Remote working is nothing new. Plenty of us have been doing it for years – for at least one or two days a week, if not the entire time. Nevertheless, although many companies have long had the available technology to switch their entire workforces over to remote working, they have often been reluctant to do so in practice.
The 2018 Global State of Remote Work report by videoconferencing provider Owl Labs, found that 44% of companies globally did not allow remote working at all. Furthermore, just 16% of companies were fully remote, having no headquarters and with employees either working from home or in another location of their choosing.
It’s inevitable that the largescale shift to remote working that we have seen over the past couple of weeks is going to completely shake up this state of affairs. Soon companies around the world may no longer be asking whether they should allow remote working. Instead, they are more likely to be asking whether they should allow people to work in the office, or whether they even need office space at all – especially if they operate in knowledge-based industries.
“I think we will see a fairly major paradigm shift once the virus is under control,” says Dessalen Wood, chief people officer at community intelligence platform Thoughtexchange. Even before the coronavirus pandemic struck, the vast majority of Thoughtexchange’s staff worked remotely, with its workforce spread across four different countries and over a dozen cities.
Wood says that prior to the crisis, many leaders were fixated on the outdated idea that ‘only certain roles’ could be done remotely. These same leaders tended to perceive people who wanted to work from home as being ‘driven by a need for balance’. As a result, remote workers were seen as lazy while more ambitious workers were ‘present and accounted for’.
“With this sudden and complete shift to remote work for almost all workers, leaders will be faced with a new data set from their own experience,” says Wood. “It is one that demonstrates that many roles – including their own – can be done successfully remotely, and that remote work doesn’t mean less work, or less important work.”
Managing a remote team
Naturally, there are challenges with running a remote company – the most obvious one relating to the creation of a collegiate and collaborative culture. How do you make new staff members feel part of the team and how do you manage and motivate teams to be successful without the natural human bonds that form when people sit side-by-side each day?
“We’d always encourage virtual companies to have a structure for welcoming new staff into the team,” says Jonny Edser, founder and managing director of Wildgoose, a provider of team-building events. “So much of a good welcome is about face-to-face interaction, so you should try and replicate this via other means as much as possible.”
Edser suggests that companies that operate remotely should produce digital welcome packs for new joiners and set up conference calls with each department head so that the joiners become acquainted with their new team members and get a sense of the company. Team building among a virtual workforce can be facilitated by remote daily kick-off meetings, remote quizzes and virtual away days.
“Companies that have moved towards virtual working, even before the coronavirus outbreak, tended to devote time and resources to encouraging employee communication through meet-up activities and online ‘virtual experiences’,” Edser says.
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