The upsurge in employees working remotely shows no sign of slowing down. Even before the pandemic, many companies offered remote or flexible working environments. Back in 2019, research from IWG revealed that 50% of employees worldwide worked remotely at least half the week. Global offices, increasingly distributed workforces, and the work-from-home trend all contributed to the increase.
Jump to 2021 and about 62% of employees between the ages of 22 and 25 say they work remotely at least some of the time. By 2028, it’s estimated that 73% of all departments will at least have some remote workers.
Historically perceived as a luxury, remote work has become more of a necessity and, for many companies or professions, a given. Something that more and more industries are beginning to understand is that working outside of a traditional office setting offers multiple potential benefits to organizations (cost savings, higher retention, increased productivity, and more). That said, it also requires careful planning and support to be successful.
Responding to the rise of remote work
The shift away from the office happened fast, leaving many organizations to puzzle together digital operations that accommodated their majority-remote staff. And though 99% of people have since said they would prefer working remotely for the rest of their life, many companies are still grappling with whether they should continue providing remote work options. There are many reasons why this could be the case: they don’t know the best way to manage remote employees, they’re hesitant to let employees work without direct supervision, and/or they still don’t have the right tools and technology in place.
Prohibiting remote work can make organizations less competitive in the ongoing war for talent, especially when it comes to attracting younger employees. Millennials and Gen Z see workplace flexibility as a more desirable benefit than healthcare, according to a Randstad study.
Some organizations have sanctioned remote work without adequately addressing the additional requirements of this new type of workforce, especially when it comes to digital transformation.
New technology and applications should account for the needs of both on-site and off-site workers.
They should be unifying, equalizing tools. But a recent study we conducted found existing technology leaves many remote workers feeling left out and struggling to access the people and information they need to do their jobs.
Authorizing remote workers is not the same as supporting them. Organizations can only realize the advantages of remote work if they take proactive measures to ensure remote workers feel included, informed, and involved.
Hiccups and hurdles: Challenges of working from home
In our second annual State of the Digital Workplace Report, we polled approximately 2,000 individuals at companies with more than 250 employees. The results showed existing technology has not eliminated the problems of collaborating and communicating remotely, with 69% of remote workers reporting that they deal with challenges they would not encounter in an office setting. From missing out on important information to being excluded from meetings, remote workers are having trouble accessing key resources.
Even more concerning, executives are having the most trouble. Of those at a director-level and above, 80% work remotely on a weekly basis, and 75% report dealing with challenges they would not encounter in an office environment. These are the people who require frequent access to secure documents, information, and people to make strategic decisions.
You can’t ignore the realities of remote work
When remote workers are left out in the cold – or even if they feel like they’re left out in the cold – it affects the entire organization. Productivity, engagement, and culture suffer, diminishing the gains that a remote workforce can bring.
The traditional work environment was easier to regulate because everyone was in the same place with the same access to people, tools, and information. This consistency allowed greater oversight of employee behavior and output, leading to higher levels of productivity.
Today’s companies face a different reality. With a scattered workforce, they have less control and confront greater demands. Many remote workers feel entitled to an experience that’s comparable to their peers in the office.
Yet there’s no way to replicate the full physical, social, and cultural environment, so remote workers might believe they’re at a disadvantage. They can’t participate in the live knowledge transfer that happens during impromptu meetings or spontaneous conversations, and they feel disconnected.
The physical gap is real and unavoidable. Without the right technology and tools in place, remote employees face serious road blocks: they’re unable to access vital information, excluded from collaborations, and shut out of workplace social life.
3 ways to effectively engage and manage remote workers
First, be vigilant about attending to the needs of your remote workforce. Don’t discount their concerns. Despite their lack of physical presence, they play an essential role in your organization’s culture and business success.
Employers are ultimately responsible for providing their employees with the tools they need to communicate and collaborate with their coworkers, but it’s also up to remote workers to use these tools effectively to ensure their voices are heard. Here are a few suggestions to bridge the gap with remote workers:
1. Be hyper-aware.
It’s not enough to simply acknowledge the remote workers in your organization. To truly counteract the negative impacts on engagement and productivity, you must draw special attention to your remote workforce and take deliberate actions to ensure everyone feels included at all times.
Factor in the specific requirements of remote workers for every project, meeting, event, and technology initiative. This could mean switching to video conferencing for every team meeting, ensuring team members use their IM availability settings (e.g. Available, Away, In a Meeting), or mailing out desk-drops or swag ahead of company announcements or events. While these may seem like extra steps at the start, eventually, they will become ingrained in your teamwork culture.
2. Make it easy to work from anywhere.
Remote workers shouldn’t feel like they’re under-equipped to do the same job as their HQ counterparts. Organizations should choose online tools that offer all employees easy and instant access to relevant conversations, content, and expertise from any browser, on any device.
Evaluate your existing set of tools to ensure they’re not impeding on anyone’s ability to do great work, wherever they are. Once you’ve decided what tools you’ll need to create a seamless remote work experience, centralize them on your company intranet so employees can quickly access their work with only one URL and login.
3. Bring your culture online.
When your online tools look and feel like your brand, remote employees will get the experience of being “there.” As much as possible, organizations with remote workers should try to replicate their physical environment in their digital spaces to create an employee experience that isn’t dependent on being in the office.
The closer employees feel to each other, the more collaborative and productive they can be. Help them “put faces to names” by updating your employee profiles or creating a social hub where people can chat with each other just like they would at the water cooler.
Working remotely shouldn’t mean working in isolation. Remote employees are an important part of your workforce and deserve an equally positive experience as their in-office coworkers.
Not only do they allow your organization to have feet on the ground in other locations, but they help reduce overall costs. Make sure they feel just as connected and supported as their colleagues in the office.
The latest findings on remote worker challenges and solutions
We recently released our third State of the Digital Workplace Report, which identifies prevailing workplace challenges facing many organizations and offers innovative solutions that focus on digital tools and transformation.
Learn about our other key findings by downloading the full report.