When the coronavirus pandemic first started, I shared my tips for transitioning to a work from home situation. Now, as the pandemic continues over eight months later, we are seeing large companies like Google and Twitter opting to give their employees the choice to come back to the office or continue to work from home for the foreseeable future and smaller businesses also following suit.
I recently spoke at the Advertising Speciality Institute’s annual Power Summit, discussing “The Changing Workplace” and the realities of how businesses need to adapt to a workplace that will look different for years to come. Below are highlights from the discussion and you can watch the full session above.
ASI: Remote work isn’t new, especially among sales teams, but now we’re seeing all types of departments working together at a distance. How are companies adjusting to that? What kinds of technologies are they using to facilitate collaboration?
Lolita: Now, 8 months into the coronavirus pandemic, companies have a better foothold on how to manage a remote work from home workforce whereas back in March, it really happened with virtually no warning, so that was a struggle as businesses had to figure out what they needed to do in order to maintain operations in as steady of a manner as possible while supporting a newly remote workforce. Like Zoom became the go to video conferencing tool for the most part for meetings and collaboration, more and more businesses employed tools like Slack for conversations and further collaboration…and to provide some “social” aspects for teams.
ASI: What are some of the challenges of long-term or even permanent remote work? How can those be addressed? An example might be social wellbeing and workplace friendships.
Lolita: The challenges will be to continue to foster culture and community while also maintaining productivity. At first, as we were adapting to this new normal, it was stressful however we all had to find ways to make it work. Now we’re becoming more complacent and tired of WFH and in some ways things have a tendency to slide. For example, early on, in Zoom meetings, cameras were always on, for the most part co-workers seemed on top of their game…now I’m finding more people have their cameras off, are more willing to have the “I just rolled out of bed look.” And then you know, there are people like this recent news of The New Yorker journalist Jeff Toobin who took being relaxed on a Zoom meeting to a whole new level. But seriously, I think whereas before, companies would plan offsite meetings for teams to connect and have more in-depth strategy sessions and time for socialization, we’ll find businesses reinvesting the cost savings by moving employees to a remote environment into ON-SITES – meetings that bring employees together let’s say monthly or quarterly – that provide that time to foster relationships and camaraderie.
ASI: How will this shift in work impact the HR realm? Will we see more people expect that their jobs have remote/flex hours as an option starting from day 1 of their employment, rather than it being a coveted privilege based on years of service or seniority?
Lolita: Absolutely, of course, depending on the position and industry, talent will expect that at least a portion of their job will be remote and they will value employers that have thought through how to appropriately train and nurture new hires in this environment. Talent will be looking to companies that can support them and their long-term goals and HR will have to adjust how they evaluate potential hires to ensure they can manage a part-time or full-time remote position.
ASI: Are companies prioritizing different skills in employees as remote work becomes more prevalent? What factors become more important as they look for employees? Will companies need to market or brand themselves differently to attract workers? And how can promotional products play a part in that?
How can companies effectively on-board new hires during remote work?
- The ability to work independently 100% will become more of a priority and the tests / evaluation methods HR uses to gauge potential hires will have to adjust to ensure both the new hire can thrive in a remote environment and that the company can support that potential hire well. I’m also seeing this new category of HR consultants – who came into businesses in March / April / May and are still doing well – to help HR departments, many of whom can be considered more “old school” put policies, procedures and technologies in place to manage the sudden shift.
- As far as marketing themselves differently, businesses will have to put the remote side of the positions or how they protect employees in the office front and foremost. Talent will be looking for remote situations that are supportive and provide resources to enhance their remote environment.
- For promotional companies and products – In addition to a “welcome” package with the typical company swag – like a t-shirt, coffee mug – in the remote setting, I would love to see companies think about how they can enhance the remote work experience for existing and new employees. For example, a physical therapist I know had recommended a few items to help with body aches that come with working from home and perhaps not at a proper desk…she recommended a seat cushion to help with back pain and a laptop stand with an external keyboard and mouse so those working on a laptop wouldn’t experience neck pain, because the laptop was raised up, keeping your neck and shoulders straight rather than looking down at the screen. A swag package could include a branded cushion or branded laptop stand. Think more about how to make the employee welcome but also about how show the company cares about the health / physical well-being of the employee.
- Through online tools like Glassdoor, Indeed and even LinkedIn as well as social media, these can be avenues to showcase how companies are adapting to remote workforces and how they are taking care of them and putting their staff’s well-being from all aspects at the forefront.
- On-boarding is where those “on-site” events could come into play. They allow for new hires to make connections with peers early on and get a feel for the culture, which they can then bring back to their home office. Training should be on-going – whether remote or in-person safely – and social aspects and well-being should be prioritized…like virtual happy hours, perhaps a virtual yoga class where employees who sign up for the classes get swag like a yoga mat, workout towel, etc.
ASI: Cost-savings in overhead – how can that be reinvested to benefit employees?
Lolita: Some estimates say businesses can save up to $10,000 a year per employee by shifting them to remote work. That should be reinvested into on-site meetings, helping setup a remote employees home workspace and productivity tools and monitoring for supervisors / HR.
ASI: Once the pandemic recedes and employees feel safe, will companies revert back to working in the office or will many of them implement remote work on some type of permanent basis?
Lolita: We’ve already seen some large companies say that their employees have the choice to work from home through 2021, some indefinitely, so this is here to stay and while there have certainly been negative aspects to remote work and many really NEED to go into an office to work productively and for their well-being, I think may more will opt for flex time or permanent remote work. That brings a lot of benefits and opportunity – and businesses who have the mindset that this is a long-term situation actually are in a better position because their employees at least have a more solid outlook on what to expect rather than this “we don’t know what will happen in a few months” situation. Regardless of where the pandemic takes us, businesses who plan for the long-term will be more successful in the long run.