We are in the middle of an enormous cultural shift. While there are still many jobs that require an on-site presence, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that technology has reached a level where many people can telecommute effectively. Pew Research estimates that 40% of American workers are employed in occupations that can be performed remotely, if their companies adopt the right systems, tools, and processes.
My advice is to embrace teleworking. Employees have had a taste of its benefits, such as flexibility, protecting health, and saving time and money related to commutes, office wear, lunches, and other expenses. A survey by Robert Half International found that nearly 80% of U.S. office workers would like to have more flexibility for telecommuting in the future.
The virus has overcome what used to be one of the biggest hurdles to a lenient teleworking policy —convincing the boss that there wouldn’t be major negative impacts on culture, productivity, and security. The experiment of the last six months highlights the dynamic new workplace that allows talent to flourish regardless of physical location.
Forgetting the Old Fears
Human Resources professionals have often struggled to find the right telecommuting policy that satisfies employees’ desire for flexibility, as well as their managers’ need for control and consistency. But the pandemic has tested the model and provided the factual evidence to support its viability. That’s why Nemertes Research found that nearly 71% of the companies it surveyed with employees working from home said they’re likely to continue doing so, especially in digital-heavy industries.
The following are three common fears typically shared by companies that hadn’t previously embraced remote working—and suggested approaches to overcome them:
1. Loss of culture. You can allay this fear if you build the right cultural values and have a strong team approach whereby you really empower and trust your people. Frequent, targeted communication is instrumental here. And this communication has to be two-way because active listening will be just as important as or more important than just talking. A virtual workforce has to feel tied to the company mission, understand everyone has a part to play, know what their role is, be able to be heard, and empathize with others in fulfilling the objectives of their position.
2. Reduced productivity. Plenty of companies adhere to the old-school activity paradigm that employees are only working if the boss can see them working. But so far, companies haven’t seen their fears about productivity loss realized; federal agencies have found employees are even more productive, with less time spent commuting, attending in-person meetings, and traveling to events. In fact, an employee productivity tracking company found that U.S. workers were 47% more productive in spring 2020 than in the same period in 2019.
3. Concerns about data security. While employees have been working at home, they have been downloading tools, apps, and games to their work-issued devices and using personal phones and tablets for business. Companies need to take extra precautions and provide employees with security training to heighten their awareness to prevent accidental breaches.
Once freed of these key fears, businesses can embrace a huge advantage of teleworking: a more diverse talent pool and flexible workforce scheduling. Human Resources leaders can redesign employee recruiting and onboarding processes to encourage hiring the most qualified candidates regardless of the geographic region where they sit.
Embracing Change in Multiple Sites
Will this new normal last? Some changes were driven simply by safety and necessity, so once the immediate virus challenge is removed, companies may revert to old patterns. But they—and their employees—have now seen the possibilities of ongoing teleworking.
With most activities based in the cloud, you’ll see a de-emphasis on corporate headquarters. More companies will build up multiple key sites and cluster offices that support their dispersed remote workers. While I believe this will come down to the individual culture of a company, my hope is that this will lead to a new way of working, where innovation can thrive regardless of location.
The key takeaway from this experience is the new confidence many company leaders have that the appropriate infrastructure, tools, and resources are in place to enable employees across every department to work from anywhere. Human Resources professionals have seen the future of how companies and talent can thrive, and it is upon us to create a culture that makes it last.