Sustaining a remote workforce
The “new normal.”
The entire world knows what the ubiquitous phrase refers to: social distancing, remote working, masks, hand sanitizer, no sports, no school, no visiting loved ones at nursing homes. The novel coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we live.
For office workers, most of whom left their on-premises job sites to work at home during the early stages of the pandemic, being a remote worker may transition from a temporary “new normal” to the “next normal.” While the lasting impacts of the crisis remain unknown, the likelihood that organizations will increase their number of remote workers seems apparent:
- 74 percent of chief financial officers say they intend to shift some workers to remote status full-time, according to a Gartner survey.
- 55 percent of managers say they will allow employees to work remotely more often than they did before the pandemic, according to Gallup survey.
- 98 percent of remote workers want to maintain a remote status at least some of the time for the rest of their career, according to the 2020 State of remote work by Buffer.
Nearly all employees feel confident about working remotely, which is a positive indicator of the success of the “next normal,” but employees are only a small part of the equation.
Are organizations ready for managing a remote workforce?
They got a crash course in making remote operations work, but as the movement continues, many companies will need to more deeply evaluate their technological and cultural capabilities, as well as how prepared their information ecosystem is to serve all employees and customers, everywhere.
As a starting point for that evaluation, agile enterprises need to ask themselves – then structure their organizational cultures, systems and processes to answer – the following five questions as they look at the future of an expanding remote workforce.
Question No. 1:
How can we transition face-to-face meetings and events without losing efficacy?
Although a Gartner poll from May 2020 of chief security officers and sales leaders found 50 percent expect in-person meetings to begin again before a Covid-19 vaccine is released, that leaves half their peers leaning away from the prospect. Combine that divide with the knowledge that newly remote workers may eventually return to work only to ask, “Can I work remotely again?” and it becomes apparent that virtual meetings are an inevitability. How can organizations set the stage for a remote-friendly environment?
Transforming a face-to-face workplace into a distributed workforce doesn’t happen without intention. To make the effort more effective, organizations need to assess internal and customer capabilities for getting the job done digitally. This includes evaluating and closing the gaps around:
- Technology hardware, software and access: Audit current technology solutions to assure employees can do their work remotely. Do team members have the computers and equipment necessary to efficiently do their jobs and communicate with their teams and customers? Can they access the internal information they need and use the core applications they depend on from anywhere? Do they have reliable internet access?
- Digital confidence: People bring varying levels of digital confidence to remote roles. Assess employees’ comfort with the specific applications they’ll need to thrive, such as video conferencing tools. Provide training, including video conference best practices, and consider a company video-preference policy, which will set expectations for establishing visual connections.
- Employee well-being: Exceptional leaders are attentive, according to Harvard Business Review’s “What amazing bosses do differently.” Listening, being empathetic and recognizing the unique situations of each person on a team will make their jobs more enjoyable and meaningful, especially when employees are facing new work conditions, compounded home responsibilities and uncertainty over the future.
- Current processes: This “next normal” stage of increased digitalization could provide an opportunity for new cost savings and efficiency-driving initiatives. In Forbes’ “Put your thinking cap on: how to sell during the Corona virus pandemic,” one unnamed executive reported that Covid-19 opened a door for change among reluctant customers. “What new things have we always wanted to try? Our clients have resisted some things we have wanted to do to serve them differently, and now they’re open to new ways. Sending a team to a client costs us $10,000 to $12,000 in travel. For $400, we can send the participants an iPad to their home. We have a unique window here.”
Question No. 2:
Can employees access the information they need to do their job remotely with the infrastructure and content services currently in place?
For years, digital transformation has been used to describe the journey that future-focused companies embark on to stay agile and competitive. But digital transformation isn’t a one-time shift – it’s an ongoing business investment that pushes organizations to keep pace with changing informational challenges and the technologies that address them, like intelligent automation and low-code configurability. 79 percent of organizations realize they need to digitally transform in order to survive, according to AIIM’s state of the industry – content services report. How many were on the journey when the world changed, and how quickly can those who were behind catch up?
Organizations struggling to work remotely are hungry for business as usual, likely because their information isn’t scalable, or because it’s locked in an outdated enterprise content management (ECM) system. To adapt, they’ll need to evaluate their digital transformation stage and consider:
- How quickly can we implement a modern content services platform that’s more flexible and modular?
- Can users access information any time and any place, as long as there is an internet connection?
- Is content integrated into core business processes, such as customer relationship managers (CRMs) or enterprise resource planning systems (ERPs), as well as core line-of-business solutions?
- Does the current system operate primarily as a repository or document manager, or does it facilitate active and intelligently automated use of content, contextually, for team members?
- Can users create custom solutions using built-in rapid application development (RAD) capabilities?
Question No. 3:
Can remote workers interact with information securely?
Data security breaches are a major area of concern for chief security officers and chief information officers. During times of upheaval, the risk is even greater. In fact, cybersecurity breaches in hospitals and healthcare providers’ networks have seen an almost 50 percent increase this year compared to last year during the same time period. How can remote workforces remain secure?
People, technology and processes are the three areas to focus on, according to McKinsey & Company’s “Cybersecurity tactics for the coronavirus pandemic.”
- Reiterate social engineering threat training: Phishing, smishing, vishing, baiting – the list of socially engineered cyberattack tactics is long and frightening, primarily because most prey on human error. These threat campaigns target vulnerable systems and people, and with many people working remotely for the first time, vulnerabilities are at an all-time high. Security teams need to inform employees of the enhanced predation during a crisis, as well as reiterate any previous training to eliminate exploitation.
