Remote Work & Coronavirus: Using Remote Access Tools to Remote Work
Remote Work & Coronavirus: Using Remote Access Tools to Remote Work
A new norm called “from-home” has emerged as a consequence of coronavirus pandemic. Soon after the outbreak, extensive social distancing mandates started being implemented across the globe as early as February. The World Health Organization officially declared Covid-19 a pandemic on March 11th. To flatten the curve of the health crisis, an estimated 16 million U.S. office workers had switched to working remotely within a few weeks. The number of people working from home in Switzerland doubled very quickly. By early April, 3.9 billion people were doing most of daily activities from their houses or apartments. Learning, shopping, exercising, dining, and of course top of the list being remote working. Many of these workers are doing their jobs away from the office for the first time while for others, remote work is already normal and widely accepted.
In all cases, this remote work trend is showing that many businesses can succeed even if employees don’t come into the office every day. The time, energy, and money saved on commutes and real estate alone could make companies reconsider their fundamental presumptions on how and where work is done. Although it’s hard to predict the future but many are speculating that the pandemic is likely to cause a permanent increase in remote working even after the crisis is gone. A majority of current remote workers believe that doing so does not harm their productivity. Although we might find comfort in thinking that the recent switch between office and home is mostly an IT problem, the fact is the real challenges are just starting to appear and businesses need to take action to make sure they can survive while supporting their employees adequately.
The coronavirus pandemic and its consequences throughout the world has made many of us think of various aspects of possible aftermath of the outbreak. Here we want to discuss the issue with focusing on the link between remote work and the coronavirus pandemic in several phases. First we want to get a grasp on how the current situation of remote work is and where it’s going, then we will examine some trends we are seeing in consumer demands and their relation to remote work. Next, we will find out about the main challenges that businesses and workers are facing in the domain of remote work, after that what can and should be done about those challenges to mitigate the impact, and finally we will try to picture a possible future on the issue and how the current remote work trend is probably going to continue after the crisis if it would be.
Where Remote Work Is Going
Even before the coronavirus crisis, many companies were moving towards more flexible workplace models as already there was a steady increase in people choosing to work remotely. Data shows that between 2013 and 2018 before the crisis struck, there was a growth from 18% to 24% in workers in Switzerland working from home for at least half a day per week. The average share of the labor force that works from home in the U.S. has tripled in the last 15 years. Coronavirus with help of the social distancing economy is only accelerating the trend. During the crisis, around 50% of employed or self-employed people are working from home. Even though 66% of remote workers are doing so because of Covid-19 concerns and it would seem probable that the majority of them will return to the office once we see normality coming back, it’s very unlikely for the number of people working remotely to go back to pre-Covid-19 levels.
The current situation is serving as a large-scale remote working experiment, demonstrating what works and what doesn’t work. The accelerated trend towards more flexible workplace models, could have some positive effects on society as a whole, giving people more flexibility in terms of location and time management, while also lowering the traffic and the burden on public transportation. Over 70% of remote workers think that they are more or just as efficient when working outside the office. Only 1 in 4 think that their productivity might suffer when working from home. These findings demonstrate that most workers value flexible workplace models. They are seeing it more or less enhancing their performance, which could also increase employee satisfaction as a result.
It’s also important to understand that working from home is simply not an option for many people. The data shows that while workers in fields such as IT, business development and product management find it much easier to work from home, those in health care, research, education, customer support and operations are the most likely to say that it’s either difficult or impossible to do so. In some cases, working from home is difficult or impossible because the nature of the work itself requires in-person interactions. But for others, which the limiting factor is having proper technology and communication tools, business leaders can do a lot to change these difficulties.
Remote Work Trends
A recent analysis which includes insights drawn from data that covers 80+ countries and two billion active monthly shoppers across about 20,000 ecommerce sites, shows three major categories in remote work trends:
alt: Remote Work Trends
Zoom, a video conferencing app, is just one example on this sector. When lockdowns were put in place in March, the usage took off to 200 million daily meeting participants while in December 2019, the maximum number was just 10 million. Apart from the numbers of video calls on different large platforms for both personal and professional reasons, shopping trends after the coronavirus outbreak are showing significant increase in devices such as webcams, computer monitors, audio & video cable adapters and various other complementary electronics as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Some has experienced several hundred percent increase in sales.
