remote work

Sustaining a Hybrid or Remote Workforce in 2021

‘Virtual Office’, ‘Work-from-Home’, ‘Remote Worker’: call it what you want, but it’s here to stay; and if you haven’t already, you need to incorporate it into your 2021 business plan, if only to keep up with your competitors.

In this blog, we are going to take a quick look at:

  • 2021 trends.
  • The need for a holistic re-imagining of each company’s workplace ‘vibe’, perks, and morale-boosters to successfully translate to a virtual or hybrid model.
  • Understanding the realities forced on employees and their families from the sudden move to virtual work and school.
  • A few thoughts on how to manage the move to virtual.

THE 2021 TRENDS

  • recent survey by 451 Research found that 64% of all companies plan to allow more employees to work from home following the pandemic. Also, more than 33% of organizations have permanently reduced their office footprint as a result of increased virtual work, according to the research. 
  • Leading research firm Gartner sees working from home as a “cornerstone of the post-pandemic future of work” and projects that nearly one in five employees will work remotely all the time after the pandemic has ended.
  • The 2021 State of IT report from Spiceworks Ziff Davis says the Covid-19 pandemic has been “a catalyst for business transformation” that has 76% of organizations planning on long-term IT changes. Many of those investments will be designed to support remote workforces and help them work as productively and seamlessly as possible.

There are various concepts about what the hybrid workforce means and how it will evolve, including those offered by Gartner, McKinsey and Forrester. All seem to agree that one hallmark of this workforce model is flexibility. However, flexibility does not mean freeform.

RE-IMAGINING THE WORKPLACE EXPERIENCE FOR VIRTUAL WORKERS

Building Resilience and Maintaining Innovation in a Hybrid World finds that while many workers and business leaders have seen personal productivity gains through remote work, many have also lost a sense of purpose. Without a sense of purpose, innovation can take a hit.

The almost instant shift to remote work in early 2020 (from government ‘shelter-in-place’ orders) gave HR teams no time to prepare a smooth transition for employees who were previously office-based. ‘Virtual Happy Hours’, video social ‘events’ and the substitution of digital communications for actual face-time were not embraced as a fair substitute for free food, transportation, gym memberships, office parties, et al that had been perks of the status quo.

Although many HR departments worked hard to create a ‘new normal’ that emulated the in-office experience, there has been a high incidence of remote-worker morale being compromised. As the pandemic continued beyond the initial few months, this disconnect/dissatisfaction also expressed itself in high turnover among the most productive of workers.

‘HOME SWEET HYBRID-OFFICE-AND-SCHOOL

Morale and productivity issues were further exacerbated when families were working and going to school at the same time, in their homes:

  • Their home networks/security could not support the bandwidth demands of concurrent online traffic.
  • Many simply did not have enough square footage for everyone to have a quiet spot, with room for desk and chair.
  • Stress levels were pushed because virtual meetings were being scheduled back-to-back-to-back. The assumption by schedulers was that since no one had to physically move, they didn’t need a buffer between meetings. This simple lack of ‘virtual awareness’ is a constant root cause of low morale, burnout and aggravation – especially for key resources, subject-matter-experts, etc.
  • The number of incoming calls/emails/texts from outside sales and marketing entities grew over 300%…making it harder to effectively manage time.

A FEW THOUGHTS

Research into HR trends from 2020 showed that almost 50% of organizations interviewed believe that positive workplace culture is essential to success; and that the most sought-after perks include healthcare, home office allowance and personal development plans/learning development allowances.

1. It starts with planning

Equipment each worker will need:

  • Monitors
  • Laptops
  • Printers
  • Mouse/keyboard
  • Headsets
  • Phones: landline, mobile, softphone
  • Office supplies
  • USB ports and/or AC outlets for equipment and charging
  • Furniture needed to accommodate the equipment/supplies

Connectivity:

  • High-speed internet with enough bandwidth to accommodate all at-home users, concurrently.
  • CyberSecurity (the company must produce/update best practices)
  • Personal awareness
  • Network Security
  • Protecting company data. According to Cisco, 46% of employees report transferring files between their work and personal computers.
  • Using VPNs and Firewalls when accessing or sharing company data
  • Keeping network software (router, etc.) updated

2. Home Office counseling for each employee who needs it:

  • Many employees are not tech-savvy enough to know how or when to update router firmware, how to check their internet bandwidth and usage, ensure that their home network is not being hacked by outsiders or recognize email scams and phishing attempts. It is important that they know beforehand that the company will provide whatever support they require to achieve both comfort and security within their home office.
  • A significant percentage of people are just not comfortable working from home. They feel isolated, do not like having to be self-sufficient (you cannot just walk up to your IT support person and say, “can you fix this for me?”), and are concerned that their managers may not recognize the effort they are putting in (‘out of sight, out of mind’).
  • If, like many do, an employee has their entire family in the house (other home workers and/or students), dealing with the spatial conundrum of how to give everybody enough room for work/school can cause extreme stress.

Finally (or first) you must have a strong technical and procedural backbone: if your individual employees, groups, and teams cannot immediately do their jobs, and work with each other virtually as easily as they did in the office, productivity will suffer. That means you must commit to working with an outside partner with deep expertise in migrating companies from an office-based model to a virtual or hybrid model. It also means investing in a platform with an easy to master, unified user experience, tight integration across phone, data, video, text, etc. and exceptional reliability (see Fidelus’s blog article ‘Knowing These 3 UCaaS Terms Will Help You Find a Great UCaaS Partner’).

Put in the time to understand and plan for all contingencies that your company and employees might face in the transition to virtual or hybrid. Commit to give them the personal attention and tools they need to succeed and arm yourself with a partner who can pilot you through the rough spots, so that you and your people can remain laser-focused on making your business hum.