As I was preparing to write this blog post, firing up my remote work station still after a whole year, I though about previous posts I wrote at the very beginning of COVID-19. Looking back puts where we are now into a whole new perspective. When March 2021 came around I think many of us were caught off guard. At least I know I was.
Reviewing the year, there are some articles I wrote then that when I read them today make me shake my head a bit for mentioning terms that now feel overused – but then I remember they were quite new at the time. The post "Moving together toward the new normal" stands out as a title that brings me right back because it serves as a reminder of what we were going through during the early days of the pandemic, struggling with fresh stay-at-home orders, defining remote work policies, and identifying the essentials of our businesses.
But now, having made it through a year like no other, what is the new normal, and how do we even know what “normal” is anymore? What we thought was the new normal then surely looks different now.
To me, both at home and at work – especially since the two have become the same place for many of us thanks to working from home – “normal” becomes whatever the day brings, and each day brings its own unique twists and turns. We all have our unique pandemic stories to tell.
It’s funny; March 2020 seems like it was just yesterday, yet also like it was long ago. I can't explain it, it’s just something I feel. Maybe you do too. When reflecting on the past year it’s become clear to me that despite what we think might happen in the future, we can't ever be certain what our circumstances will be from one day to the next. We can, however, do our best to rise above challenges and move forward.
One of those challenges has been working remotely. What was once a luxury only reserved for select occupations has now become part of more and more workplaces. Many of us have remote work stories to tell. Let’s dive deeper into some things we’ve learned this year about remote work, and what things employers should consider moving forward.
The bottom line is remote work works
We watched work transform what we felt like was overnight, but really it was a longer process. The fact is this transformation was years of anticipated workplace evolution forced to happen in just a few months. In essence, we’ve all experienced the future of work being accelerated, and it’s still moving fast.
Many organizations that never thought that remote work would replace the traditional office have learned quickly that workers can be productive and stay connected virtually. It may look different in the way it's carried out but work is still getting done, in some cases more efficiently than before.
Of course that's not to say virtual work hasn’t come without many challenges. Specifically, parents of young children have had to juggle more than their fair share of things during the pandemic. If you’ve been working remotely full-time while also trying to assist children with online learning, you undoubtedly know the struggle.
The remote work shift also unearthed some new inequities within our society in terms of things like access to adequate internet connections both for workers and school children alike. Technology, as always, remains at the forefront of the ability for people to be productive, connected, and creative remotely.
But despite challenges, the remote work experiment over the last year truly has opened the eyes of naysayers who once thought remote work was something reserved for the distant future. It’s clear remote work is here to stay, and workplace flexibility is a must-have.
It bears repeating – communication is more important than ever
When considering things that businesses should keep after the pandemic has subsided, effective communication plans with multiple channels of communication baked in are a staple of business success. Perhaps it seems too simple to mention the importance of effective communication in business, or maybe you think you've heard this from us too many times already, but it's a reality that simply cannot be denied. Now more than ever, a strategic and transparent communication plan is vital for companies and employees.
Organizations that weren't able to easily communicate messages to their employees quickly realized that ineffective, one-way, underutilized, and antiquated communication systems are not ideal in the face of a crisis. A host of problems can arise from poor communication plans:
- Less physical safety due to your people not following policies
- Psychological safety being put in jeopardy because employees see their environment as unsafe or wonder about job security
- Gossip and rumors spreading and impacting engagement thanks to a lack of clear, regular updates from leadership
Being proactive in building or improving communication systems strikes me as something that will be a focus of businesses moving forward. When the next crisis hits, businesses should be more prepared to both send messages to and receive them from workers and other stakeholders.
The right technology makes all the difference
I’ve had conversations with friends and colleagues about what we’ve been through over the past year, and how we have pivoted so quickly to maintain business continuity in our organizations. Those conversations lead to discussions about the “what ifs.” What if this pandemic had occurred twenty years ago, when video technology wasn’t nearly as advanced as it is now? What if this occurred when a worker's only option was to be on site, since there was no internet or ability to work utilizing collaboration software? It’s almost unimaginable to think what might have been, and I have to say I’ve been more grateful for technology during this time than ever before.
But while there are multitudes of software solutions available, companies must do their due diligence to ensure that the right software is utilized in their business, especially for remote workers.
Consider collaboration software, as an example. Does the product ensure that collaboration can easily occur among different teams? Can employees send and receive messages quickly, and clearly? Does the software have mobile capability, so it can be accessed from anywhere? Will information be sent and stored over secure channels? These are all questions that must be asked and moving forward companies must work to ensure that their collaboration software suits the needs of the business and workers, wherever they are performing their jobs.
From an employee experience perspective, choosing the right HR, payroll, time, and talent software is also vital. In addition to psychological safety, workers will also undoubtedly be hyper-focused on physical safety, too. With remote work also comes the possibility of hybrid work, where employees may go into the office environment a few times a week while working at home on other days. This level of flux in people's comings and goings makes safety items like contact tracing within HR technology immensely important.
Easy to use, accessible HR solutions that prioritize employee self-service will be a vital part of all remote workplaces in the future. Employees will want — and need — to access, update, and change their pertinent employment information whenever necessary. They will expect to do things like change their password themselves, update their tax withholding information, and see important company messages right from their phone, computer, or other internet connected device. Keeping up with technological advancements will be crucial in the need to attract and retain top talent.
After all, in a world where we can purchase items with the click of a button, people don’t want to go back in time in terms of their technology when they come to work!
Conclusion: Focus on the future of remote work now
Remote work is here to stay, so workplaces must adapt and shift to this reality. To say that change in the workplace will stop after COVID-19 would not be accurate. Think of how much change the workplace has seen over the past ten years! There are always new challenges to overcome.
The policies we put into place, the company cultures we work to build and sustain, and the tools and technology we provide our employees to get their jobs done efficiently and effectively are all critical to our success. Let’s never lose sight of the fact that what HR and businesses do (and fail to do) today will have a lasting impact on the next generation of remote, hybrid, and office workers.