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For better or worse, we’ve got to accept that remote working is here to stay for many businesses. This does not mean that all businesses have to convert to remote working. What it does mean is that the new normal for most businesses will include a greater extent if not full remote working options. To many businesses, remote working arrangements will become permanent arrangements reflecting their new norm for work.

These changes will bring into play a whole new set of socio-cultural influences that employers will need to take into account if they are to retain core talent and attract and retain new talent. COVID-19 has impacted the lifestyle of so many and employers will ignore the implications of such changes at their peril. Many employees unexpectedly forced into working remotely have found the freedom and flexibility of remote working to their liking and are keen to retain such aspects of their working lives. Others, have found the isolation and other challenges of working remotely uncomfortable and long to be “back at work with the team”. In between these two ends of the spectrum is a growing majority that are keen to retain a mixed model for their future employment. In other words, in many industries for many roles, remote working has become a sine qua non, the question now lies in the extent of the remote working arrangements to be offered.

Making the right arrangements is not just about the technology. The events of the past year have shown that technology was ready and able to meet to the challenges posed by an immediate radical upscaling of remote work. Most organisations using cloud-based solutions were able to make the transition relatively painlessly. The more traditional organisations relaying on inhouse servers and networks found the transition far more difficult and expensive utilisation of resources. Yet, despite the difficulties, by now most firms have developed the required infrastructure to enable their staff to work remotely where required. 

Hughes[1] provides a useful insight to the deep seated changes in management culture required to cater to this new reality. Far from it being a matter of plugging in the latest technology the new “remote-first model” requires a complete rethinking of how businesses operate. He maintains that this radical re-think calls for “a huge shake-up of our relationship with work and how we engage with it on a day-to-day basis”. From a technical side, the solutions are evident and readily available through cloud-based solutions. Businesses can no longer procrastinate in moving their data to the cloud-based systems. Yet moving their data and systems online calls for profound review of the day-to-day operations to ensure the transition to cloud-based working is smoother and more successful for everyone.

Hughes focuses on the approach to work which needs to be more open and flexible. He proposes eight strategies to make remote working more successful for all parties.

1. Trust your remote teams to succeed – Hughes maintains that this is the essential ingredient to a productive distributed workforce.  He contends that this needs to be integrated with improved communications to focus on really important priorities. Once priorities are agreed upon employees need to be given the resources and the flexibility to design their work to achieve the deliverables. This calls for setting clear expectation and trusting them to manage their own schedules. This is not abdication, it is the essence of delegation and it means that management must commit to check-ins and follow-ups to ensure things stay on track.

2. Put digital support structures in place – Hughes highlights the manner in which the pandemic has radically changed work routines for most of us and heightened the urgency of rethinking how people get things done. He stresses the importance of setting up and maintaining support as part of businesses’ new work environments. Organisations need to build flexibility and empathy into their culture to allow for hybrid work environment, where companies and employees can take advantage of a digital workspace that allows them to generate new ideas and connect with each other, no matter their location.

3. Re-imagine your hiring process, with tech at the forefront – Hughes quotes LinkedIn’s findings that remote job postings resulted in a 20% increase in the geographical diversity of applicants. Businesses need to invest in upgrading their virtual recruiting system and processes and they need to reach out and keep in touch with remote employees. 

4. Keep leadership adaptive – As employees get used to new ways of working, leaders also have to adapt if they want to achieve success with a remote workforce. Hughes highlights the importance of understanding, support, and clear and concise communication from business leaders, employees to shift effectively between hybrid and remote work.

5. …and working styles flexible – Hughes contends that remote working means giving employees more flexibility around how and where they work. This will give them the chance to improve their work-life balance. Employers should also consider flexible scheduling, which might include flexible daily start and end times, time-banking (working more one week and less the next), and split-shifts, which involves working earlier in mornings and later afternoons or evenings, with a larger break in between. Other alternatives include four-day workweeks, flexible vacation and work-absences to cater for personal errands.

6. Share your talent – Hughes highlights the importance of Boards of directors direct involvement in driving digital acceleration and re-thinking operations.  organizations toward new ways of working. This calls for on-going investment in training and development of digital skills all across the company.

7. Make your culture people-focused – Hughes focuses on the need for organisational culture to evolve and adapt to integrate remote working and flexible systems and processes as an integral part of corporate culture. The focus needs to be on adaptability and a people-centric culture as the leading factors determining a business’ success.

8. Recognize the power of empathy – Hughes refers to the manner in which the pandemic has recognised the importance of the context within which people are working. In exchange for the greater commitment and flexibility sought by employers, employees now expect much more from their employers. They expect higher degree of respect and more support for their wellbeing, skills development, and personal circumstances. To manage an anywhere office, management must understand and motivate employees to share in corporate objectives and to support them by a flexible and inclusive work environment. Employees need to be empowered to make decisions for the good of customers, irrespective of whether they are working on-site or remotely.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted businesses to an extent that few would have imagined. Hughes’ article referred to above, like to many other industry leaders, stress the importance of recognising just how deep and profound these impacts are. The pandemic will one day be over and we will talk about it in the past. However, its impacts will be long-lasting and businesses need to think of long-term strategies and processes to adopt technologies which enable them to build on the radical changes to their business imposed by the pandemic.

[1] Hughes, Owen. 2021 “Remote working is here to stay: These eight strategies can make it more successful for everyone”, Digital Transformation,  February 17 https://www.techrepublic.com/article/remote-working-is-here-to-stay-these-eight-strategies-can-make-it-more-successful-for-everyone/?ftag=TRE684d531&bhid=28538154784417866215960146959411&mid=13270666&cid=2133918552