Nearly a quarter of the US workforce was already working remotely when the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of knowledge and office workers to work from home amid government shelter-in-place orders. Remote work suddenly became a requirement for compliance and continuity reasons. For many, the change was difficult, as workers weren’t entirely working from home by choice, but rather out of necessity. Companies also had to change or implement policies on the fly, especially if they didn’t have a formal remote work policy before spring 2020.
Employees face a host of challenges with remote work: lack of in-person supervision, lack of communication, feelings of isolation, and the distractions that come with working from home (1) . However, the benefits of remote work are also quantifiable. Employees who work remotely tend to have higher levels of job satisfaction, productivity and engagement versus non-remote peers. Also, remote workers report less stress and exhaustion levels (2).
Employee engagement can mitigate the challenges of working from home. Remote workers want to do their jobs just as well as they would have if they were in the office. How can organizations support their newly remote workforce with the right tools and attitudes? Addressing the employee experience is one way to drive employee engagement and assure workers that they’re still connected to the larger enterprise.
Companies have always needed to take the employee experience into consideration. Now, however, this awareness takes on a new sense of urgency, as the pandemic continues. The processes and initiatives in place now will further need refinement over the coming months, as some plan for an eventual return to the office.
Replicating the Office Experience at Home
Without the familiar trappings of office furniture, the rituals of the break room or the familiarity of in-person conferences, employees may feel a bit lost while working remotely. (One in five remote workers say feelings of isolation is the biggest challenge to working from home. (3)) To combat these struggles, companies should pay close attention to their communications channels, and how they connect with employees.
With hallway conversations not happening for now, companies have turned to digital communications channels — instant messaging, video conferencing and others — to maintain open lines of communication. This has led to a huge upswing in adopting digital communications channels. On average, 96 percent of companies report that the pandemic has accelerated their digital communications transformation. Companies increased the use of more than 5 digital communications channels on average as a result of the pandemic (4). Without the ability to talk to their workers face to face, companies are relying on their digital channels to keep in touch and make sure everyone feels involved and connected.
An Employee Experience Similar to a Commercial One
While employees are working from home, this doesn’t mean that they expect anything less from their IT departments. Distributed workers expect a smooth work-from-home experience that mirrors their seamless office experience. Thankfully, office departments recognize this preference and are working to achieve it. According to VMWare’s internal research, 83 percent of IT workers (5) (and 82 percent of HR workers (6)) say providing an optimal digital employee experience is a top priority for their companies. Optimal digital employee experiences are clearly at the top of mind for everyone.
Other areas where the employee experience need to be examined and optimized for the remote workforce include: analyzing and updating workflows, planning engagements that support the work culture, reviewing the tools and applications that employees are using (and not using) while offsite and continuing to review and prepare for the long-term implications of the pandemic (7). As organizations review their workflows, there should be flexibility built into the processes. Employees are dealing with a lot during the pandemic. Organizations that have some give baked into their processes are best positioned to support their workforce with time and patience.
Formalize What May Have Been an Ad Hoc Process
IT departments were given little time to prepare for the worldwide office shutdowns. As a result, decisions might have been made on the fly, with little deliberation or foresight. This may cause security issues, particularly if employees are using their personal devices at home.
Now that the crisis continues and remote work might take on a more permanent position at many companies, IT departments should review decisions made at the beginning of the pandemic and formalize new procedures if necessary. IT support is just as critical now for employees as they work from home as it was in the office.
Security concerns have also spiked since the pandemic crisis began, with nearly half of all companies experiencing at least one security scare in the past six months. IT departments will need to address security concerns as the crisis continues and beyond as the world returns to normal. Still, IT should take care to make the process as seamless as possible. VPNs and other security measures may be needed, but such policies should be taken into account against employee productivity.
From the cottage to the living room, employees should be supported with the apps and tools they need to work from anywhere. By formalizing processes, companies have the opportunity to ensure the remote working environment is as much a positive experience for employees as possible. Companies should pay particular attention to their communications channels and make sure all employees are given the chance to be seen heard and give input.
To learn more about how VMWare can help you manage your remote workers, visit vmware.com.
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