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​Tending to a Remote Workforce

3 months ago by Andrea Amato

As a new, hybrid model of work dominates organisational cultures worldwide, employers are faced with ensuring employees continue to grow in rapidly adapting times.

Well into 2021, many organisations are equipped with novel practices and policies to support a hybrid model of work—workers are now expected to mainly work from home and come into the office a few times a week. Indeed, what was once known as a workplace perk is now considered standard business practice internationally.

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and a rapidly transforming working society, research is quickly documenting the effects remote jobs brings to an organisation, both from a positive and a negative perspective. Perhaps a popular quote refers to remote work not hindering employee productivity, where alternatively, research indicates some employees report higher performance at home than they did in the office even before the pandemic. Nevertheless, employees miss out on the social interaction typically received in an office environment, and these connections remain a priority for many.

Considering the above, research calls for a more inclusive outlook on remote work and a hybrid model that is broader to satisfy the needs of employees from all backgrounds. Specifically, employers should consider overall wellbeing and focus on collaborating with employees, especially when most communication occurs online. This falls in line with a company culture that favours flexibility—in that a changing workplace environment can accommodate the needs of employees according to current situational contexts.

A Disconnecting Disparity Between Workers

One frequent recommendation for employers is to amend targets and goals to suit employee needs as they navigate the working world. This remains an important point for leaders as current research indicates a disparity between workers. Particularly, women, frontline workers, workers new to their roles, and gen Z (commonly described as individuals born between the mid-to-late 90s to early 2010s) are suffering the most in the workplace because of the pandemic.

To illustrate the above point, women have wrought the consequences of employment during a pandemic that exacerbates their pre-existing inequalities between work and home life. In a study conducted by LeanIn.org & McKinsey (2020), the US saw a slow but steady increase of women in employment, however Covid-19 abruptly put that on pause. The same study found that one in four women considered derailing their careers or resigning altogether, and while all women were affected, three main groups made up the disparity: working mothers, women in senior management, and Black women.

Additionally, the report highlighted the need to support women’s re-entry and re-engagement by upskilling them with current digital tools, as a result of technology being at the forefront of employees as they work from home. This statement supports a flexible mindset for employers to apply going forward, reiterating the need for further inclusive practices in the workplace.

Attending to Employee Needs

The ubiquitous high productivity levels of employees are shadowing concerns revolving around employee exhaustion and blurred work-life wellness. Overwhelming data supporting remote jobs should be used for organisations to help create supportive frameworks to maintain employees working from home, rather than be used to dispel scepticism about remote work in general.

A prominent challenge in Covid-19 has been supporting childcare initiatives as many schools closed for an extended period of time due to lockdown regulations. Flexible arrangements now turn toward managing family matters, and this is a value held highly among employees: according to a PwC report, 79% of employees believe such arrangements to be successful. Nevertheless, the same report identified a disparity between executives and employees, where the former believe they extend benefits for childcare (by 81%) but this is less so believed by employees (where 45% report the same). Reports such as these highlight current employee concerns and leave room for employers to acknowledge and address these needs effectively.

Further challenges consider the mental health of employees, where social isolation, rapidly changing times and lockdown measures contribute to heightened levels of anxiety and other psychological disorders. A literature review conducted by Giorgi et al. (2020) addresses the attention needed on the mental health of employees negatively affected by the pandemic, alongside industry differences (where higher stress levels are reported among healthcare workers, for example). Their review provides insight for employer’s to better support their employees where possible.

Moreover, it is worth noting that employees who often rate higher levels of productivity whilst working from home are mainly employees who feel supported in the workplace despite a precarious pandemic. Employees who report lower levels of productivity are often those who struggle to maintain their work-life wellness and suffer communication issues with colleagues. The above challenges illustrate the dynamic world of remote working, that there is no one-size fits all scenario, and employers must work to consider employee needs in their organisations.

Effectively Navigating a Remote Workforce

Shifting to remote work has been a rapid transformation for many organisations and we are discovering new remote trends every day. With this in mind, it’s important to consider a flexible approach to remote work, including when planning a hybrid model going forward. The following presents a few strategies that can be implemented to drive your business toward accommodating the needs of employees:

Plan for flexible arrangements: prepare to answer questions regarding remote work, from how many times a week people will have to attend the office, to what can be done if this is not possible for all employees. Albeit this will be a learning curve for employers and employees, it is important to consider numerous contexts to adequately support workers.

Equip employees with digital tools: undoubtedly, one of the largest digital shifts has been widespread dependency on video conferencing mediums and other computer hardware. Employers should ensure these are accessible to all employees, and when meetings are held online, opportunity is given for all voices to be heard.

Set realistic targets: not all employees report high levels of productivity, and this may be because some are struggling to manage between work and home life, among other reasons. Employers should accommodate employee goals and targets to prevent exhaustion and any further stress as a result of the pandemic.

Combat social isolation: the missed interactions in the office have taken a toll on employees, reporting workplace sociability to have been an important workplace value before the pandemic. Managers can prioritise the social needs of employees by making it a point to proactively engage workers digitally whilst ensuring they feel supported throughout as they work from home.

Empathise with employees: the working society is constantly evolving, however remote trends have exacerbated these changes, and with it the priorities of employees. Remote work is no longer a job perk, but the working norm—and employers should understand these changing needs to be more inclusive.

It is possible to successfully navigate a hybrid model of work and implement a strategy that develops both the needs of employees and the organisation. Addressing the needs of employees whilst remaining up to date with current literature allows for further insight into remote work trends, to better sustain a positive workplace culture for the long haul.