This is a guest blog post from Charles Barratt, Senior Manager Digital Workspace Pursuits EMEA at VMWare.
Over the last few months, firms that had merely dabbled in flexible working – and many more that had never even considered it – have been forced out of their comfort zone.
But amidst all the chaos and uncertainty, an incredible entrepreneurial spirit has spread across industry, as businesses of all kinds figured out how to enable their employees to work remotely.
Now we’re over the initial shock, and new work patterns have become normalized, many organizations look at what they’ve achieved over the last few months with a new sense of appreciation and pride.
And even now as places slowly start to reopen, the consensus is that a full return to the old ways of working would be a step backward for many organizations, as they’ve gained a resiliency and flexibility they never had before.
So, in this blog, I will be discussing how businesses build on what they’ve achieved so far. And as we enter a new phase, I’ll look at what it takes to create a long term, flexible working strategy capable of maintaining the wellbeing and productivity of your workforce.
Ensuring you remain agile enough to handle whatever else 2020 has to throw at us.
The rise of remote-first culture
Traditionally, many leaders believed that remote working could negatively impacts employee productivity.
The lockdown forced those leaders to change that mindset altogether.
Having a remote workforce means placing increased trust in your employees. Leaders concerns shifted from worrying about productivity to worrying about workers’ mental wellbeing or whether their teams are socializing enough.
As such, many workers have felt a significant shift in how their organization operates. People came to appreciate home offices were homes first, and interruptions such as kids bursting into meetings stopped being a dreaded fear and became an amusing icebreaker.
And at the same time, organizations became faster – both at failing and recovering.
The pandemic has caused industry to adopt many of the tenets of ‘remote-first’. A remote-first mindset is about ensuring every worker is treated equally, whether they’re in the office or a different continent altogether, and it’s both a technological and cultural challenge.
For example, some firms have had to onboard new employees during the lockdown. Onboarding employees remotely involves the logistical challenge of getting hardware out to them, and the cultural challenge of integrating them into their new team, virtually.
Fostering a remote-first culture is about finding permanent solutions to these kinds of challenges. And reflecting on how it worked during this period will go a long way towards building a sturdier, more agile, long-term foundation that will benefit your organization long after this pandemic is over.
Remote first means being able to offer employees a better work-life balance and being able to attract talent from anywhere in the world, as you’re no longer restricted by distance.
It also gives businesses the freedom to explore new ways of working. Real estate may even become less of a priority, as companies instead focus on ways to facilitate collaboration.
Entering the next phase
Now we’re past the first phase, organizations now need to reflect on what was achieved in those early, chaotic weeks. What worked? What didn’t? And how can they do better?
For instance, what were the consequences of circumventing the red tape historically associated with remote working? Were there security issues that need to be plugged? How much of that red tape turned out to be unnecessary or a hindrance?
For most organizations, the expectations they had at the start of the year have all changed. So, it’s important to reset expectations.
Their needs to be a shift in mindset – focus on what you can achieve. Define the investments that need to be prioritized and make sure each one is a strategic investment, one that will support the long-term objectives of the organization and keep the wheels turning.
Business continuity plans discovered over this period should transform into business-as-usual plans. The agility gained today can be transferred to other situations that may require wide-spread remote working; whether it’s political unrest, or the 1cm of snow capable of shutting down the UK’s transportation links. Regardless of the predicament, your organization will be able to just carry on working.
Similarly, start thinking now about how to amend employee experience initiatives. During the shock phase, many employees maintained their productivity levels despite challenging remote working experiences. They appreciated it was a chaotic time and were grateful to have the security of a job.
However, as we enter this next phase and the shape of the recovery comes into focus, workers still living with bad remote working experiences will not feel that same drive to remain productive and may start to vote with their feet.
So, encourage staff to take breaks and use video chat when you check in on them to make sure they’re doing ok.
And finally, stop focusing on how you did things when things were “normal” – this period requires all of us to think differently if we want to flourish going into the future.