Now that so many organizations have had to implement virtual work, many are considering permanently adopting it. Learn the steps you need to take to make remote work a cohesive part of your overall business.
When the pandemic hit, and companies rushed, unprepared, into working virtually, many remote work proponents felt disappointed. They worried this would set the work-from-home movement back because companies would have a bad experience.
They weren’t wrong to be worried. Businesses were not adopting the experiment under normal circumstances. They had little preparation and training, less-than-ideal tools and processes in place, and multiple distractions, including kids home from school.
Now that the qualitative and quantitative data is coming in, however, we see this unplanned experiment has been a success. Most businesses, in fact, plan to adopt remote work strategies permanently.
This guide provides a broad overview of what companies should consider if they plan to adopt remote work permanently.
Over the last month, we have helped many companies implement remote communication tools and train their workforce on how to work remotely, giving us a front-row seat to how well organizations are adapting to the change.
Here is what we are seeing and hearing from our clients:
Leaders are becoming believers, not skeptics.
Before the pandemic, most executives I spoke with dismissed the idea of remote work for many reasons.
They worried they couldn’t trust their employees to do the same amount of work. They worried about professionalism. They worried about security. They worried meetings would be ineffective. And the list goes on and on.
But we’ve seen over the last month of this rushed experiment that every company we’ve worked with would call their experience a success. Even the executive leaders of the most conservative organizations have become reluctant believers.
Teams prefer working virtual.
We saw teams quickly adapt to virtual working. We quickly witnessed workers finding new ways to manage their time, learn to stay connected virtually and find ways to be more productive. No one missed a long commute.
Many organizations that had not allowed any or limited remote work because of IT, HR, or security concerns have said they are going to have a hard time justifying not having a remote working policy going forward.
We suspect companies aren’t going to have a choice. Workers will demand the ability to work remotely, and it will be easier to find jobs that offer it as an option.
Companies must transform to digital.
“Right now, the virus seems like an accelerator for digital change that was already underway . . . the surprise has been to see the resistance to this digital change suddenly evaporate.
What organizations resisted for a decade is now core to survival and innovation. It is exciting, because this digital mindset will persist, and it is highly unlikely companies will try to return to what worked prior to the pandemic.”
Many companies were unprepared to become fully digital organizations. They needed to have a seamless “no-touch” digital experience with their customers and their teams needed access to their applications and data in the cloud and their processes digitized. All their workers had to function remotely with the flip of a switch.
Companies will need to transform their organization into a digital-first company to survive and thrive. The pandemic acted as a wake-up call for many organizations.
Whether it is because their experience has been positive or they’re worried about thriving in the new normal, every client we’ve worked with has said they plan to adopt remote work as a permanent part of their business operations.
There actually is quantifiable data that shows companies will be adopting remote work going forward.
With all this usage, Microsoft has been able to collect data and analyze trends around adoption. In China, where employees have mostly returned to a normal work environment, we are seeing data that supports the benefits of working from home:
Since going back to “normalcy,” China still sees more than two times the number of new Teams users each day compared to the end of January.
Also, the number of active Teams users each day continues to grow week over week in China post-quarantine.
The average time between someone’s first use of Teams and the last use of Teams each day increased by more than an hour. At first, this looks like people are working more, but what that data really shows is that remote workers are taking advantage of the flexibility of working from home and breaking up their day to be more productive.
On March 30, 2020, Gartner, Inc. surveyed 317 CFOs and Finance leaders concerning remote work. It revealed that 74 percent of leaders are moving about 5 percent of their typically on-site workforce to remote positions permanently post-quarantine. And almost one-fourth of respondents said they will transition at least 20 percent of their on-site employees to permanent remote positions.
Companies have also realized their fear that remote workers would be less productive is not true at all. For example, 90 percent of CFOs previously stated they had few disruptions to their accounting close process, and most of the activities were able to be completed off-site. CFOs see the opportunity to reduce spending in real estate and on-premise deferred technology spend.
Over the past month, we have all been inundated with Top 10 Lists for how to work remotely. Having been a remote organization for 20 years, we know these tips just scratch the surface of what you really need to make remote work a cohesive strategy for your business.
