Remote Work Is Here to Stay. This Is How You Can Protect Your Company Culture.
When remote workplace technology came on the scene, some predicted it would quickly catch on and make the daily commute obsolete.
It didn’t. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, only about 7 percent of the US workforce had the option to work remotely in 2019.
The pandemic changed that overnight. In an interview published in July 2020, Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom said 42 percent of the American labor force was working from home full-time. It’s fortunate the option was made available to so many. Otherwise, Bloom said, the economy would have collapsed and forced people back into physical workplaces, making it impossible to address the outbreak.
Still, this crash course in remote work has represented a tectonic shift for business leaders and employees alike, and we’re still coming to grips with what it means for the future of work. No one knows for certain how these changes will reverberate through the economy and the workforce in the years ahead, but there’s no going back to the way things used to be.
It Looks Like Remote Work Is Here to Stay
Now that millions have experienced working from home, many won’t want to give the arrangement up when the pandemic ends. While people may miss the camaraderie of in-person interactions, few remember the hassles of commuting fondly. Remote work can support a better work/life balance, and it can have a positive impact on the environment, to boot.
Employers have their own reasons for favoring the new arrangement. At many companies, the expected drop in productivity when employees went remote failed to materialize; some even found employees were more productive at home. Some employers have also enjoyed a massive reduction in overhead expenses because they no longer have to maintain office space for the entire workforce.
A Gartner survey found that a whopping 74 percent of CFOs expect that at least some of their people who had to begin working from home due to COVID-19 will want to keep working remotely when the pandemic is over. Trendsetting companies like Facebook and Twitter have already committed to letting employees work from home forever.
It’s unlikely we’ll see a return to the same workforce configurations that prevailed before the pandemic. That means it’s time to adapt to our new circumstances.
We Need More Technology to Make It Work
The technology we were already using before the pandemic gave many companies the breathing room they needed to keep functioning during the initial lockdowns. According to Bloom, home-based workers are now generating about two-thirds of all economic activity. However, we will have to look beyond the technology that was already in place to fully sustain a remote workforce going forward.
One of the downsides to working from home is that employees can feel isolated. Businesses are using tools like Zoom and Slack to carry on conversations, collaborate on projects, and even engage in team-building activities like virtual happy hours and group lunches. Frequent check-ins with teams and individuals can help people stay focused on their goals.
However, companies will need new technology to work remotely over the long haul, like tools to manage, track, and organize data. Spreadsheets are fine for some purposes, but remote groups who are working together will need better solutions, such as apps that allow them to easily share and export data, view data in different formats, search and filter information, etc.
Stay Resilient and Keep Teams Engaged Going Forward
Business leaders who are adjusting to remote workforces also need to think beyond productivity tools to foster inclusive and welcoming cultures. Apps like Zoom are fine for meetings and work-related get-togethers, but the encounters that occur on these platforms don’t mirror the natural break-room interactions that occur in the office.
One alternative is to adopt workplace culture platforms designed to recreate those spontaneous and casual interactions that happen when workers occupy the same physical space. That way, employees can build relationships and feel a sense of belonging, even when their teams are distributed. An example that comes to mind is Bonfyre.
It will take intentional effort and creativity to protect your workplace culture in an all-remote setting. Productivity apps that enable better teamwork and culture-specific solutions that foster relationships can be important tools in this effort. By assessing how your employees are doing and providing new tools when necessary, you can build a resilient, engaged team that is prepared to meet the challenges and opportunities of the post-pandemic workplace.
Aytekin Tank is founder and CEO of JotForm.