The hidden success factors of remote working
The rapid shift to remote working has become one of the great success stories of the past two years. CIOs and CTOs have, quite rightly, received a lot of praise for the way in which they and their teams worked to get offices, even call centres and operations running in a totally different environment and with completely new systems and approaches. But now as the future starts to look a little more settled (and I write those words with considerable trepidation), it’s time to take a more integrated approach to remote working—the technology is important but, as always in business, it’s just part of the solution.
And not necessarily even the most important part either, if one is honest.
To begin, let’s just consider some of the statistics. Seventy-seven percent of workers say they are more productive when working from home, and that the option to work remotely would make 74% of them less likely to leave the company. Unsurprisingly, 85% of managers believe that the new normal will include hybrid teams with some remote workers and, already, 30% of employees consider themselves to be following a hybrid model, with 35% saying they work remotely.
The conclusion is here: hybrid work styles that include a fluctuating proportion of remote and on-site workers are part of corporate life. Supporting them thus makes excellent business sense.
Most organisations tend to focus on two main areas: the physical location and technology. Both are important but they are not the whole story. Three other success factors must be included in the strategy or the benefits will not be fully realised, and may ultimately be reversed.
Physical location. There are two areas of focus here. One is the reduction in the office footprint and the implementation of a hot-desk protocol, including an automated desk-booking system. The reduction in the office footprint has the potential to save large amounts of overhead costs once the initial expenses have been paid. The other area involves everything related to setting employees up in home offices. The latter would include office furniture, stationery and the like.
Technology. The technology to support remote working would include connectivity and devices. Issues that would need to be resolved include who pays for data costs and how data is managed, and the implementation and management of security protocols. The design of the corporate network would also have to be altered to accommodate a distributed working environment in which individuals are no longer static.
The following three success factors are frequently ignored, and yet they have a massive impact on the ultimate success of the remote/ hybrid working experiment:
Human capital. Every organisation will state that their most important asset is its people. However, when switching to such a radically new work style, it’s strange that so many organisations fail to see that all their HR policies, employment contracts and performance management agreements have to be altered to protect their people and take into account the much more fluid working arrangements.
To highlight just one example, the nature of working hours and overtime need to be overhauled, as do the job profiles. HR will also need to find ways of monitoring the mental and physical state of remote/ hybrid workers.
Cost and risk. As King IV makes clear, risk and opportunity are really two sides of the same coin. In this context, the calculation involves balancing the reduction in overheads related to on-site facilities and other operational expenditure with the need to manage and mitigate risks related to data security, reputational damage and compliance. This is new ground for most, so attention needs to be given to how these variables are reported and assessed.
Change management. An intensive and well-thought-out change management programme will be required not only to implement new ways of working but be able to be implemented for the long haul. And to drive ongoing success. In a very real sense, change management pulls everything together. Humans will inevitably end up working more closely with increasingly smart devices and systems in the remote/ hybrid working environment, a transition that needs training and monitoring to be successful. The challenge of onboarding new staff members in such a distributed environment also needs to be designed and constantly improved.
According to research, the three biggest challenges associated with remote work are unplugging after work (22%), loneliness (19%) and communication/ collaboration (17%). Overcoming them—and all the others—requires an integrated approach that leverages all five success factors, not just two. Get that right, and the new work environment, with the implementation of the right technology, will deliver on its promise.