If you want to become a permanent, high-capability remote organization, you must develop an integrated approach across your people, processes and technology. Below, we highlight a few critical strategies for each area.
People are your business. As such, you need a focus on how they’re faring during the transition to remote work, and you need to ensure the right policies, procedures, and HR and recruitment strategies are in place.
How are you going to extend your culture to remote workers? And what policies do you need to get started?
Policies and Procedures
To fully integrate remote work into your organization, you will need to design and adopt new policies, operating procedures, and training, hiring and communication strategies. This can be a significant change effort, but the work can be broken up and rolled out in phases. Here are a few of the areas you will need to think about:
You need policies dedicated to when and how physical office work mixes with remote work.
With many companies considering reducing office space permanently, you may not have room to accommodate everyone. We’ve experimented a lot to find the right mix of in-person interactions that helps us get our work done, supports healthy team dynamics and builds culture.
Considerations such as team history, how often team members change, how well teams function, and the type of work are all components in determining the right mix. Whether your company is entirely or partially virtual, geographically close or spread out around the globe, consciously designing in-person interactions is essential to making a remote company work.
Create a training approach.
When you are a remote worker and leading a remote team, you need new skills. To help, develop a training curriculum for workers that are new to or converting to remote work. Here are a few examples:
- Building Relationships Virtually
There are approaches that we use to help build strong relationships when we can’t meet face-to-face. For example, we have a training module on how to resolve conflict because it is even more critical when you aren’t in the same room with someone.
- Leading Remote Teams
When you are leading a team of remote workers, there are new skills you need to develop. Employees can quickly feel disconnected in a remote environment. As a leader, you need to check in with them and develop a deeper relationship regularly. And transactional, business-related conference calls won’t cut it. You need to allocate relational one-on-one time (in-person or virtual) to check-in with individual employees. During this time, connect on a personal level and give them an opportunity to share any worries.
- Building Relationships Virtually
Establish hiring tactics.
At Centric, we have determined which skills people need to work remotely and match our culture. We screen during the hiring process 50% for skills and 50% for culture. Your organization will need to adjust its recruiting strategy to accommodate remote working skills.
Just because you have the right policies and procedures in place, however, doesn’t mean your teams will automatically start following them. For that, and to help your teams maintain a connection no matter the distance, you need a focus on culture.
At its core, a virtual culture is no different than that of traditional in-office companies: It’s the set of spoken and unspoken rules for how things get done. The only difference is you need to layer in some extra considerations to make sure your culture extends to em¬ployees who log on from home.
You’ll need to think through how remote workers are integrated into your culture and ways that being virtual can actually enhance your organization. Here are a few considerations:
- Formalize virtual meeting structures to build culture and connections. All of the work in a virtual company gets done in virtual meetings. These meetings are where teams build relationships with one another and where everyone reinforces your culture, so it’s essential to develop protocol around them. For example, we want to have connection before content. We build in time at the beginning of calls to make personal connections and reinforce company values. Our meetings always begin as a kind of virtual watercooler. At the top of the call, we talk on a personal level for about five minutes before diving into business.
- Build robust feedback mechanisms. Great culture can’t exist without feedback — otherwise, you get off track, parts of your culture get lost during growth periods or grow stale over time, and employees feel unheard. This applies to every business, virtual or not. But for entirely virtual companies, regular feedback is especially critical. With limited in-person interactions, you must take extra, deliberate steps to get feedback and understand how employees are feeling. Determine how often you want feedback and how you’re going to get it. We use a mixture of anonymous companywide surveys, exit interviews, external feedback via sites like Glassdoor, and touchpoints with individual employees.
- Leverage your software tools. You can use your software tools to help build culture when you have virtual teams. For example, using the latest collaboration tools, we build virtual communities across the company, whether it’s a group of employees working on the same project or a group of individuals with a shared personal interest. These virtual communities allow employees to connect and build a deeper relationship. With the right tools, our employees have a richer experience and a sense of belonging.
Going remote really exacerbates process inefficiencies that exist within your organization. Many companies witnessed this firsthand when going remote and were forced to implement band-aid solutions.
