While remote work has gotten a lot of attention and discussion in recent years, the actual pace at which jobs have transitioned to full majority-remote work arrangements has remained modest. That changed radically in the last few months as millions of workers around the globe shifted to full-time virtual remote work to adapt to COVID-19-related social distancing mandates. While the first few months we heard from a lot of clients looking for best practices in managing work and maintaining morale from a distance, the conversation is beginning to shift.
In In the last few weeks, we have heard from a number of clients that the sudden shift to mass virtual work has created an opportunity to fundamentally rethink how they approach remote work. Many of them have already decided that remote work will be much more broadly applied in their companies in the post-COVID-19 pandemic world. These decisions are driven by a variety of factors, including the potential for cost savings from reduced office space and related costs, the desire to be good global citizens by minimizing the impact on the environment of thousands of daily commuters, a recognition of the need for employees to better balance home and work demands, or a combination of these and other factors.
While many companies recognize that much more remote work will be done, they are not yet clear about how to decide what remote work can or can’t be done. The answer is obviously different for each organization and even for each kind of work within an organization. In every case, it is something that requires a lot of thought. It is not as simple as doing an alphabetical rotation of who comes into the office on a given day.
Criteria for working remotely
As we have talked with a variety of organizations thinking this question through, we have identified some criteria to use in making decisions about who needs to be working in offices and who works at home.
We offer 4 things to consider after COVID-19 to make sure you set up your organization to deliver customer value.
1. Use outside-in logic for framing your solution. What are the dominant demands from your key customers and investors? Are your primary competitors better able to respond to customer expectations by being higher touch or more intimately connected? To what extent can technology satisfy—or does it stand in the way of—the right kind of customer connections. For example, hair stylists offering advice over a zoom call to a customer on how to cut their own hair is unlikely to deliver a great haircut for the client. At the same time, a patent-law attorney could in most cases provide the same customer experience with remote work from a home office that they do from their corporate office.
2. Properly connect work that drives external value. In addition to making sure that employees are connected to customers in ways that create value, in many cases there are workgroups that need to stay connected to make sure the organization can create value for customers. In a product-driven company, product development teams often need to spend significant time together to effectively innovate and create products that resonate with customers. As you look to decide who works from home and who doesn’t, you need to make sure that your approach to remote work keeps the roles that drive external value properly connected. As great as technology is, some topics are better worked face to face real time and enable ongoing real time adjustments. Your strategic capabilities need to be maintained.
3. Maintain critical interdependencies. Overall, different work has different levels of interdependency. Some of those interdependencies exist within a function but many of the intendencies are cross-functional. There is day to day foundational work that is critical to keep the business running; without this work being done well, the business shuts down. Accounts receivable, benefit administration, IT help desks, payroll, and other administrative tasks are often in this category. How can this work be done most efficiently? For example, routine help desk support can often be delivered virtually, especially with today’s technology, but administrative support for leaders often requires face-to-face interaction to have the right level of responsiveness.
4. Understand individual employee preferences and circumstances. In addition to the organizational considerations, there remains a personal preference to this issue that needs to be considered. Some employees are fine working remotely while others value and need daily face to face interaction with colleagues. Some employees may have a quiet distraction-free space to work from home while others may not be able to close the door on other activities and people in their home. Even if the individual’s role could be perfectly done in a virtual environment, requiring them to do so could impact engagement, retention, and even performance. Before you make mandated decisions about roles that will/will not work from home, make sure you understand what your employees prefer.
Sorting out the answers to these questions should precede the decisions on how to set up office sharing, establishing protocols for frequency of oversight, beginning procurement of technology solutions to support remote work, and even how to configure office space for those who physically come to the office after the COVID-19 crisis.
We’ve been advising others on these issues for decades, please contact us to discuss how to think about how to optimize your virtual workforce.