Over the past few months, COVID-19 has changed the world in ways many of us didn’t expect. We’ve needed to take the responsible steps of keeping a 2-meter distance from those around us and avoiding gathering in large groups. This has also meant that businesses have had to make some significant operational alterations, with many switching to remote practices.
However, many of us are now starting to look toward the near future. Once the worst effects of this novel coronavirus have passed, will there be any lasting societal changes as a result of our response to the pandemic? Are remote working conditions here to stay?
We’re going to take a look at some of the considerations that could factor into a continued adoption of remote workspaces. What do employees need to be successful home workers? What technology can we use to allow for a more widespread and healthy application of these practices? Are there benefits to operating a primarily remote workplace and what could influence business leaders’ decision making moving forward?
Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, some major businesses were starting to utilize remote working practices. Companies such as IBM, Shopify, and Amazon are among those who understood early on that not only does this method allow for a more diverse, global talent pool, it can also save on overhead costs. However, as some have found when attempting to implement these measures in an emergency scenario. It is not always easy to shift operations from standard offices to home spaces.
While many workers have access to their own computers and software, companies considering retaining remote practices need to consider whether this is a safe and reasonable approach for their business. While an essential step for remote employees is finding the ideal working surroundings. Home networks and personal devices are not necessarily secure, meaning that the cybersecurity protocols arranged for office environments are not going to be in place. In order to protect customer and business data, and maintain standards of service. It may be prudent to provide employees with company-owned devices and install secure internet connections. But there remains the question of whether this is practical for all employees.
Aside from the technical aspects of shifting operations, there is also the question of whether teams who are used to working together in the same location can communicate as effectively when separated. Teamwork, personal connections, and intergenerational communication may be detrimentally affected outside the office environment. Where there isn’t always the ability to use the full range of emotional and communicative skills we have in person. Managers need to continue implementing techniques that mitigate the potential for strain. Utilize multiple communication methods in order to avoid excluding staff members who may not be entirely confident with the most current technology or software.
Understand which tools each employee on your team is most comfortable using — whether email, phone, or video call. And commit to an inclusive approach to meetings and working practices. Provide additional training on remote communications tools where needed and be mindful of the challenges each staff member might be facing.
One of the positive aspects of maintaining a physical office space is team visibility. Business leaders are able to interact with employees on a regular basis. And there is the opportunity to ascertain how workers are coping, and discuss any issues that might arise. In order for companies to adopt remote working for the long term, it will be important to implement strategies that ensure employee welfare is regularly reviewed and supported.
The environment in which an employee is working can have an impact on their mental health, which in turn will inevitably affect their working practices. As part of a long term working practice, companies can provide assistance to ensure employees are working in spaces that take some of the strain off their work/life balance. That could include providing them with office furniture that helps delineate a dedicated working space, and ergonomically designed chairs and desk equipment. It may even be prudent to provide them with access to remote coworking spaces a few times a week.
Over the last few years, there has been significant development in the tools that are optimized for remote team management and operations. These can not only make this new way of working easier on your business, but they can also be used to effectively monitor and improve employee welfare. Most current platforms, such as Slack and Tandem, have the ability to include chat rooms. Which gives employees the space to simulate the social elements of office working — sharing jokes, voicing frustrations, posting silly GIFs. Managers should also utilize the video chat capabilities regularly in order to check in with their team members and assess their ongoing needs.
A positive public profile can be vital to the success of a company. Therefore, it’s reasonable to consider that this will factor into decisions businesses will make beyond COVID-19. What does embracing remote working practices say about the company? How can this help or hinder public perception of them?
Remote operations can be a boost in terms of the company’s willingness to embrace diversity. Expanding remote working from the current staff into new hires from around the world can show that the company places a higher premium on getting the right people, providing a broader range of ideas, than making certain everyone is in the same building at the same time. It also shows that there’s a flexible culture that supports employees’ varying needs.
There is also the matter of environmental sustainability. Allowing employees to work from home reduces carbon emissions caused by transportation to the office and results in lower consumption of energy in commercial spaces: electricity, heating, and air conditioning. Remote conditions also tend to utilize paperless working methods, meaning that businesses mitigate the potential for waste production. At a time when climate change and eco-friendly practices are at the forefront of a lot of customers’ purchasing decisions. Moving to a more sustainable business model can be a useful illustration of company values. But this can also have a positive effect beyond customer engagement. It sends a distinct message to potential employees, too; serving to attract new staff that holds a deep commitment to sustainability practices. Who in turn bring their own innovations and practices which bolster and develop the company-wide environmentally conscious culture.
COVID-19 has changed our business practices in the short term, but will some elements remain after we return to some semblance of normal? The potential for businesses to retain remote working practices may be dependent upon the balance of benefits against drawbacks. While there are certainly practical operational and security challenges, there are tools on the market designed to mitigate these problems. It can also result in a more diverse workforce and have a less damaging impact on our planet.