As some employers start to bring their employees back to work and others mull it over, leaders and managers may be eager to put 2020’s massive, sudden work from home experiment behind them.
However, the era of everyone working full-time in centralized work spaces appears to be gone for good. Organizations competing for talent will need to offer a mix of in-office and remote work – or a fully remote workforce. Pollsters, business analysts and even psychologists seem to agree.
Because of that shift, it may be more accurate to view 2020’s abrupt transition as the foundation for new must-haves:
- A plan to pivot to remote work as needed
- A work-from-home policy that may be much more flexible than anything you’ve offered in the past
Why should businesses build and maintain a remote work policy? And what should it include? Here’s what to consider, even if your teams are in the office now.
3 reasons every organization needs a remote work policy
Even if your whole organization is back in the office at the moment, it’s still a good idea to build on what you learned while everyone was working remotely. Then you can use those insights to figure out how to make the next remote work experience more productive and efficient.
1. Companies that don’t develop their strategies and tools for managing and retaining remote employees are at risk.
Even if your company has a long tradition of doing all work onsite, planning for companywide remote operations is a key part of overall preparedness. Many situations, from disease outbreaks to natural disasters, have the potential to make remote work a necessity for days, months or longer.
When such a disaster strikes, a fast and smooth transition to remote work can minimize business interruptions and reduce employee stress.
Successful companies will be intentional about creating a work-from-home culture that they can activate on short notice in any of these circumstances. Being prepared can help organizations avoid chaos and maintain productivity no matter where their employees are doing their jobs.
2. Job candidates want to know your work-from-home policy.
A clear plan for transitioning to remote work can be a plus in the eyes of job seekers and current employees. Expect candidates to ask about flexible work options, for their own convenience and as a way to assess how prepared your organization is to shift gears in a crisis.
You can also expect them to evaluate employers based on how well they’ve handled previous sudden transitions to remote work. Candidates want to know that your organization has the capacity to pivot to work from home when it’s needed. They don’t want to worry about how you’ll handle the next crisis.
3. Employees expect more work-from-home flexibility.
Even when they’re back in the office, employees with experience working remotely may expect more leeway to use technology to accommodate their personal schedules.
For example, an employee who has a medical appointment near home might want to work from home until it’s time to go to the doctor, then go to the office afterward. That way, they can spend less time in the car and more time on work before the appointment.
Employers that offer flexibility are in a better position to retain talent.
Work from home requires structure, accountability and connection
The foundation of a successful remote work policy is built on three elements:
They’re interrelated, but each plays its own role in supporting remote employees, maintaining innovation and making the transition to work from home a success.
How much structure do your employees need while they work remotely? What kind of structure can you reasonably deploy while people are working from home during a crisis?
Each organization has its own level of need for structure, and perhaps surprisingly, each generation of workers needs different levels of structure to stay productive and creative.
For example, multiple studies and surveys have found that Generation Z workers, the oldest of whom were born in 1995, and millennials do best with a more structured work-from-home environment. Structure can also help new hires and young workers to start building their network within your organization, something that’s more difficult without face time in the office.
The studies found that many older workers can do without a heavily structured remote work plan, but some level of structure is necessary no matter what age your workforce is, to keep ideas flowing and build interpersonal connections across the organization.
Not only do your employee teams need structure, but managers and the C-suite need it as well. The goals should be to:
- Stay connected within and across teams and organization levels.
- Maintain an open pipeline for sharing ideas and building connections.
- Help everyone to stay focused and innovative while balancing home responsibilities.
Much of your structure, in practice, will likely depend on how well your managers implement your plans and make themselves available for their team while they’re out of the office.
Workers need to be able to reach their managers, whether they’re in the office or working remotely. Often, though, managers who are readily available in an office setting may veer into one of two extremes while working from home.
At one end of the spectrum, some start to micromanage their people. This creates stress and conflict, when employees have to prioritize responding to their manager’s constant inquiries instead of getting their work done.