After initial stay-at-home mandates for coronavirus, many people just threw a laptop on the kitchen table or repurposed the nightstand in order to work remotely. But now, as families and roommates are pressed to work or study in the same living space, those are no longer enough to concentrate properly. A lot of them are now transforming spare rooms, garages, closets, attics, and other forgotten corners in the house into home offices. Desks, office chairs, and general office furniture sales went up drastically in several countries as a result of the outbreak.
People also have been buying more software since the coronavirus crisis began. Computer software in general and multimedia & design software specifically experienced higher sale rates throughout the world. These are all forming an insight on how the necessity of remote work is changing the world’s economy in the aftermath of Covid-19.
What Marketers Can Do
It’s important for marketers to think about changes in lifestyle might stick around long after coronavirus is gone. Trends like remote work will more or less stay, and the key for companies that want to keep their audiences and build long term loyalty is monitoring the shifts in what consumers are purchasing as the crisis resolves. The faster you adapt, the better you can respond to your customers’ needs. Brands that can help people stay connected, comfortable, and efficient in a social distancing economy are primed for success.
Challenges in Remote Work
Let’s not forget that those who’ve transitioned to remote work during Covid-19 are among the lucky ones. Millions of people have lost their jobs, and many others have jobs that put them and their families at risk. Having said that, even for those fortunate enough to continue working from the safety of their apartments, remote work poses new challenges.
Alt: remote work Challenges
Millions of business teams across the world are going through the heavy transition of redefining the way they function. How they approach these challenges will have profound consequences on their productivity and the well-being of their members. Many companies are finding it harder to keep their teams productive, aligned and engaged. Below are the most important challenges teams will face, and practical recommendations on how to mitigate their effects.
Lack of Personal Interactions
Almost half of all employees working remotely during coronavirus pandemic, see a lack of personal interactions with colleagues and clients as one of their biggest challenges. Feeling isolated when working from home, has caused about 20% even worry about their mental well-being.
When it comes to distractions, about a third see being distracted by their kids or other family members as one of the biggest challenges. About 16% do not have a specific designated workspace at home, which would exacerbate the disturbance and distraction.
People who are suddenly faced with an extreme situation in which they have to improvise workspace and take care of their children at the same time, are in the middle of a huge challenge. As data also shows that those who are distracted by their children are much more likely to report that they are less productive at home which brings us to the next section. Therefore, we might see an improvement in the perceived productivity of employees once children go back to school.
Experience in remote working plays a significant role here. Nearly one-third of newly remote workers say that working from home has negatively affected their productivity, whereas only 13% of experienced ones say so. Many of the former group who have moved to home offices because of coronavirus, are facing radically new lifestyles with their jobs conflicted with family responsibilities. They’re also more likely to report slow and inefficient communication, which can hinder operational speed and productivity. However, a majority (60%) of experienced remote workers find working from home to be more productive, suggesting that experience may very well lessen the impact even in extreme circumstances.
Redefining Communication Norms
Office workers share a large amount of information in person to get advice, clarify expectations and simply talking for example when they stop by each other’s office, chat over lunch and coffee breaks or gather by the water cooler. Research shows that informal discussions help employees have a better understanding of what’s happening on their teams and hold feelings of isolation at bay.
New communication norms need to be crafted for teams that switch to remote work. Over-communicating should not be something to be afraid of by team members, even if it feels wrong at first. Calling a co-worker over the phone several times in a row is perfectly acceptable for teams switching to remote work whereas it might be frowned upon in an office context. Redefining new norms can only emerge from experimentation which means trial and error.
Managing Work-Life Conflicts
Office workers have an easier way of keeping their work and their private lives separate, which helps them avoid having conflicts between the two. Sudden switch to remote work erases some useful boundaries in that regard, which blurs our responsibilities. In order to limit conflicts and interruptions between work and personal life, remote workers should negotiate a creative schedule that balances both responsibilities with their managers. Alternating work and family responsibilities throughout the day would be an example. Employees also should communicate with their co-workers on when and how they can be reached for work-related issues.
As tempting as it may be, those new remote workers who don’t have a home office, should refuse to work in places they normally use for relaxation, like bed or the couch. Instead, they need to reorganize their houses and use a quiet space with a table or a desk as their workstation. family members should be informed as well, that this area is dedicated to work only.
