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Remote work can be just as successful as working in the office, as long as organizations can keep their employees productive, motivated and engaged. That's the overarching takeaway from the massive shift to remote work that COVID-19 prompted.
In the United States, 73% of employees feel like they are very successful working from home, according to a Global Work Place survey on the subject. That's because, as long as the right tools are in place, employees are likely to be productive.
But that success doesn't come without new strategies. HR teams and managers need to pay close attention to recent remote work lessons for managing remote workers and keep refining them as they move forward.
Here are some takeaways that HR teams have learned as they have adjusted to the new normal.
1. HR-IT collaboration is a must
IT was always important to a workforce's success, but as the workforce increasingly went remote due to initial COVID-19 lockdowns, technology became even more crucial to everyday tasks.
IT and HR need to take the partnership developed during that time and see it as a way forward. They can collaboratively ensure the strategies and technologies are addressing workforce issues, including everything from implementing collaboration tools to ensuring the right enterprise systems are supporting remote workers. Without the right technologies, everything from business processes to customer experience to employee experience can suffer.
However, supporting remote work goes beyond offering trendy new technology. HR teams can also drive programs to gather feedback and help acclimate employees to any new technologies or policies IT has implemented.
Together, these two teams can combine their knowledge and expertise to boost remote working success.
2. Remote work can help spark digital transformation
Most people resist any change that's thrust on them, and that includes new technology implementations and digital transformation efforts. However, with so many employees working remotely and their lives disrupted in other ways, many employees are more open to change.
Organizations can take advantage of that openness and use it to implement better systems and technologies that save both time and money. These new systems may also offer employees who traditionally have to be onsite, such as tech support and factory workers, the ability to work from home.
For example, the use of virtual reality technology has gained traction in industrial workspaces for onboarding new employees with virtual walkthroughs and trainings. It also allows experts who may be sick and working from home to put on a headset and give instructions on how to fix faulty equipment to an employee who is healthy and onsite. Employees can still use this technology past the coronavirus pandemic, even if the organization implemented it during COVID-19 while employees were more open to change.
3. Remote work can be as productive as in-office work
COVID-19 forced a massive remote work experiment that gained some reluctant converts. Many doubters found that working from home could actually come with productivity benefits.
Working from home is increasing productivity for many, according to a recent survey by Upwork Global Inc., a platform and service that connects businesses and freelancers. Productivity benefits include the time saved by not commuting, cited by 49% of managers in the survey. Other productivity benefits come from fewer nonessential meetings, according to 46% of respondents, and fewer office distractions, a benefit 41% cited.
Collaboration tools have been key to this productivity for many organizations. For example, project management and communication tools can give employees a place to set goals and work with their teammates on projects. Managers can hold team meetings, and organizations can host company-wide town halls on Zoom.
HR teams should encourage managers to make themselves available via these tools so employees can reach out anytime if they have questions.
Feeling that sense of accountability to their team and the organization can help boost motivation and productivity.
4. HR needs new ways to promote culture
Creating a remote work culture that prioritizes connection tends to translate into better employees and, in turn, higher productivity -- they're interrelated. The loss of in-person communication doesn't need to mean the end of communication and technology can help bridge that gap.
Many of the same tools that enable productivity are also boost remote work culture. However, employees may not use those tools for bonding without an environment that supports that kind of use. HR teams should encourage managers to convey that collaboration tools are as much to connect teams personally as they are to support productivity. Managers can also host virtual team lunches and other social activities to bring a little fun into the workday and keep personal connections alive.
Mentor-mentee programs, diversity and inclusion committees and wellness clubs are other ways HR teams can build a virtual company culture for employees.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees dealt with productivity challenges as they juggled childcare and work, dealt with feelings of isolation, and handled other new issues, all while still being expected to work full days. And many are still dealing with those issues as situations change on nearly a daily basis. Business leaders, HR and managers must create a safe and supportive environment to help employees through these challenges if they want to keep trust high and employee experience positive.
5. HR has an important role in cybersecurity awareness
With employees now working from home, their networks are much more exposed than when they were in a protected office environment. HR can work with IT and other departments to educate employees on security risks and how to spot attacks before they happen.
For example, hackers are taking advantage of coronavirus concerns by sending out phishing emails meant to inspire fear. If an employee clicks on that email, they could be giving hackers access to personal and company information.
HR needs to work with IT, marketing and PR teams to launch awareness campaigns and offer trainings to help keep employees on their guard and educated. Also, if possible, organizations should offer employees devices with extra security measures for them to use so they don't have to turn to their own personal devices.