is a strategic advantage.
Improves productivity – By minimising or eliminating the typical office distractions that occur around them, employees can often focus better and work more productively. It does require clear goals and self-discipline to be effective.
Enhances work-life balance – When employees struggle to balance home and work commitments, this can lead to stress and absence. Remote working means employees have the ability to work around family obligations. A better work-life balance helps improve overall health and well-being as well as engagement levels.
Positive environmental impact – Decreasing commuting and travel all helps to reduce carbon footprint. Plus, with fewer people travelling into an office, you help to reduce congestion and overcrowding and all the pollution that comes with it.
Cost saving – With cost a key consideration for early stage businesses, more people working remotely means you can save money on office space and the associated overheads. Less employees working in an office means you can opt for a smaller space.
There are, however, downsides to remote working which need to be mitigated.
Disconnected employees – Employees can feel disconnected from their co-workers because of the lack of physical interaction. This can weaken bonds between colleagues, making collaboration difficult. It is therefore vital to get together as a team in person periodically and have a schedule of regular virtual team video calls to communicate and discuss issues, successes and progress.
Home office set up – While it’s straightforward to get employees the equipment they need, the real question is whether they have a suitable space to use it. Give employees the option to work from co-working or floating office space where possible to access printers, face to face training etc, and provide budgets and guidance on effective work from home setups.
Performance management – It could be tempting for employees to relax their standards without a manager close by. Remote work comes with a lot of freedom, so having trust that your employees will deliver high quality work remotely is key. It’s important to be clear about your expectations for remote employees. Setting precise goals and expected outcomes helps keep employees on task and manage their time accordingly. More regular performance reviews and discussions are essential. As an employer, you can’t see your worker doing their work and have less insight into how they get it done. You therefore have to focus on what they achieve. Remote workers should be evaluated on their output.
Learning and development – Remote workers need to feel connected to the company’s mission and to the people they work with. Training and development initiatives are a key part of this effort, so it’s vital to build a training programme for your remote workforce that keeps your culture front and centre. It should support the individual development of employees in line with business goals. With the right training and development structures in place, remote staff can reach their full potential, regardless of their location.
The shift to remote work will only accelerate as companies and employees start to see the benefits of and become better adapted to this model. While COVID-19 is certainly affecting current working patterns, the long-term trend towards distributed teams is already being showcased by some of the more innovative global organisations.
The vital ingredients for a successful remote-first strategy are trust, communication and collaboration and these don’t just happen. They are the result of a well-executed remote working strategy and strong leadership.
Whatever strategy is right for your business, it’s important that it works for both your clients and your employees. Get the opinions of those in your business and don’t be afraid to trial any changes you may be considering. Be open to the fact that some changes may not work for the better. Innovation is not always easy, but to succeed long term businesses must invest in new methods for successful and inclusive growth.
Purpose HR are passionate about creating and supporting diverse and inclusive workplace cultures for our clients. If you would like to discuss how we could help your business implement and manage remote or flexible working practices, please get in touch.