Since March, Covid has transformed how, where, and when we do work. Our work-lives are now inseparable – as are our personal and professional identities – because of the lack of separation between home and an office. Now, with so many people working remotely, we have reconfigured our homes to include offices. Even though I’ve worked remotely for over a decade, many had for the very first time in March. And, it’s easy to make the argument that technology has prevented the economy from getting worse because these tools we used have enabled us to continue to work even during a global public health crisis.
While you could have worked remotely many years ago, Covid has forced companies to give workers flexibility and this change is permanent. Many of the largest companies in the world like Microsoft, Adobe, Aetna, and Capital One have now committed to long-term and permanent remote work. These companies understand that in order to effectively engage and retain their distributed workforces, they have to be responsive and supportive of their needs.
Companies need to do more and be more
If the past several months have exposed anything, it’s companies expanded and necessary roles in supporting employees and other stakeholders. Today, employees expect their companies to do more and be more than they were ever asked before. They are expecting companies to provide flexibility, invest in their education, have a stance on political and social issues, and support their mental health. Being in business just to make money will no longer cut it in a world where companies are expected to be communities and support systems for workers who are constantly under more pressure to meet the needs of their jobs and businesses.
In order for companies to rise up to meet the needs and preferences of remote workers, they have been embracing technology and adopting it more readily. Their tech roadmaps have been accelerated out of necessity and it’s benefitted them and their employees greatly. For instance, chatbots are providing employees unbiased answers to their health or work-related questions and collaborative tools have made it seamless for workers to share knowledge across their teams.
Leaders need to take remote working seriously
Recently I spoke and participated in a live webinar with Coveo and Cask, two companies who are helping transform the way we work. During our conversation, Juanita Olguin, a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Coveo, made the point that with remote working “you’re no longer limited by one geography and only being able to source locally, now you have the ability to hire anyone, anywhere, assuming you have the right tools in place to enable them and onboard them.”
With the acceptance of remote work, we’ve removed the “relocation barrier” that would typically prevent people from applying for jobs who didn’t want to move to another city, state or country. Now, if you live in Idaho and always wanted a job at Google – but didn’t want to move to California – you can still apply. And thus, the global talent pool has widened. At the same time, it’s now more competitive to get jobs because more people can and will apply for them. All of these new employment opportunities were unthinkable before Covid.
Leaders have also had to make big decisions about office distribution with remote work. Stacy Ridge, a Principal HR Consultant at Cask, discovered that as employers seek to bring workers back to the office, they have to look at their data to make critical decisions about their infrastructure. “They are actually canceling the building of an entire office that they were going to pursue before Covid,” she said.
We’ve witnessed Nationwide consolidate their infrastructure with work-from-office in four main campuses and work-from-home in most of their other locations and REI selling their HQ and embracing a universal work-from-home operation.
Meet the needs of remote workers by engaging them directly
Since remote workers are distant, they need a place to learn and share resources and to feel like they are part of a larger unit. Juanita suggests having a “team workspace” so that employees are aware of what’s going on across their team and so managers know what’s going on and can be responsive to other’s needs.
At Cask, Stacy says they have a Slack channel called “the water cooler”, which acts as a casual space for personal conversations and that people take turns championing the topics, encouraging employees to actively participate to make it work. “You have to take your trusted facilitating skills and adjust them to a virtual environment,” she said.
A global study I led with Oracle found that this year is “the most stressful year” in their lives and that’s why leaders need to be more empathetic and vulnerable because they are actually the ones suffering the most and their employees are looking for a deeper connection. If leaders can be honest about their own stress, it removes the stigma around mental health and everyone benefits from their vulnerability and honesty. Stacy summed this up nicely, saying “having leaders step forward and be proactive about those conversations is important.”
At Coveo, Juanita’s teams are offered peer-based awards where your peers can nominate individual team members who are living by the company’s guiding principles. “It’s really powerful because everyone has anxiety right now so when you’re able to hear a piece of good feedback it makes a difference personally to the team.”
Juanita, Stacy, and I believe that every interaction with an employee counts in having a more engaged, less anxious, and happier workforce. At Cask, they transitioned from a traditional go-live cake celebration to a virtual one sending cupcakes to remote workers to celebrate customers going live with their new solutions. And at Coveo, they hold fitness contests with prizes. There are countless ways to put humanity back into the workplace and make remote workers “feel at home”.
The future of remote work
Remote work is here to stay. Back when I was a full-time employee, over a decade ago, I wasn’t able to work remotely, but now it’s so much more accepted and the stigma is gone. In fact, when I conducted a poll on LinkedIn, more people said they would promote a remote worker over an office worker because they are “more self-directed”. As more of the workplace is distributed across the world, where and when you work won’t matter, and all that will remain is the relationships you have with your colleagues and the business results you achieve.
Where to go next
And to find out more about the tech capabilities your workforce needs in order to adapt to the new work-from-home reality, read “4 Features You Need to Power an Intelligent Workplace”.
Engage with more of Dan’s content on his blog and podcast at danschawbel.com.