COVID-19 has been a catalyst for the irresistable global expansion of remote working. With 54% of adults wanting to work remotely “most of the time” post-pandemic, the distributed work model has moved from employee perk to expectation. As a result, businesses are quickly gearing up to offer permanent remote work opportunities to their staff.
But is your business really ready to offer long-term remote work? To recruit and retain top-notch talent, you need to think very carefully about what remote work will look like in your company. Lockdown working may have forced a remote work transformation overnight, but it requires considered process, protocol and frameworks to be sustainable.
Remote success requires robust remote work policies – helping your organization adapt its culture, tech infrastructure, corporate responsibility and employee management. Here are just a few important issues to consider when shaping yours.
If you’re hiring permanent remote workers, it’s possible you might never meet face-to-face – or at best, once a year at your company’s annual meetup. One of the perks of remote work is that it opens up the talent pool, and you can hire the best person for the job no matter where they’re based. But even the best employees need to be managed, particularly if they’re missing out on in-person advice and communication. You’ll need to figure out how you’ll monitor employee engagement, experience and performance. How will you keep remote work visible? Will you use employee monitoring software? How can remote employees ask for help and how can you proactively offer support? Creating a solid framework for managing remote employees will be one of the most crucial parts of your policy.
Remote work might be cheaper than working in an office, but it doesn’t come for free. Aside from obvious equipment costs, like a laptop, desk and comfortable chair, employers need to make sure they aren’t transferring the operational costs of remote work onto employees. A good remote policy should, therefore, include remote stipends to cover the costs of things like internet, heating, and electricity. If in-office employees receive perks like food, coffee and travel, think about what allowances you’ll give remote workers; offering co-working space access and café allowances in particular are attractive to potential candidates. You need to factor in other expenditures, like company meetups and retreats, to make sure bonding events don’t incur any hidden costs for your employees.
Effective communication is essential for successful remote work, but when you’re working in different spaces – sometimes across different time zones – there are more communication and coordination challenges. You also need to figure out how you will keep your team’s fractured remote experience visible and respond to individual employee needs. A well-defined communication structure and clear feedback processes can help you overcome these. All employees should know what to expect from each other, how to use different communication tools and who to come to if there’s a problem. They should also know how they can share an idea, experience or suggestion. Crucially, they should feel completely safe giving that feedback and know that their voice will be heard.
Lack of visibility can directly impact remote workers’ professional development, with studies showing that physical presence at work increases likelihood of promotion, raises and positive appraisals. To ensure everybody feels noticed and like they’re progressing, consider what development opportunities you’ll offer remote workers. How will you measure remote employee performance and know when people are improving? Can you offer remote training? Are there digital seminars, conferences and courses people can attend? Will you establish a mentoring program, to ensure remote employees get the same opportunities to flourish as in-person employees? If there is a specific skill that a remote worker wants to improve, how will you find this out – and how will you act on it?
One big perk of offices is that they act as social levellers, encouraging a sense of equity between people; everyone uses the same equipment, enjoys the same benefits and experiences the same environment. Remote employees can feel contained within their own bubble, and the working experience may differ greatly for each person. One remote worker can work in a plush private office with high speed internet and an expensive ergonomic chair, another may work at the corner of a table in a loud household, with an old laptop and slow internet. Particularly in the setting of a global pandemic, an employee’s caregiving responsibilities also need to be factored in. Because of this potential disbalance, you should think about ways to address inequity among your workforce. What can you offer the employees who need a bit more?
Loneliness and stress are two of the most common complaints for remote workers, so policies should include carefully considered modes of support. Without separation between work and home, it can be hard to find a healthy work/life balance – and without face-to-face interaction, building trust and meaningful relationships can become problematic. To offset this, companies must ensure that employee health and wellbeing is ingrained in all aspects of their remote policy. Practically, this can mean giving employees more schedule flexibility or adjusted hours, accurately documenting work hours, creating “right to disconnect” policies and providing regular, tailored one-to-one support.
Ultimately, every feature of a workplace’s culture, systems and processes should factor in employee wellbeing. Whether they’re remote or not, employees need both recognition and support from their employer. As our team relationships become increasingly removed and virtual, we should never forget that we are all human beings with complex thoughts and emotions.