Several companies have already announced that they’ll be shifting to a hybrid or completely remote working model after the coronavirus pandemic has passed, including Adobe, Capital One, Facebook, and PayPal. In fact, according to Gartner, a whopping 74% of company CFOs surveyed say that they plan to keep at least part of their workforce remote as both employees and organizations see the opportunities and benefits that remote working affords, such as increased productivity and employee satisfaction.

Questions you need to ask before moving to remote working

Before diving in and making such a huge change, however, organizational leaders decision-makers need to put together a remote work strategy that goes beyond the traditional drivers of work-anywhere initiatives—operational efficiencies and real-estate cost savings.  

Instead, a post-pandemic strategy should focus on the human aspects—such as how your employees like to work, or the environments in which they work best—to build a program that allows employees to work efficiently, communicate, collaborate, and maintain their working relationships.

Here are some questions that business leaders should ask themselves as they consider expanding or changing their remote working programs.

1. What do our employees need?

Every employee responds differently to different circumstances. While some will thrive in an office-based environment, others are able to focus more in a remote one. In addition, employees are likely to have adjusted to their new ways of working, having found comfort in working from their homes and flexible hours. This is why you should consider the needs and preferences of all employees when changing remote working policies.

In response, develop policies that are flexible enough to fit the needs and desires of all your employees. Most organizations are finding that a ‘hybrid’ approach, where some people permanently work from home, some permanently from the office, and some spend their time between the two, works best. This provides employees with a degree of control over their working life and is far more likely to yield employee satisfaction and promote a positive culture.

2. Which roles can be carried out remotely?

Not every role can be carried out in a remote setting. Some jobs will still require employees to be physically present in the workplace. In addition, remote work may not be sustainable for everyone either, with the extent of remoteness differing between teams.

To facilitate remote work better, consider the necessity for and level of human and physical interaction for different job roles, as well as whether the organization has the infrastructure there to facilitate remote working for a given activity.

For instance, an e-commerce retailer may well find that their live chat support specialists can quite easily work remotely and handle basic queries while those who provide “higher-level” support, and as such require access to sensitive customer information and company systems, may need to continue working from a controlled office environment.

3. How will changing our remote work strategy change our culture?

The success of the inevitable widespread shift to remote working will rest on organizations’ cultures and how well they’re preserved during the transition. When developing a remote work strategy, organizations will need to find ways to prevent their corporate culture from being altered. This is important because, as we know, culture represents an organization’s character and all it stands for, which means significant changes could be disruptive.

Employee performance, for example, won’t be measured by time spent in the office anymore, and face-to-face interactions will become heavily digitized. These two factors alone are enough to cause a significant change in employee attitude and behavior that could alter organizational culture.

To truly understand your culture and how it could be changed by a new remote work strategy, talk to your employees and bring them in during the planning stage.

4. Do we have the right collaboration tools and technologies?

Successful remote work programs are built on robust IT infrastructure that makes use of the right tools and technologies to enable employees to digitally connect, communicate, and collaborate. You’ll therefore need to develop a process that identifies all the right tools and technologies, as well as a plan to implement them and train your workforce on their use.

No matter where they’re working from, people want to feel as if they’re connected to and part of a team, and communications tools can enable that. You can improve the efficacy of communication by deploying multiple digital channels like video conferencing, live chat, and instant messaging.

Also crucial to remote work is collaboration across distributed locations. Remote workers need to be able to interact with one another just as easily as on-site staff. This, therefore, requires collaboration platforms that work well across all devices on both corporate and home networks.

It’s not all about tools, however; they won’t be effective without a strategy for communication and collaboration that accounts for the needs of remote workers. A remote work model will also require governance and oversight to ensure sustainability.  

5. How will we track productivity and wellbeing?

Gone are the days of supervisors and managers looking over shoulders to see how people are getting on. In the remote working world, employees are quite often left to their own devices, trusted to get their work done to the best of their abilities.

This has created difficulties for some organizations which want (or need) to closely monitor their employees’ work. And although some may be led to think that this is a good thing (after all, nobody likes a helicopter boss!), monitoring employee performance will become increasingly essential to managing and motivating distributed workers and keeping tabs on wellbeing. That’s because working remotely removes a lot of human interaction and can lead to feelings of isolation which impact both productivity and wellbeing.

To prevent this, leaders will need to find new ways to monitor metrics like performance and wellbeing. Some will opt to mandate weekly check-in calls or one-on-one sessions whereas others may choose automated workflow logs or tracking software designed to monitor computer activity.

It’s business, but not as we know it

Now is the right time for business leaders and organizations to reflect on what they’ve learned from forced remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic and consider the role it should play in their future operations.

In doing so, organizations will be able to design and implement effective remote working programs that both align with organizational strategy and satisfy the needs and desires of the workforce.