Google and Facebook were among the first to announce employees will be free to work from home until 2021, while Twitter has taken a step further to say staff can work from home ‘forever’, if they choose.
Such sweeping declarations before we’re even halfway through 2020 suggest the mood in many businesses is shifting, leaning towards staying remote even after the pandemic has passed.
Remote working isn’t a new trend — studies show global uptake increased by 91% over the last decade — but coronavirus has accelerated its leap to mass adoption.
As it becomes apparent that the temporary move to home-based working is likely to be a longer-term shift, businesses need to consider how they can optimise remote operations.
Successful adaption takes more than transitioning existing office practices to remote systems. Businesses must help their employees manage the new reality by building new working systems that maintain efficiency and effectiveness at a distance.
Adjusting to asynchronous communication
Among the many aspects of normal office life that aren’t transferrable to home working, it’s arguable that standard methods of communication are the most important.
With most businesses based in physical locations, teams have become used to certain ways of communicating; particularly talking to their colleagues in-person and receiving an instant response.
In the remote sphere, however, conversations are different. Instead of walking over to their colleague’s desk or leaning over their shoulder, employees must send a message and wait.
This change has several advantages, especially when it comes to reducing distraction. Information sharing that was immediate and synchronised is often the opposite — asynchronous — which means communications run on a slower timeframe.
The result? Where in-person interaction would previously create immediate interruption for tasks that often turned out to be less urgent than those currently being worked on, this elimination of instant responses allows more time to properly evaluate priority levels.
To ensure communications stay strong, businesses will need to leave office norms behind and implement an entirely different set of technologies and processes.
Adopting technological enablers
As workspaces go from real world to virtual, it’s clear that robust digital infrastructure will be essential to keep teams connected.
And as businesses across the globe are already aware, harnessing efficient digital tools will be a key part of that; as shown by the huge rise in popularity of Zoom video conferencing, which hosted meetings for 300 million people daily in April 2020.
But, boosting digital capability can have the side effect of an unwieldy array of tech.
From video conferencing and messaging platforms aimed at improving real-time connection, to separate software for activities such as emailing, document sharing, invoice creation and time logging, there are a host of tools that can cause confusion for employees. Not to mention scattering business critical information across multiple separate systems.
Building the right basis for remote efficiency means coordinating tech carefully, and the best way to achieve this is by selecting options that allow businesses to unite their tools.
With a centralised platform that ties disparate tech together, businesses can minimise efficiency lost to juggling multiple communications channels — estimated to cost up to 40% of individual productive time — and enable their team to stay in touch, without losing crucial time or focus.
New rules please: Finding flexibility
To flourish, every employee needs an environment where they can work and collaborate in a way that suits their specific situation. Alongside joined-up communications, it’s therefore vital to create policies that recognise the asynchronous reality and take into account the significant variability of remote working practicalities.
For example, that may include establishing flexible working schedules to accommodate the complexity of home-life amid the pandemic.
While it may seem at odds with the typical fast pace of business operations, providing flexibility for those striving to balance the needs of their family and career will drive valuable rewards.
Employees who feel in control of their day will not only be happier, but also motivated to maximise their output and produce high quality work.
This doesn’t, however, mean a switch to detached management: maintaining complete understanding of all projects and accounts will be crucial for business leaders to keep activity on course.
But there is a difference between micromanagement of people, which is unhealthy, and micromanagement of processes, which helps businesses stay the course.
By leveraging holistic time tracking and feedback gathering platforms, leaders can gain a full overview of performance that not only keeps them informed, but also assists with issue spotting and resolution.
For instance, that could include using data to identify and address time wasters, such as unnecessary video calls. Or insights might pinpoint areas where existing policies should change; such as offering pressured employees the opportunity to dial-up their asynchronous working by shifting to flexitime or setting designated ‘do not disturb’ hours.
The remote working revolution may have been sudden, but it looks set to last; at least for the foreseeable future. And for businesses, the impact on their success both now and in the future will be down to how well they adapt to the new realities of virtual life.
Those who come out of the crisis in the strongest position will be the businesses that have gone beyond simply trying to replicate offline processes in the online world. They will have created the foundation for remote effectiveness by embracing new communication, collaboration, and flexibility.
Fred Kriger is founder and CEO at Scoro.