In a recent PwC survey of 133 U.S. company executives, 83% said remote work has been a success, yet only 13% are prepared to give up the office for good. At the same time, the majority of both executives and the 1,200 office workers who participated in the survey believe hybrid work will become a reality once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, and vaccines become more widely available.
At my own company, a tech startup in the San Francisco Bay Area, we had to weigh the benefits and challenges of working remotely before deciding to become a remote-first company. Below are a few takeaways from our decision-making journey and tips to ensure remote work success.
Remote work benefits
1. Freedom to move
One of the positive aspects of remote work is that it provides freedom for employees to move and work from anywhere. For many employees, especially in tech and other industries that have traditionally been concentrated in specific geographic areas, remote work allows people to stay connected, collaborate and contribute without enduring a high cost of living or other limitations. At my company, this fact alone contributed to a higher employee satisfaction rate.
2. Custom workspaces
For quite some time now, open office spaces have been the norm for businesses across industries. Yet, for work that requires a high level of focus for long periods of time, an open office environment—with all its distractions and noise—is far from ideal. Remote work allows employees to design their own workspaces for maximum focus and productivity.
3. Bigger hiring pool
You can now compete for top talent anywhere in the country and the world. More than that, hiring remotely allows you to build a more diverse team in every sense, attracting people from different backgrounds and skill sets.
Remote work challenges
1. Loss of community
There are a few things that are hard to replicate in the virtual work environment, and among them are impromptu brainstorms, team outings and friendly conversations at the proverbial water cooler. For many companies, in-person interactions fueled a sense of community and were a big part of company culture.
2. Communication gaps
It can be hard to get a read on people during a video call. It’s also easy to miss social cues we often use during in-person interactions without even thinking about it. But just being aware of this fact can help you build understanding and figure out ways to close the communication gap.
The past year presented new challenges for all of us in every aspect of life, including health, family and work. Working remotely while caring for loved ones and/or coping with social isolation came at a huge physical and emotional cost, causing burnout.
Tips for successful remote work
Every challenge is also an opportunity to learn and grow. Here are a few battle-tested tips to help you overcome the challenges of working remotely.
1. Think digital first
If you haven’t done so already, adopt digital tools and systems that are easy to use and meet your team’s unique needs. If all you need is Zoom and Google Workspace and you’re off to the races, that’s great. But if you’re planning to transition into fully remote work or a hybrid model where part of the workforce remains remote, then you’ll need more than just basic planning and communication tools. For example, you may need to adopt learning management systems to deliver everything from onboarding to HR training to ongoing internal product and service seminars.
We live in the digital age where new data is generated every second. All that information, including customer data, is useless if you don’t properly manage it and integrate different parts of business to implement continuous data-driven improvement. Consider a data management platform to keep your business and customer data secure, align remote teams around key performance indicators and track progress across the entire organization.
2. Prioritize communication
More doesn’t mean better when it comes to communication. Zoom fatigue is real, and meetings are no more popular now than they were when we worked in physical offices. Keep your meetings to the minimum and prioritize clear, consistent and written communication. Make face-to-face meetings more intentional and purpose-driven.
3. Encourage work-life balance
While working from home has its appeal, it can cause burnout. On the flip side of flexibility, the lack of commute and comfortable clothing are the absence of structure in terms of a clear start and end to the workday. The burden is on both leaders and employees to set clear expectations for work hours, response time and meetings, taking into consideration different time zones. It may seem overwhelming at first, but honest and open conversations can help find and maintain balance.
4. Check the pulse of employees on a regular basis
As time goes by, our sentiments about remote work and its impact on our lives may change. Don’t wait until you start noticing productivity dips or a lower employee satisfaction rate. It might be unrealistic for you to check in with everyone individually on a regular basis, but you can use brief surveys to give your employees an opportunity to provide feedback and ask questions.
5. Introduce remote work policies
Remote work may look different at different companies. To make sure your employees understand how remote work is going to affect their daily work and lives in the long term, consider introducing remote-work-specific policies. The policies can include anything from allowing employees to work anywhere within the same time zone or country to offering an ergonomics stipend to planning regular in-person outings once it’s safe to do so. At my company, we did a series of employee surveys to determine our team’s priorities and policies as we adjusted to a new normal.
At this point, it’s clear we aren’t going back to the way we worked before the pandemic. Now the task is to make remote work the best it can be and to keep work productive and meaningful.