The future of work may still be uncertain, but you can bet that remote work is here to stay. In fact, a recent Gartner survey revealed that 82% of company leaders plan to allow employees to continue working remotely some of the time. Knowing that, there are a few crucial steps business leaders can take to better support remote or hybrid workforces.
IDG recently released a report on how IT priorities have shifted in 2020. According to the report, 45% of CIOs say their top priority is cost control — this is up 16% since September 2019. Interestingly, CEOs have a different top priority — digital transformation (37%) and improving remote work experiences (37%).
These stats illustrate an important point — cost optimization is certainly necessary, but not at the expense of digital transformation. With much of the workforce now working from home, we need to ramp up our digital efforts and do what we can to improve the remote experience.
Most companies can achieve both goals by investing in the cloud and moving away from on-premises dependencies. Decommissioning on-premises infrastructure can save money by reducing the amount of space and utilities needed to operate. Also, with fewer employees coming to the office now and in the future, it could make sense to downsize or consolidate office space.
What you save on office expenses, including real estate and building maintenance, should be shifted to increasing end-user support. You’ll need extra support resources to ensure you’re sending the right equipment to end users, getting them set up to work remote or hybrid, and providing the technical guidance they need to be successful while working from home. The trick is to cut costs with the intention of reinvesting in your business and your people.
In an interview with Computerworld, CBT Architects CIO Nirva Fereshetian said it best when she explained, “A lot of things that we paid for to optimize our office, now we're transforming to optimize our employees' [internet] bandwidth and other things that are coming through. It's because all of those locations are offices now for us."
Today, security is both a major concern for business leaders and a major headache for CIOs. That’s because the old way of enforcing security — which focuses on securing the company network and devices — doesn’t work when the office isn’t the central hub anymore. A dispersed workforce means every employee’s home, and every personal device accessing company data, is a new office in need of security.
There are threats around every corner and it’s inevitable that some devices and home networks will be compromised. For this reason, our approach to security has to shift from the device and the network to focus instead on the user’s identity, data and applications. If we can secure these, it’ll be less of a concern if a device gets stolen or the network gets compromised.
To borrow from Microsoft’s terminology — security has to start at the front door. Things like multifactor authentication ensure data stays secure even if the device or the user’s password don’t. Identity-focused security can also enable greater device choice for employees. Until applications become compatible with all device types, we likely won’t see a trend toward true device as a choice, but companies can start preparing for this eventuality by adopting security at the door rather than at the device.
Company culture is a big differentiator when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. It’s most often displayed within the walls of the office, through desirable amenities, teambuilding activities, professional development and other activities that encourage workplace involvement.
In a post-COVID-19 world, leaders who built their company culture around the physical office need to rethink their strategies. Since most employees can no longer gather at the office, we need to find new ways to wrap employees in that same sense of company culture, virtually.
According to a recent study by FinanceBuzz, 49% of experienced remote workers said a major downside of working remotely is how hard it is to build relationships with co-workers. Additionally, 46% of survey respondents identified loneliness or feeling isolated as another downside.
In order to keep remote workers engaged and happy, we need to help them connect and feel seen. That’s where virtual company culture comes into play. One Forbes article defines virtual culture as, “a space where each employee feels comfortable, safe, respected and treated like a valued member of the team; it’s where they feel like they belong.”
The easiest way to foster belonging is with regular communication. Leadership should aspire to communicate as much as possible to create clarity and presence with employees. Teams should communicate often to create synchronicity and share insights. Individuals should connect with peers regularly to collaborate, build camaraderie and share experiences.
Communication can do a lot to help employees feel seen, even when they can’t be in the office. Adopting some new remote work tactics will help you encourage greater communication across your business. Here are three remote work policies I’d highly recommend:
Recently, a group of data scientists from Microsoft decided to monitor their colleagues’ remote work habits to see how they were adapting. Their results showed that employees were working an average of four extra hours per week. According to their report, “employees said they were carving out pockets of personal time to care for children, grab some fresh air or exercise, and walk the dog. To accommodate these breaks, people were likely signing into work earlier and signing off later.”
We’ve seen that same tendency toward longer workdays here at Insight as well. When we pull the numbers from our Office 365 tenant, we see that after-hours work has increased across the board. On the flip side, we also see people taking care of non-work related tasks during the day, such as helping the kids with school or running an errand. You wouldn’t normally see this behavior in the office, but remote work is creating greater flexibility between work and home life.
For most people, this new flexibility is a big adjustment that requires both a culture shift and a learning phase. We see some people get a sense of paranoia and anxiety, thinking they can’t leave their workstation for fear of being watched or missing a call. Then there are others, who take advantage of the newfound freedom to play hooky until it’s time for a call. Obviously, neither mentality is ideal.
However, since we can’t physically check in on anyone anymore, it’s hard to enforce rigid rules that constrain employees to a 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. workday. While some employees may be offline for some time during the day, they may also be more willing to work after hours to ensure tasks get done on time. In this way, remote work gives us the opportunity to build a stronger sense of trust between employers and employees — but it has to start at the top. Management and executive leadership have to encourage a culture of work-life balance. Employees need to know it’s okay to take a break when needed and it’s also okay to work odd hours to get a task done.
Managers should do their best to lead by example, from logging off when it’s time for a break, to fully unplugging when they’re on vacation. This is the best way to set a precedent for healthy work-life balance. Don’t get me wrong, there will always be those who dive two feet into work and never leave, but leadership can help change this mentality. We need to tell our teams, “Hey, when you’re going out, log out. When you have plans, log out. There’s always tomorrow.”