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Companies are Trying to Ease Remote Work Challenges, But There’s More to Do

Mike Hicks

July 7, 2020 · 4 min read
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Remote work was on the rise even before the pandemic forced a seismic shift, and organizations were starting to pay more attention to the unique needs and challenges of remote workers. But in the new reality, addressing these concerns – from tech obstacles to emotional complications – has become business-critical.

Recent opinion polls show that many people have discovered they prefer working from home, and some large tech companies have announced they’ll allow their employees to do so indefinitely. It’s becoming more and more obvious that, even when the all-clear comes, not everyone will return to the office.

With remote workers figuring prominently in the next normal, it’s vital for business leaders to understand what might be hindering their well-being and productivity. Helping remote workers thrive has always been good for business. Now it’s a prerequisite for business continuity.

Nearly 80 percent of respondents said they face challenges that don’t affect their colleagues in the office – up 10 percent from last year.

How organizations are prioritizing remote work

Shortly before COVID-19 shuttered most offices, we asked 2,000 employees at medium-sized and large organizations about their remote work experience. While the post-pandemic landscape is very different, this snapshot is instructive for organizations seeking to better support their remote workforce now and in the future.

Compared with the results of last year’s survey, we found some encouraging improvements in how organizations are attending to remote workers’ needs. One standout finding was that 93 percent of remote workers said their companies have tried to make them feel included in the company.

Respondents also indicated that there’s been moderate progress in their ability to access important people or information, and fewer reported that they’ve missed out on important company news.

But there’s still a long way to go. Nearly 80 percent of respondents said they face challenges that don’t affect their colleagues in the office – up 10 percent from last year.

Some of these difficulties stem from the disconnect many people experience when they lose face-to-face interactions, while others are directly related to inadequate communication and collaboration tools. Tech issues interrupted at least one meeting for 85 percent of people who were surveyed.

These findings – both the positive and negative – are invaluable for organizations faced with the only certainty right now: for the foreseeable future, they must be ready to support a 100% remote workforce at a moment’s notice.

Top 3 strategies for creating an effective remote work culture

1. Create a remote work toolkit

When the pandemic struck, there was no instruction manual for newly remote workers and their managers. But your organization can now adjust and improve for now and the future.

First, get your IT house in order. Inventory and catalog required equipment such as routers, cables, Wi-Fi extenders, and more.

Plan how you’ll quickly put them in the hands of everyone who needs them when the time comes. Not all remote workers work from home, so ensure the technology suits their preferred location.

Then take a hard look at your existing tools to ensure they can deliver seamless remote work experience, and put them on your company intranet so they’re easy to find.

But your toolkit should go beyond tools. Assemble a set of remote work resources in a centralized digital destination so that every employee, whether they usually work on-site or off, can easily access it. At the very least, it should include:

  • A manual or wiki on your organization’s remote work policies

Setting clear expectations at the outset safeguards against confusion and wasted time. For example, layout the rules of engagement for remote communications by outlining when and why people should use video conferencing, IM, or regular phone calls.

  • Guides and educational material on coping with the realities of remote work

A LinkedIn study found 46 percent of professionals worldwide believe that work friends are important to their overall happiness. But what if you’re suddenly apart from them for months at a time? Go beyond training employees in the logistics of working outside the office by helping them navigate the social and emotional terrain.

2. Give remote workers a sense of belonging

While our latest survey clearly showed organizations are trying to include remote workers in company culture, there’s always a risk of feeling out of the loop when you’re home alone. According to the Harvard Business Review, burnout and loneliness are common pitfalls for remote workers.

Pushing inclusion was important before the pandemic, but now it’s essential to foster engagement in remote workers. With the possibility of more stay-at-home orders in the coming months and years, your organization’s survival depends on its ability to maintain cohesion from a distance.

Replicating your company culture online is one way to make remote workers feel connected. Having a digital workplace that looks and feels like your physical space is a great first step. Then create plenty of opportunities for connection and conversation through features such as microblogs, forums, and team spaces.

IDC advises companies to also make time for “just plain schmoozing” online. Building a social zone into your company intranet goes a long way toward keeping those office chats going and making everyone feel part of the action. 

3. Connect often and build relationships

This is the time to go the extra mile in reaching out to remote workers. If possible, do it frequently and make it meaningful.

On the professional side, there’s just as much – or more – demand for performance feedback among the remote workforce.

According to Gallup, remote employees are three times more likely to be engaged if they received feedback from their managers at least a few times per month.

Respondents in our survey suggested that colleagues and supervisors should make an effort to get to know them, not just their time zones. While the current situation is different, in that many newly remote workers knew their officemates well before the pandemic, the message is the same: relationships matter.

These strategies can help build and sustain workplace relationships at a distance:

  • Schedule daily check-ins: Even if it’s a brief hello and how are you, make sure you touch base every day.
  • Listen and act: Ask people how they’re coping with remote work and try to resolve the most common problems.
  • Acknowledge the stresses: Share your personal struggles with remote work and create an environment where it’s okay to say when things are hard.
  • Relax the standards around videoconferencing: Take the pressure off employees with hard-to-control pets and kids by embracing the chaos.

Learn more about today’s digital workplace trends

We recently released our 2020 State of the Digital Workplace Report, which identifies prevailing workplace challenges facing many organizations and offers innovative solutions that focus on digital tools and transformation. Learn about our other key findings on remote work by downloading the full report.