Will the lessons learned during the pandemic change how employers see remote work? While Twitter says its employees can work from home forever, and Facebook plans to shift half of its workforce to permanent remote work in the next 10 years, changes like these will remain out of the question for most businesses.
Let’s take a look at why, and examine five ways you can support flexibility in the post-COVID-19 workplace.
Remote Working Shows We Adapt Easily
When COVID-19 forced the world to hole up at home, it appeared as though remote work had become mainstream overnight. As it turns out, we humans are remarkably adaptable. It took a couple of weeks to find our footing, but before long most of us were zooming in and out of video calls like it’s all we’ve ever known.
One major takeaway from this pandemic is that remote work is not a passing trend or a last resort. It can actually work for a wide range of businesses in different industries that hadn’t considered it before. We already knew from research that remote work can boost productivity. And, in the past few weeks, many companies experienced this benefit firsthand.
But how much of this new-found enthusiasm for remote work will stick once companies are allowed to repopulate their offices?
It’s The Little Things That Matter
I run a coding bootcamp in Barcelona,Spain. Nearly two months had passed since we switched all our students to the remote course already in place. Everything was going so smoothly that I started having some very strange thoughts. I wondered: Does on-site actually make sense? We can deliver all our content perfectly well online, so what’s the point?
Then, I had to stop by our campus to pick up some of my things. And it hit me. I could suddenly hear every sound, see every shape and color, feel everything that is our campus. All the memories of our students chatting with each other and bustling about came rushing back.
What was I thinking? We could never give this place up.
In my sudden sensory overload, I realized that my evolutionary ability to adapt to a new situation has somehow managed to work against me. I’d forgotten why I value our campus so much.
A physical space–a campus or an office–has something immensely complex about it that’s very hard to reproduce in an online environment. Imagine Hogwarts going remote.
Yes, you can get the job done and you might even be less distracted and more productive. But you’re missing out on the little things: the informal banter, the inside jokes, the adventure of sharing something with other people.
Flexibility Is The New Norm
The sudden shift to remote work on a massive scale brought about by COVID-19 is going to have a lasting impact. But I doubt we’ll be seeing companies give up their offices once things go back to normal.
First of all, people still want to get out of their homes sometimes. Maybe even more so after months of lockdown. Humans are social beings, and confinement has only increased our desire to spend time connecting with others when it’s safe to do so.
Secondly, having a shared space to work in is a resource for teams. It’s where creativity and collaboration happen, and where company culture is born.
Businesses can look at their office space as a huge overhead they need to eliminate. Or, they can accept it for what it is: a normal operational cost they’ve always had.
COVID-19 has accelerated many changes that were a long time coming but held back by old habits and a work culture inherited from another era. When lockdowns are lifted, companies that want to stay ahead of the game will offer something they should have offered their employees a long time ago: flexibility.
Autonomous Employees Are Happy Employees
Flexible working is the No.1 factor that contributes to raising employees’ productivity and motivation levels.
By giving workers a choice, companies can take advantage of maintaining an office while reaping the benefits of remote work, which includes happier employees, increased work-life balance and productivity, and reduced absenteeism.
Through flexible working, employees will have the autonomy to stay home when needed–to take care of a sick child or to avoid losing time with a long commute. And, they will also have the opportunity to go to the office whenever they feel like socializing or brainstorming with coworkers.
Software developers, for example, will benefit greatly from working remotely now and again. At home they’ll be able to devote full focus to their coding, but will also have the chance to meet up with their coworkers at their workplace.
With a flexible schedule, companies will expect employees to be available for meetings during certain hours of the day. But outside of those, they’ll have the freedom to organize their own work schedule.
And then, if they don’t expect their spaces to ever be at full capacity, companies can gradually downsize their offices and squeeze out a bit more profit.
How To Support Flexibility In The Post-COVID-19 Workplace
This change won’t just happen on its own: Companies need to invest time and effort into making it work. Here are some steps to take.
1. Create a system
Even a flexible work culture needs a system. Companies need to find the right tools and processes, learn how to evaluate productivity, and communicate expectations clearly.
Each company should have a remote work policy tailored to its specific needs–gathering feedback from employees is a good way to start that process. Engaging with employees and being transparent about decisions concerning remote work helps to inspire trust.
A remote work policy should include who can work remotely, how often, and under what conditions. It should also touch upon what rules remote workers need to follow. Specify the core working hours–for example, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Include how much the employees are allowed to expense on home office equipment–say, $500. Be sure to add data security rules, like asking employees to use a VPN when working from home, too.
2. Hone in on communication
Supporting well-structured communication is crucial. Employees should be able to interact with each other whether they’re in the office or working from home. It’s up to the companies to make sure lines of communication are not obstructed.
It’s a good idea to establish guidelines, including by what means certain things should be communicated. For example, make it clear what needs to be discussed in your daily Zoom meetings, which topics warrant an email, and what should be talked about on Slack.
Companies should also set guidelines for the frequency of communication. Make sure employees understand how often they’re expected to engage with each other and their managers.
It’s also important to define how asynchronous communication will work. In a remote environment, there isn’t always an instant response. So let the employees know how and when they should respond.
3. Be open to new ways of working
I expect to see a lot of companies start to use Agile methodologies to manage projects and run meetings efficiently.
For example, Scrum is a framework most commonly used in IT that promotes iterative thinking and collaboration, breaking the process of product development into two- to four-week sprints.
In adopting this mindset, companies should look to the tech sector as an example. After all, developers constantly collaborate with each other online and often work asynchronously, even when they’re sitting in the same room.
Emulate the way software developers work by using tools for Agile working like Jira, Asana, or Kanbanize. It’s a great way to increase your team’s productivity.
4. Find ways to connect–online and offline
The biggest mistake to make when transitioning to flexible working is letting the community formed in the workplace dwindle. When employees rarely see each other in person, they can easily lose their sense of community.
Make sure to create the time and the space for everyone to connect. It doesn’t matter whether it’s online or offline. Keep the team spirit alive by arranging a weekly after-work Zoom call, creating a Slack channel where you encourage employees to share jokes or even start a challenge in which everyone can participate.
If possible, organize in-person team building once a quarter where everyone can get together and enjoy each other’s company. The whole team’s performance and motivation levels will be better for it.
5. Offer support
Finally, make sure the employees know who to go to with any questions or concerns they have regarding remote work. Establish a point of contact that they can turn to for support.
And, if needed, don’t hesitate to adapt remote work policies and make them work better for the employees and the business.
In the post-crisis world, businesses that manage to embrace flexibility and remote work will prosper. Those that don’t will have a hard time, so start implementing these measures now.
Alessandro Zanardi is the CEO and Co-founder of Codeworks.me. He has more than 15 years of international work experience, spanning from Software Engineering, to Product Management, Finance, and Startup Entrepreneurship. His career includes several nonprofit initiatives, and advisory roles for Google and Facebook.
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