Is remote work still a ‘nice to have?’

Remote working is nothing new. Yet for most, it has often been available to a small subset of employees. However, COVID-19 and the ensuing mandate to work from home has made remote working the new norm. While some businesses were prepared, in most cases it was a scramble to get workers up and running. Some organizations were able to expand their remote-working policy, but others were required to build a solution from scratch. Only now are business leaders getting a chance to step back and review the impact remote working has had upon their workforce and organization.

Is remote work still a ‘nice to have?’

Prior to COVID-19, most IT decision makers were already citing the enablement of effective remote working as a critical business priority. Now, in light of COVID-19, remote working has become far more than a ‘nice to have’, and for IT departments, CIOs, and CTOs, business continuity and providing staff with the ability to work from anywhere, at any time, is of paramount importance.

According to Michael Wheeler-Wyatt, Head of Chrome Enterprise EMEA at Google, the mandate to work from home has led to unexpected benefits, including creating more quality time to spend with customers. “This is the new norm,” he says. “It is something we have all had to get used to, and I think it will continue. Companies and decision makers are now beginning to ask themselves: Do we need to go back to that expensive office suite? Do we need to spend two hours a day on a train anymore?”

Employees, also, have had a taste of working from home and established a new work/life routine, which many will be reluctant to give up quickly. Gerard Lavin, Product Strategist at Citrix, says, “I don’t think getting everyone back to the office is an efficient use of time or space anymore, and I expect to see more people working remotely, especially in certain sectors. . . . I expect to see more people looking for flexible work opportunities, too, and people looking to find ways to better work remotely.”

What is Google’s approach to remote working?

Most Google employees work from home and do so very effectively, says Wheeler-Wyatt. “Google built its technology to support remote working from scratch, which is a big differentiator.”

Google’s approach to home working is supported by five key pillars:

Ensure everything works: People expect technology to work, instantly, and at home this is crucial with less physical access to IT staff.

Give individuals the right device for the right job: Devices need to be versatile, durable, and powerful. Ideally there will be a selection of devices available for different use cases.

Remove the need for intervention from IT: If a new kit is being sent out to individuals, it must be easy to deploy and not require any specific skills on the user’s part. It must also be easy for IT to manage.

Security is paramount: We have seen a rise in cyber attacks during the global pandemic. A highly secure solution is essential, which doesn’t require any user setup.

Access to data: Employees need to be able to access all the apps they need to do their job as they would in the office.

How can we ensure that home workers stay connected as human beings?

Remote working technology needs to be designed intentionally to create human connections, and this instruction must come from the top down. Those in leadership need to understand that they cannot manage teams as they did in the office, and so they must find new ways to nurture the individual they manage and facilitate human connection. Furthermore, as Wheeler-Wyatt says, “Leaders must also appreciate that people cope differently, and people’s home environments can be an important factor. This is an opportunity for leaders to get to know their team better . . . closely monitoring their human contact and noting triggers of stress.” Lavin also stresses that leaders should be looking to use technology to automate away repetitive tasks, so that individuals have more time to spend on communicating with one another.

What impact does home working have upon organizational culture?

Organizational culture is typically reinforced inside the office, but while workforces remain at home, there is the danger that company values will be forgotten completely. Tech companies, for example, are overloaded with work, and the risk of burnout has never been greater. This is where culture and purpose become so important because it brings people back to why they are doing what they are doing. It is important for leaders to intentionally talk about their core values, all of the time. By doing so you are ensuring they remain front and center.

Gerard Lavin advises against trying to replicate office culture in people’s homes. “Rather I think we should consider it the other way around: We want to create elements of working from home when we go back into the office . . . including flexibility and having control over what you do and when you do it, along with the chance to be a bit more of an individual.”

Additionally, there is still a culture of presenteeism in many organizations, and our recent baptism into home working has presented businesses with the opportunity to reverse that. If there is a culture of trust between employer and employee, then people will often work harder, even if they are not being watched.

Is remote work here to stay?

Having gone through the world’s largest proof-of-concept in working from home, is there any going back? Over the past few months, organizations have been forced to experiment with an extreme scenario of working from home, yet the outcome has been hugely positive in many cases, providing businesses with the chance to rethink what the routine of work should look like. It has unlocked workforces previous inaccessible to office-based organizations, and in some countries COVID-19 has reversed regulatory challenges that businesses have been fighting against for many years, enabling them to achieve digital transformation in weeks rather than years.

Lavin argues home working “has always been here. We have been talking about it for 30 years”. He says sometimes it takes time for people to realize the benefits of technology. “But now, we have had an inflection point — an event which has forced people to rethink the way they work, and it has shown people there are different ways to work.”

As restrictions continue to ease, businesses can take a step back, work out their strategy, select the right partners, and ensure they are doing remote working in a way that empowers their employees to do their best work and that will be sustainable over the long term.