To permanently embrace virtual capabilities, companies will need to implement more robust process solutions.
Improvement Never Stops
- As you go remote, you must establish a continuous-improvement mindset throughout your organization. It will be more difficult for managers or improvement-focused personnel to physically observe or stumble upon inefficiencies, but these will be readily apparent to your employees and — most likely — your customers. All individuals within your company need to feel empowered to identify and address these inefficiencies. It also needs to become an expectation that everyone should continuously contribute ideas about how to improve processes and the related customer experience. You will need to make the classic “suggestion box” available digitally as it becomes more critical, and employees should be willing to understand the upstream and downstream steps related to their work to identify and implement improvements.
- It is also understandably going to be more challenging to improve processes while remote. It won’t be as easy to simply pull everyone into a physical conference room to conduct the typical process mapping sessions and related improvement discussion. You must define the process for improvement with remote process mapping sessions, as well as the appropriate supporting tools (such as virtual whiteboarding), to ensure your team can identify and implement improvements in a timely manner.
Automation Is Just One Answer
- Unless you want to employ courier services, remote work will require you to eliminate all paper-based processes. Two keys to this are 1) not simply automating bad processes and 2) identifying the best technology solutions to meet your automation needs. Many enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) tools and other related systems have workflow and process automation capabilities within them. But other end-to-end process automation solutions should be considered, such as Microsoft Power Automate and numerous business process management (BPM) tools. Ensure ongoing success by identifying the scope and scale or the business automation needs, and partner with your IT organization to determine the proper automation solution upfront.
- Remote employees must become more effective employees. While automating end-to-end processes helps, there are often specific manual, repetitive tasks that can be eliminated through Robotic Process Automation (RPA) solutions such as UIPath, Blue Prism, or Automation Anywhere. These tools allow you to use a digital worker for tasks that meet the three R’s — repeatable, reusable, and rules-based. Removing tasks that employees may see as menial will help maintain motivation levels and improve employee retention as employees focus on true value-adding activities.
To become a fully remote-capable company, you will need to invest in your technology infrastructure.
1. Finish What You Started
To fully leverage the capability, you’ll need to complete the entire implementation roadmap and training. This should include a more complete analysis of your business needs to the product roadmap, a review of your risk and compliance needs to mitigate threats and adequately address security, and more comprehensive design for usability and governance.
2. Get to the Cloud
After moving your basic communication and collaboration tools to the cloud, you’ll need to move all your applications and data there, too, for your company to be fully remote-ready. This is critical to maximizing the accessibility, flexibility, and scalability of your remote workforce. Getting to the cloud is a significant component of having true business continuity and an organization that can flip to a remotely run organization overnight. That said, moving everything to the cloud may be too big of an undertaking to accomplish in a short period.
As a migration first step, we recommend an application rationalization exercise. Understanding which applications are best candidates for rehosting and refactoring will allow you to prioritize your time and budget.
Another bridge solution is technologies like remote virtual desktops that replicate the desktop experience from a web browser. By removing device dependencies, your team has more flexibility for remote work and less reliance on physical hardware purchases.
Companies aren’t going to have a choice. To win the war on talent, you will have to have an integrated, permanent remote work strategy. With it, you’ll have a much larger talent pipeline to hire from while attracting some of the best workers.
Remote work is good for business. You will have happier, more engaged employees who stick around, a better culture and, ultimately, higher profitability. Get ahead of the curve now by developing a comprehensive plan for adopting remote work.
For a firsthand look at our remote work business model, read “Office Optional: How to Build a Connected Culture With Virtual Teams.”
President Larry English tells the story of how our virtual consulting firm started — and how companies can follow suit with an office-optional culture.
Your guide to navigate what’s next.
Our digital-first vision, Business Anywhere, provides a blueprint for building more resilient organizations. When businesses are fully enabled digitally across all channels and mediums, customers, vendors and suppliers enjoy seamless, online interactions. Employees can work anywhere, anytime. And talent is wherever you can find it–as long as you have tools to tap it, the policies to channel it, and the culture to enable it.