- Implement targeted monitoring: Digital security teams can consider enhanced monitoring on particular remote workers (such as those who deal with sensitive, confidential information) for red flags like unusual bandwidth patterns or bulk uploads of enterprise data that could indicate security breaches, according to McKinsey & Company.
- Create an official remote working policy: A cultural shift is required for newly remote workers, and a remote working policy can help ease the transition. It should include policies around data security expectations, password protection and work expectations.
- Secure home Wi-Fi: What may seem simple can be a large-scale problem. In an office setting, IT can control Wi-Fi settings, but employees’ home connections may not have strong protections in place, leaving organizational networks vulnerable to hacking. Create a plan for getting employees the equipment and assistance they need to keep data safe.
- Prioritize critical systems: If updates or patches for remote infrastructure are available, give them priority on the punch list.
- Lean into cloud security solutions: With cloud delivery, employees have access to the information they need to do their jobs, and the information itself is protected. Leading cloud solutions provide secure data centers, encrypted in-transit connections, built-in redundancy, data replication, disaster recovery and even ongoing penetration and vulnerability testing.
- Eliminate shadow IT and free tools: When faced with a new work-from-home environment, employees may lean on unsanctioned shadow IT solutions to get around productivity obstacles. IT departments need to be ready to provide vetting, assistance, protection and sanctioned alternative solutions for employees looking to such workarounds.
- Implement multifactor authentication: While initiating multifactor authentication may be cumbersome on the front end, the security benefits do pay off. McKinsey and Company recommends a phased rollout that prioritizes users with elevated privileges and those who work with critical systems.
- Enhance the IT help desk to meet the moment: For employees who have never worked off-site, logging into VPNs or authenticating necessary credentials can feel overwhelming and may be beyond their digital comfort zone. Consider adding capacity to the IT help desk so newly remote workers are able to get the help and support they need, when they need it.
- Talk to solution providers: Assure that critical solutions partners are still able to deliver their products efficiently, securely and without disruption in the new remote environment, and check to see if they have tested their product against remote business continuity crises.
Question No. 4:
How can organizations continue to imbue corporate values when employees aren’t working face-to-face?
A commitment to organizational culture can be a driver of engagement for a remote workforce. Companies that live their strong values have employees who buy into important visions for the organization: why the company exists; where it’s going; what it believes in; and how it lives up to those expectations through day-to-day operations. How can organizations instill these core values in a remote workforce?
The values of an organization help define the type of work performed, and how it gets done. With employees remotely connected, it can be harder for teams to feel as embedded in company culture as when they’re on site. To keep the company values visible and actionable, organizations need to stay committed to a delivering a positive employee experience that engages and recognizes valued work.
Today’s employees require purpose, development, coaching and connection to feel engaged, to know their work contributes to something bigger. Smart organizations will facilitate and encourage these tactics in both remote and on-site work environments. If that’s not the case, disengagement can drive business outcomes down, and even have a contagious effect on team morale. Managers, who Gallup reports can account for up to 70 percent of variance in employee engagement across business units, have the opportunity to make a major impact on the work of their team and, ultimately, the success of the organization.
The importance of recognizing employees can’t be understated. Just two in 10 employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work, according to Gallup. Recognition is one step toward a better outcome. Brian Kropp, distinguished vice president, research at Gartner, says during periods of disruption, employees’ desire to be recognized for their contribution increases by 30 percent. Managers have a duty to prioritize that recognition – especially when a crisis creates vulnerability among the team. Recognition can include public acknowledgement, regular positive feedback, peer-nominated awards, monetary rewards, celebrations of project milestones and even travel incentives.
Question No. 5:
Should organizations trust their remote employees?
Remote working is simply another way of working. If employees are running errands or binge-watching streaming services, consider the issue a lack of properly defined remote work culture and underperforming management, not a remote worker problem. In fact, remote workers are highly efficient when objectives and expectations are clearly defined. A study done by Prodoscore showed a 47 percent increase in year-over-year productivity among its customers, at a time when more of them had gone remote than ever before. How can organizations show they believe in their remote workers?
For leaders making the shift to managing a remote workforce, consider these tips:
- Don’t micromanage: The days of watching employees like hawks are over. Managers may struggle with a lack of visibility, but employees want to get their work done, too. Give teams the time and space to meet their objectives, and recognize success when they do.
- Create a culture focused on outcomes, not processes: The shift to remote working, especially during the pandemic, requires organizations to also shift their thinking of how work happens. Encourage the team to focus on what needs to be accomplished, not the steps it takes to get there.
- Agree on core hours: The Prodoscore study found peak productivity times were between 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., so consider making those “must-be-online” hours, with flex time on either side to accommodate the blurring work-life balance most workers experience.
- Establish routine check-ins: Recurring virtual meetings, weekly or even daily, with direct reports can benefit both the manager and the employee. They allow time to go over deliverables and help build a more productive and meaningful relationship.
The idea of allowing more employees to work remotely has been percolating and upwardly trending for years, but Covid-19 acted as a catalyst for the “next normal,” in which the possibility for an increasingly remote workforce may be inevitable. As organizations evaluate which roles and responsibilities best fit future goals, they also need to consider the technological and cultural impacts of going virtual.
All business revolves around positive relationships – with employees, customers, partners and even with technology. When smart enterprises judiciously audit and evaluate the full spectrum of their capabilities and deploy their remote workforce, the result can be exceptional outcomes generated by exceptional people and processes.