By Erin Bloom
Closing the office was going to be a temporary inconvenience, yet it has illuminated a new and attractive path forward for many companies and their staff. Those able to adapt to the rapid expansion of remote work and catering to the success of these workers are well-positioned to thrive, but it will require some planning.
So far, many companies have already succeeded at transitioning. According to the PwC’s US Remote Work Survey in January, 83% of employers now say the shift to remote work has been successful for their company, and only a minority (17%) want to fully return to pre-pandemic attendance requirements. Employees support it too, or some hybrid model of remote work and in-office time; in that same survey, over half of them said they preferred to work remotely three days a week or more. Remote work doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, but transitioning has its complications.
One of the first questions companies faced is deciding what to do with their space. Real estate is the number one non-staff expense for most companies and many let the leases on their expensive properties expire. Here at Aquent (www.aquent.com), the savings were repurposed to firm up our remote capabilities ensuring our employees had the tools needed to seamlessly continue their work. Reinvesting in the workforce became the first priority. Decisions also have to be made about things usually taken for granted, like how and where is physical mail to be processed? Who will answer the phones and ensure connections with customers and clients remain satisfying and productive? These domestic considerations are important, but equally important is the need to ensure the workforce, now unmoored from the physical office, remains connected and supported.
If you’re considering embracing this model and want to help ensure your success with a distributed workforce, there are several considerations to attend to, not least of which is the hiring of a Chief Remote Officer (CRO). In either a fully remote or hybrid structure, you’ll need a dedicated professional to fulfill a number of novel functions. CROs should champion programs that bring the workforce together and create a sense of belonging even if those workers are thousands of miles apart. They should also provide communications platforms for all employees to be heard and supported and relay community and culture objectives throughout the organization.
Fortunately, the technology needed to create an effective and harmonized remote workforce are already in widespread use. Video conferencing software picks up where face to face meetings left off. Zoom, Google Meet, GoToMeeting allow you to communicate in much of the same way as before where participants can attend from anywhere on the planet. Also, messaging apps like Instant Messenger and Slack replicate everything from water cooler chatter to email and file sharing, allowing for efficiencies an in-office setting can’t provide in quite the same way. Replacing tried and true elements of the traditional office is easier and more effective than ever.
Where employees physically sit is now far less important than the strength of their wi-fi signal. Absent the cubicle row, co-working in an amenable restaurant, a park or at a wi-fi enabled zoo can freshen up what used to be a routine part of the work week and can capture the feeling of working for a company, together.
Working from home alone though is now more typical. Before, daily proximity with coworkers made it easy to bring people together for the staple experiences of office life, birthday cakes in the lunchroom, happy hours, client lunches, etc. To overcome this, a little bit of creativity is needed to help replace some of that time spent together, and this is where a good CRO can have tremendous impact as they should be empowered to provide opportunities for employees to break from the solitude for much needed social interactions. A CRO can schedule sing-alongs, organize knitting groups, talent shows, improv or any activity, not typical to a work function, that is likely to build new friendships and sustain existing ones. Allowing for novel experiences like these can spur camaraderie and help us regain that sense of belonging and togetherness we lost in what are now darkened buildings.
Working remotely has given employees a taste of freedom outside the office parks, and they enjoy the flexibility and control of their own lives that comes along with that. At the same time, employers are able to maintain high levels of customer service and satisfaction. Companies that embrace this new world and fulfill the technological and emotional needs of their employees will attract the brightest talent in the world and the capacity to retain them. It’s increasingly clear that successfully managing and developing a distributed workforce is going to be integral to a company’s success and it’s time to lean into this singular workplace transformation.
Erin Bloom is the Head of Culture and Community at Aquent (www.aquent.com), a workforce solutions company, where she oversees their remote work policies, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion programs, and internal communications.