At the other end, some managers assume their people can handle things on their own, so they don’t check in often enough. That’s one thing if an employee can walk down the hall to ask their manager a question about a project. It’s unnerving when they have a question and can’t reach their manager for an answer.
Several studies have shown that this kind of disconnect is especially scary for the youngest generation of workers. Just as Gen Z employees do best with clear structure, they also might need ready access to their managers to do their best work.
As you think about the best way to manage future changeovers to remote work or optimize your current work-from-home operations:
- Make sure your managers understand the unique requirements of managing remote employees.
- Ensure they’re accessible to employees on their teams on an established schedule.
- Discourage micromanaging, which can reduce employee productivity and morale.
The goal is to provide structure through regular check-ins, support productivity and foster the sense of connectedness that can be a real challenge for workers at home.
Employees who work from home may still feel connected to their co-workers because they know how to get in touch with their teammates and, ideally, their managers. However, feeling connected to headquarters, the C-suite and the overall organization can be much more challenging.
That’s a problem, because when employees don’t feel connected to their employer, they often stop innovating and sharing new ideas – just at a time when companies need to be at their most innovative.
So, how can your organization move efficiently between in-office and remote work while supporting your employees’ needs for structure, accountability and connection?
It starts with careful planning.
Plan for multiple channels of communication
Just as not every student learns the same way in a classroom, not every employee processes information the same way while they’re at work. Tech troubles can also make it a challenge to stay in the loop if there’s a problem with your company’s main channel.
That’s why it’s critical to have more than one mode for keeping connected to your team and the wider company. That could look like:
- Regular video updates from company leaders
- All-hands meetings via videoconferencing
- Daily check-ins with your team via conference call, video conference or chat
- As-needed questions and conversations in a chat tool like Slack or Microsoft Teams
Because most of the tools you’ll need to keep everyone in touch require installation and regular security updates, selecting your platforms before you need them will make remote work more efficient and protect your company’s sensitive data. It’s a good idea to include your company’s IT and cybersecurity team as you decide which platforms to use and how to implement them.
Plan to start with overcommunication
No news isn’t good news when it comes to work at home. Especially at the beginning of a rapid shift to remote work, frequent check-ins from management help establish the structure and accountability that employees need while they work off-site.
What does that look like? You may want to start with:
- Daily team updates
- Daily check-ins with each member of your team
- Frequent reminders about the communication channels your team can use to share ideas and ask questions
- Daily participation in those channels to see if your team has challenges or questions you can help with
You’ll also want to make sure you’re readily available to answer your employees’ questions as they arise, particularly at the beginning of a work-from-home period. The faster everyone can find their footing and settle into their new routine, the easier the transition will be.
Plan to tailor your communication to your employees’ work styles
Over time, you’ll get a clearer sense of how each member of your team prefers to communicate while they’re working from home. You can expect a range of preferences, and the details will vary by person.
The important thing is to have a timeline and a plan for adapting to each team member’s preferred style, to support their productivity and creativity.
Employees who find office conversations distracting may feel more productive if they can work relatively uninterrupted, with check-ins only as needed. However, employees who thrive on the inspiration they get from casual chats in person will likely need more regular contact – not only to feel connected but also to stay inspired to innovate.
Observing your team’s individual communication styles and identifying the best way to keep in touch with each one of them will require a lot of work on your part at first. But it’s an important investment, both in keeping them connected and helping to support their creative problem-solving ideas.
Along with building structure and establishing accountability, customizing your communications helps to create a work-at-home program that your organization can enact quickly with minimal disruption to your company’s operations and innovation.
Moving forward with the new workplace normal
Accepting a mix of remote and in-person work as the new norm requires a mindset shift on the part of managers and leaders. For people who miss the camaraderie and established routines of the office, the change may take some time to feel right.
However, the sooner your organization can build a remote work policy that implements the structure, accountability and communication changes that support optimal remote work and innovation, the easier and more successful the transition – and any future quick changeovers to remote work – will be in the long run.
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