Up until 2020, remote working was a new, popular trend among a small niche of tech companies. This work arrangement is promising such a shift in the way companies operate that an industry has started to emerge around it. Speculations have been arising about how it might change the incentives for acquiring talent.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, remote working has no longer been a perk. It’s been a reality. Organizations from all sizes and industries have been forced to adopt it — most of which struggle to adapt to the challenges remote working creates.
Remote working has come unannounced, and it’s unlikely it will go away in the foreseeable future. Surveys have shown that employees appreciate the idea of home working, even before the pandemic arose. So the question isn’t how companies can go back to work like in the past, but how they can adapt to remote working once the pandemic is over.
In this article, I want to explore three ways non-remote companies can adapt their current situation and the post-pandemic world that’s to come.
Help Your Employees Adapt
At first sight, it’s easy to think that the challenges remote working have created have fallen greatly on the top management of companies, regardless of their size. Managing dozens of people exclusively through online channels is not an easy task, and it can significantly hurt the productivity of everyone involved in those tasks.
At the same time, it’s easy to believe that the benefits of home working fall mostly to the employees. Many of their jobs, including sales, marketing, engineering, or administrative work, can be done remotely. Why wouldn’t employees want to work from their home, wearing only their slippers and pajamas?
The reality differs from this naïve perception. A change in the work environment affects work productivity, both from the better and for the worse. Over 20 years ago, AT&T gave its employees the opportunity to telecommute from their homes. When the researchers came back to analyze the results, they found the employees loved the new arrangement: 87% of them believed their productivity and effectiveness had improved.
A recent Deloitte survey done during the pandemic found that over 70% of the respondents considered themselves more or equally productive when working from home. Only 25% thought their productivity might suffer from the arrangement.
But as someone who has worked all his life remotely, I can attest that the early benefits of remote working soon fade away. Like a small floating iceberg whose real size is hidden underwater, the challenges of remote working start to appear.
The first realization is that, under a remote working arrangement, you are alone. For many people, this has a significant impact on their mental well-being. A 2018 survey found that 48% and 46% of respondents admitted to finding remote working “lonely” and “isolating”, respectively.
Home working also blurs the separating lines between home and work life, resulting in involuntary unpaid work. When your home is your work office and your office is your home, your life becomes your work.
A final consideration, which only applies to the COVID-19 situation, is that at-home workers have to deal with their family — if they have one — and other distractions. Working close to a bed or a TV with your Netflix account can cause serious productivity issues, as anyone who has ever worked from home can attest.
Unsurprisingly to me, Deloitte’s survey found the workers interviewed complained about these same challenges:
- Almost 50% disliked having no personal interactions with their colleagues and clients.
- Close to 20% worried about their mental well-being due to their isolation.
- Around 30% struggled with the distractions imposed by their kids or family.
- Almost 16% did not have a designated workspace at home.
A big part of the problem comes from the fact the situation is forced. Once employees can decide to work from wherever they like, some will choose a mix of home-based and office-based work, while others will not have the distractions caused by the presence of their kids in their homes.
Still, this is a big problem to address both in the short and the long term. Consider implementing some of the following ideas as a short-term palliative to these issues:
- Give employees time to disconnect during certain times of the day. Have them add a block of time during their workday to break from their computer, which shouldn’t include lunchtime.
- Incentivize personal communication through Slack, Zoom, and other tools. Consider developing new activities like setting an hour every week where people can work while on a Zoom call.
- Give your employees access to special apps like Freedom or Brain.fm to help them fight distractions and increase their concentration.
- Reimburse your employees for expenses in furniture and other purchases to build a workspace in their homes.
- Run weekly surveys to track employee’s sentiment and proactively seek to improve whatever negative situation shows up in the results.
You must give your employees the capacity to adapt to the home-based life. Support them, especially those who openly dislike working from home.
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