06.29.2021 - HR Tidbit

HR Tidbit - Remote Work

June 29, 2021

Making the Remote Workplace Productive and Engaging for Your Employees

The pandemic pushed many organizations to become fully remote, and the experience has been better than many imagined. As a result, a hybrid working model that embraces the best of both remote and office-based work awaits many workers and companies on the other side of the crisis.

In a recent Gartner poll, 90% of HR leaders said employees would be allowed to work remotely even once COVID-19 vaccines are widely available.

Remote work and flexible work arrangements are also expected to grow in the next decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 73 percent of teams will have remote employees by 2028.

Most organizations have had months to work on remote-work experience to keep employees productive and engaged, but many still viewed remote set-ups as temporary.

Although in-office employees may consider remote options to be the ultimate job perk, there are challenges in working away from the office. This can include sometimes feeling disconnected from the team and wanting to connect and communicate with co-workers more frequently.

Creating an inclusive work environment that is also mindful of your organization’s remote workforce effectively keeps all employees engaged and connected. 

One of the ways companies can counter these challenges is to reach out to employees more often and reinforce they are an important part of the company and listen to feedback from employees.

  1. Employers should use both direct conversations and indirect observations to get visibility into employees’ challenges and concerns. Use every opportunity to make clear to employees that you support and care for them.
  2. Employers should make sure that their employees have the technology they need to be successful, which may be more than just a mobile phone and laptop. Be certain the employees know how to operate with virtual communications and are comfortable in that environment.
  3. Employers should promote dialogue. Two-way dialogue between managers and employees ensures that communication efforts help, rather than hurt, employee engagement. Two-way communication with managers and peers provides employees with the information and perspective they need to enable them to express and process negative emotions and feel more in control. Managers can create opportunities for two-way dialogues that focus on a realistic picture of both the positive and negative implications of the current COVID-19 outbreak.
  4. Employers should trust their employees and suspend any disbelief they may have and put the utmost trust and confidence in your employees that they will do the right thing.
  5. Employers should reinforce organizational values and show their employees that they are key stakeholders while showing them that you are looking out for them for the long haul. Continue to model the right behaviors — and encourage employees to call out unethical conduct. Remind employees of the channels for reporting misconduct and highlight punitive measures for noncompliance.
  6. Employers should create clarity since role definitions may start to fall apart during the disruption, leaving employees unsure of where to focus. Focus on what employees should be accomplishing. Emphasize objectives over processes to create greater clarity for employees — and drive greater engagement levels.
  7. Employers should focus on outputs not the processes. In the remote workplace many people are juggling work and family commitments in their own homes, and enable them to complete their work in ways that are easiest and most productive for them. Do not pay attention to the process and pay more attention to what they are getting done. Provide flexibility for them to complete their assignments in their own way. Schedule meetings for a mutually agreeable time where all team members can meet virtually.
  8. Employers should increase recognition of their employees. Effective recognition not only motivates the recipient but serves as a strong signal to other employees of behaviors they should exhibit. Employers should recognize and thank the employee as well as share the accomplishment with other team members.
  9. Employers should encourage innovation but with the high levels of uncertainty, employees may become more risk-adverse. They are afraid to try something new, but during these times risk taking becomes even more important for employee engagement and organizational success. Employers should highlight the value of employees’ continuing to scale their activities, and ensure that any risks they are taking are worthwhile.
Adapting to this new working model might seem straightforward in theory, but it will prove more difficult in practice, especially when it comes to organizational culture.

Company culture is a primary concern for many leaders. Cultural beliefs and norms are more open to change since they are not being guided by company systems and routines and are subject to influence from new, non-work factors that are present in employees’ day-to-day lives.
Company must recognize that the work culture is evolving despite being remote and that they need to invest a substantial amount of time and energy into keeping their cultures on track or steering them in a new direction.

Companies that are adapting well to this remote work experience have invested in recreating processes that align with their desired cultures. Research shows that our ability to connect meaningfully to others is less satisfying when we're not physically present and that shared understanding is harder to establish and more likely to suffer from "drift" as we spend time apart.

Historically, office settings and interactions have been key signals of culture, which is often built and reflected in the way people behave and dress and reinforced by physical settings, from open office spaces with ping pong tables to traditional offices with wood paneling and leather chairs.

Many leaders are confused when it comes to creating and directing culture when employees are far-flung. The employer must realize that the culture can no longer be duplicated in the same way it was in an office-controlled model.

Leaders need to decide on the type of culture they want, the signals that are appropriate to communicate it, and how and when to send them without distortion.

A Future Forum study of knowledge workers across six major countries found that the vast majority value flexibility — while only 16% want to be fully remote, only 12% want to return to working in the office five days a week. A clear majority of 72% want the option of working within a hybrid remote-office model. This reduces commute time and costs and provides a work-life balance.

Leaders need to start thinking now about how they want to "re-enter" the office environment. How might we reimagine the office to reinforce culture in new, better ways? More importantly, how do we ensure an even distribution of culture across those in the office and those working remotely? One of the greatest risks with hybrid work is the potential for employees to have different and incompatible understandings of the company culture.

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