What remote work means for organisations

Sep 28, 2021

I recently had the pleasure of hosting a discussion between two organisations (Active Super & John Holland) on why human connection matters and how they’re addressing the challenges of remote work.

In light of Covid-19, the shift to remote work is one of the largest adjustments that organisations have had to make in recent times. Organisations that had a small number of their employees working remotely have had to pivot fast. And this is undoubtedly not without consequence.

Organisations that had a strong face- to-face office culture are having to look at other ways to cultivate culture. For example, new employees who might previously be taken around the office and introduced to different teams no longer have this same opportunity. Employees gathering at Friday afternoon drinks to celebrate a new win are no longer in the office to do this.

These were just some of the concerns raised in our discussion confirming my view that organisations must be proactive when it comes to communicating with and engaging their remote workforce.

Remote working is here to stay

Regardless of your views on remote work, the research is unanimous on employees wanting to continue to work remotely, at least part of the time. 73% of employees want flexible remote work options to stay.[1]

Organisations that are unwilling to offer this flexibility are likely to lose out with research indicating that 30% of employees are likely to switch jobs if returned to fully on-site work.[2]

Having the right strategy and technology to support your remote workforce has never been more important.

Possible Impacts of Remote Work

Organisations that do not have the right systems and processes in place run the risk of isolating employees and compromising productivity leading to an inefficient workforce.

How is remote work impacting your organisation?

Social isolation & mental health

There’s no doubt that as humans, we’re a social bunch. We feed off the interaction we have with others. A recent Atlassian study indicated that 77% of Australians said they missed the energy they got from working with others in the office.[3]

It’s likely that many employees, particularly those not used to working remotely, maybe missing on-site social interactions.

Shrinking professional networks

Questions around the challenge of business silos were raised in the lead up to the webinar. And rightly so. Research from Microsoft on collaboration trends in Teams & Outlook show that interactions with our immediate team increased. However, our interactions outside of that team have diminished.

Information silos have always been a challenge in organisations. We need to make an even greater effort to bridge these gaps in an online environment.

Lack of innovation

Senior Principal Researcher at Microsoft, Dr Nancy Baym believes that when you lose connections, you stop innovating. There are no new ideas getting in and groupthink becomes a serious possibility.[4]

Innovation can be a tricky thing to measure so a decline is not always obvious. With many employees no longer able to have spontaneous face to face interaction or sit around the whiteboard to brainstorm, the need to actively facilitate innovation becomes crucial.

Start by asking, how does my organisation not only foster innovation, through the constraints of remote work, but also track and measure this output.

Leadership Difficulties

In times of crisis, leaders must ensure staff feel safe, secure and clear about the path forward. A recent survey of American workers highlighted that 52% of managers report that they feel more pressure to maintain company culture now than before the pandemic and 39% say mentoring has been more difficult.[5] Leading remote teams requires unique skills and tools. While most managers have muddled through the various lock downs, are they equipped to lead remote teams over the longer term?

Bridging the gap between Internal Communications and IT

What I found particularly interesting when organising this discussion was the opportunity to bring together two senior leaders from two different departmental backgrounds: Internal Communications and Information Technology. More than ever, the Comms team and IT departments need to work closely to ensure the right tools and technology are available to encourage communication, collaboration and engagement. Ultimately, both parties should be working towards the common goal of a happier and more productive employee.

What’s next for the future of work?

We’re only at the starting point of this real-life remote work experiment and it may be years until we fully understand the impact on areas such as innovation, productivity, employee wellbeing and organisational culture. Like all good trial and error experiments, it may take some time until we land on a model that supports and benefits all stakeholders.

1] Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index

[2] McKinsey Future of Work Research

[3] Atlassian Reworking Work: Understanding The Rise of Work Anywhere

[4] Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index

[5] Prudential Financial: Pulse of the American Worker Survey

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