Rethinking What Supervision Means
This is a time when many managers are facing the crucial challenge of redefining what supervising employees means in the context of remote work. People who focus more on why they work, typically explore more new creative possibilities in their work than people who focus on how they work. This is the reason why instead of making a common mistake which is to compensate for lack of direct observation by closely monitoring how remote workers do their job, managers and supervisors need to explain to the employees why their work matters as they might forget what their work actually means when they’re working from far away.
In short, switching from traditional office work to remote work is one of the most fundamental changes in how business teams are operative. The challenges mentioned above will definitely take some time to resolve, and misunderstandings are to be expected. For this reason, during this experimentation period we should be forgiving of one another and focus on establishing effective work norms for our new lifestyle. Some of today’s challenges can function as practical lessons for putting into practice flexible workspace models in the future.
Actions to Take by Businesses
In times of remote working, it’s necessary for managers and leaders to ensure that their teams understand their purpose, both on an individual and team level. They need to communicate regularly with their team members and make sure they establish a new rhythm to achieve the best possible productivity and performance. They need to recognize that performance might vary and it depends on how individuals adapt to the new work process. Managers also should find appropriate ways to reward and recognize good work in order to make sure team spirit stays high even in a virtual environment. Managers must lead by example and act as a role model. Regular check-ins with each team member should be part of their schedule to ensure well-being of the individuals and the teams and guarantee efficient teamwork. Only in that case, we can fully obtain the benefits of working remotely.
Alt: actions to take by business
Here we want to list some policies and practices business managers can consider, that support remote work and can improve workers’ at-home experience.
Companies that have previously provided virtual resources and technology support for remote workplaces, are more than others well positioned to sustain their operations and respond quickly to the navigating demands during the current crisis. It is therefore vital for companies to take action against lack of appropriate technology, such as digital devices, virtual collaboration tools and platforms that support remote work. Technology solutions however, are not enough by their own and they would work best when linked with other policies and strategies listed in the following.
Give Workers Autonomy
Workers are more likely to thrive at home if they have some level of freedom to make decisions for example for time management. The majority (86%) of those who prefer remote working over the office say they have “a great deal of autonomy” at work. While 77% of those who do not prefer working from home say so.
Trust Is More Important than Ever
When employees can’t rely on impromptu hallway chats, body language and in-person meetings to disentangle mixed messages or soften feedback, trust starts to matter more. Remote employees who feel they can rely on their co-workers, are more likely to operate successfully at home than those who don’t feel they can trust the team members.
Clarify team goals and each member’s contribution
It always helps to know what’s exactly expected of you and seeing that everyone is pulling in the same direction. Nearly one-third (31%) of workers who are feeling committed to their team goals would choose remote working over the office work as opposed to 18% of those who feel disconnected from their team’s purposes.
Communicate your company’s strategy
When workers don’t share physical office space, it becomes even more important to keep them connected to a comprehensive strategy. Remote workers who understand how their role and what they do contributes to their company’s mission, prefer working from home at nearly twice the rate of those workers who don’t.
Prepare a remote work plan in advance
Employees notice existence of company’s plans or their absence, and it affects their overall remote work performance. 46% of those who feel their company is highly prepared, prefer working from home. But only 17% among those who feel their company is not well-prepared, prefer remote working.
Our Remote Work Future
It’s not clear when all the current remote workers will be able to return to the office. And even when it’ll be safe to do so, companies might choose to keep a number of their workforce remote. According to a recent Gartner survey of 317 CFOs and finance leaders in late March, “74% will move at least 5% of their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions post-Covid-19.”
Similar trend exists among respondents to other surveys about return-to-work expectations. What initially started as a short-term crisis response, appears to have long-term policy ramifications. Most office workers, even those who say that their job is difficult to do remotely, believe that their companies will adopt more remote-work-friendly policies and strategies after the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the uncertainties about the future, one thing is clear: Most office workers are expecting to work from home more in the future. Although there’s no remote work playbook that always works, the experiences of veteran remote workers can enlighten us on what’s possible. That is: with the right policies and technology, business leaders can help keep feelings of isolation at bay, while improving communication, collaboration and productivity. Perhaps most importantly of all, managers who invested in getting remote work right, whether workers are in the office or at home, can help the employees navigate enormous change during the times of uncertainty.