6 minute read 7 Sep 2020
Why remote working will be the new normal, even after COVID-19

Why remote working will be the new normal, even after COVID-19

By

EY Belgium

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

6 minute read 7 Sep 2020

What are the challenges of remote working and how should companies address them during COVID-19? And what after the crisis? Is remote working here to stay?

COVID-19 forced companies to switch to remote working very quickly. Although this migration went reasonably well in a short period of time, there are a few pitfalls that business managers need to be aware of. After all, the implementation of remote working is broader and deeper than most organizations realize. To be successful in the long term, a structured approach is needed, together with a significant investment to change corporate culture.

The challenges in implementing remote working

The COVID-19 crisis is confronting companies with a large number of challenges over a short term. In order to maintain productivity, a quick adoption of remote working is a must. However, this also brings with it some difficulties. The three major obstacles in implementing remote working are the following:

  • Implementing remote working in a structural way.
    Companies that see salvation in a fast adoption of tools without structural adjustments, risk a loss of efficiency and frustration among employees and stakeholders. It is not enough to simply provide the necessary infrastructure and tools. Some companies already had the infrastructure and tools available at the start of the crisis, but are only now realizing their full potential. Tools are important, but a successful migration also requires leadership, clear guidelines and real commitment.

  • Securing the infrastructure for remote working.
    Where companies used to manage everything centrally, they now have to organize everything remotely. This requires in-depth security changes and structural adjustments. This should not be taken lightly, as cybercrime has increased in the EU during the outbreak. It also requires the commitment of each and every employee to securely navigate their work tools.

  • Balancing the work and private lives of employees.
    Through the immediate introduction of homeworking, employees experience a blurring of the boundary between work and private life. Early adopters show that this does not necessarily impact productivity, but it does pose a threat to collaboration and communication if left unattended. Actively investing in your employees’ well-being therefore is an extra point of attention.

Leadership needs to define a goal

When implementing remote working, business leaders must first define a goal. COVID-19 is no goal in itself. Company leaders need to ask why they want to implement remote working beyond the demands of the current crisis. Is the aim to reduce office space? Can it be used to optimize commuting, or introduce more flexibility into the corporate culture? Etc.

Once the goal is defined, the first step starts with adapting leadership to the new way of working. Business leaders need to set up a set of practices to be able to communicate clearly with employees and stakeholders. For example, by actively reaching out to their teams on a frequent basis, optimizing the calendars, planning regular feedback rounds, … Communication should be quicker and much more frequent. This improves collaboration and builds the necessary trust to successfully roll out new ways of working.

A set of clear guidelines are needed to help employees deal with this new way of working: not only why, but also what and how. This guidance must also be reflected in an adjusted HR policy. Remote working is here to stay, so it does not suffice to focus on short-term solutions. Successful companies also plan for the long term and adapt their corporate culture accordingly. In fact, the entire business needs to be operated virtually, for employees, suppliers and other members of the ecosystem.

Using the right tools for a good migration

When choosing appropriate tools, it is important to first look at what is already available. If the company needs to act quickly, the tools already available can get you well ahead on the road to full adoption. If they are not available, or they turn out not to be applicable or effective, then there are some user-friendly short-term solutions that companies can install and that contain all the needed features. Always look at what the company needs, not at what is most popular. Every business culture is different and may need different tools to keep productivity high.

The next step is to build on this. Start the process of adoption. Organize training moments for employees, spread them over several days, listen to the feedback, adapt where necessary, ... This way of structural implementation is essential. Remote working is an investment. Do not rush, but build step by step.

Maintain good employee sentiment for good collaboration

It is important for companies to keep track of employee sentiment during the rollout of structural remote working. Company leaders should pay attention to the impact a lack of physical contact has on people. Only when employees work remotely do they fully realize the added value of physical contact.

Companies need to stimulate cooperation between colleagues and monitor togetherness. Consciously planned off-time moments such as virtual coffees or 'bring your kids to work' sessions give teams the opportunity to connect with each other. It is no coincidence that silly games, video sharing and virtual after-work drinks are doing so well these days: they are a way to ventilate emotions and share them with colleagues.

The value of remote working, now and after the crisis

Remote working is an opportunity for companies to change their way of working sustainably and reap the benefits over the medium to long term. Think of less office space, less commuting, fewer business trips, shorter breaks and greater focus for employees. Feedback from the market seems to indicate that remote workers are also less likely to take short absences due to illness. It can also have a positive impact on the remuneration system of companies and provide insights into (HR) opportunities. Remote working on a larger scale also offers companies the flexibility to deal with unexpected events in the future, such as the COVID-19 crisis. Finally, remote working can give a renewed boost to cooperation and cohesion.

Investing in remote working will have far-reaching consequences on the way we work after the crisis. It is too early to say to what extent we will not go back to the old way of working, but business leaders should already think about the potential of these investments:

  1. A new operational model based on higher flexibility and more agile and remote ways of working;

  2. A corporate culture that is more connected internally and externally and where an analysis of collaboration can provide valuable data;

  3. An alignment of business goals to the new cultural standard and employee expectations.

  4. Data driven methods of analysis to get deeper insights into new learning patterns, employee sentiments, etc.

Remote working is here to stay and will more than ever become an integral part of the way we work. Now is the time for companies to prepare for this 'back to the new normal'.

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Summary

COVID-19 compels companies en masse to adopt remote working. This seems, at first sight, to be quite successful, but there are also many signals that productivity and work-life balance are coming under pressure. It will only be a real success if companies start tackling remote working structurally. It is not advised to take a wait-and-see approach, because after the corona crisis, remote working will become the new normal.

About this article

By

EY Belgium

Multidisciplinary professional services organization