Five Ways to Optimize the Remote Worker Experience
- May 27, 2021
It used to be that working from home was a privilege — a special exception granted to a select few employees with extenuating circumstances. People who didn’t have to commute into the corporate office were seen as the lucky ones; so, the company didn’t go to great lengths to cater to their unique needs as remote workers. The pandemic has changed all that.
In 2021, knowledge workers not only expect to work from home, but they also expect to be fully supported in doing so. And, in all likelihood, that trend will continue long after the COVID-19 crisis has subsided. The traditional corporate office won’t go away completely. Still, the option for employees to work remotely — at least part of the time — will become standard practice at most companies worldwide.
A recent McKinsey survey of more than 5,000 corporate and government employees found that only 37% hoped to return to the office full-time. The rest preferred either a hybrid work arrangement or staying at home full-time. Additionally, about 30% of respondents said they would likely change jobs if their companies required them to go back on-site full-time.
All this is to say that it’s more important than ever for employers to provide a satisfactory remote work experience. More than simply “allowing” employees to stay home, today, companies need to equip workers with the tools and support they need to be productive, collaborative, and fulfilled in their jobs. Organizations that are late to the game may suffer in terms of business results and employee retention.
The IT department has a significant role to play in defining the remote work experience. Beyond just making sure the technology works, IT sets the tone for the virtual workplace with the policies and practices it adopts. There’s a balancing act of maintaining control over devices, apps, and security while providing employees the freedom of choice and expression they need to thrive in a remote environment.
Here are five specific thoughts on how technology teams in any industry can contribute to a more engaging workplace — outside of the office:
- Give the people what they want. Remote working has become a full-time and perhaps permanent situation for many employees. They need to be appropriately equipped, just as if they were still at the corporate campus. Some workers may be fine with a laptop alone, but others may require three monitors, a high-quality headset, and an external webcam to be productive. IT and the business units who control the budget should identify each employee segment’s workspace needs and ensure these are met, within reason, of course. People who feel supported and empowered will do their best work. On the other hand, if they have to work in bare-bones conditions or pay for their own gear, they’re more likely to harbor resentment and desire to find work elsewhere.
- Hold on loosely. When COVID-19 struck in 2020 and companies suddenly shifted to the work-from-home model, IT teams worked frantically to control the technological shake-up. They were quick to implement tight security protocols, limit access privileges and certain disabled features to keep order. But now that the dust has settled and remote work has become a long-term reality, it may be time for IT to loosen its grip. Overly restrictive policies may limit the threat of data breaches, but they often come at the cost of productivity and collaboration. Security measures are still necessary, but IT must review each employee group’s workspace characteristics and needs from a risk perspective and adapt policies to do their jobs effectively from home.
- Standardize the best experience. The idea of technology equity was important when employees were still in corporate offices, but it becomes even more essential with everyone working remotely. Companies need to ensure that all employees, regardless of their department or location, have access to the same tech-driven collaborative capabilities as their colleagues. Companies should go beyond conventional training to amplify the best practices and hacks to improve employee collaboration experience and productivity. Communication mediums — such as microlearning videos, emails and webinars — should be planned to stimulate employees visual, auditory, and kinesthetic senses for them to consume information.
- Have some fun. There are certainly upsides to working from home: no commute, a more relaxed dress code, and access to the home kitchen, among others. But there are downsides, too, including isolation and monotony. The pandemic made the bad parts worse, as even social interaction outside of work went away. Companies continuing to support a remote workforce need to recognize the mental challenges that a lack of human contact creates for employees and find ways to replicate a sense of togetherness. That could include replacing traditional teambuilding activities with online equivalents (e.g., virtual escape rooms have become popular) or just sharing some laughs over funny screen backgrounds or character filters. IT has a role to play here by not being the “fun police.”
- Stay on the leading edge. For the past year, employees who have been home-bound are experiencing web conference fatigue and often are disengaged in discussions. Companies can help keep people engaged by adopting social virtual reality technologies to create space for informal conversations. For starters, most large enterprises are already collaborating through non-traditional channels like MS Teams or Slack (if they’re not, they should be). Going a step further, platforms like Virbela offer colleagues the chance to foster effective connections inside immersive, three-dimensional worlds, much like modern video games. These types of services can not only get employees’ excited again, and they take another step toward creating camaraderie and cooperation without physical contact.
The pandemic may have made a lasting impact on where people work, but it doesn’t have to undermine how well they do it. Using technology as a tool to enable, energize, and unite remote workers, IT holds the keys to make employees and their organizations more successful than ever.