Before COVID 36% of people worked remotely at least once a week, up from less than 10% in 2010: Who succeeds in the coronavirus-driven shift to remote work?

Roberto Torres@TorresLuzardo, CIO Dive, March 16, 2020  POST

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Prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic, city highways would be packed with commuters heading into work on a regular Monday morning.  

Now, Los Angeles freeways and New York streets look noticeably bare as social distancing takes hold. Amid this new normal, countless industries redraw their daily routines to fit the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendation of telework.

Whether remote work is a temporary status triggered by a pandemicor a broader strategy aimed at securing tech talent, companies can’t achieve remote work ambitions without a playbook.

This global crisis has served as an equalizing force, giving companies a way to understand how well they’re set up to handle working remotely, and to succeed in the process.

Far from a novel trend, remote work is an everyday reality for workers. About 36% of people work remotely at least once a week, up from less than 10% in 2010, according to a study from GetApp.

For companies weathering the coronavirus pandemic, remote work success will hinge on the tech tools and procedures that enable a new way of working. 

Flipping the switch on remote work

In January, as the coronavirus toll began to rise in Asia, software company AvePoint made the decision to close several offices in Asia to minimize risk.

“As a result of that, workflow was slowed down a bit,” said Dux Raymond Sy, the company’s chief marketing officer, in an interview with CIO Dive. It took about a week until the organization could shift how it supported the business and met its goals.

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, an additional layer of complexity became evident.

In parts of [Asia Pacific] working from home is not a thing,” said Sy. “It’s not part of the culture.” That meant worker’s lacked proper internet connectivity and physical areas to hit their goals from the safety of home. 

In about a week, using digital tools such as Yammer, Microsoft Teams and SharePoint, the company was up and running at full capacity again.

It’s an example of how coronavirus is posing a stress test on a company’s ability to adapt to a new global context. Amid the transition, Sy recommends managers who want to succeed at remote work:

  • Lean heavily on technology to help with the shift in workplace dynamics, but expect delays and hiccups along the way.  
  • Extend grace and accommodate to the unexpected, especially as remote work redraws what an employee’s day looks like
  • Set remote work goals as a team, and focus on the output. This gives workers a “north star” amid the new environment. 

The power of adaptation will be essential for managers amid the crisis. When people start working remote, their behavior changes, Citrix CIO Meerah Rajavel said. 

I expect our audio videoconference use is going to go through the roof,” said Rajavel, in an interview with CIO Dive. “I expect certain types of software and file transfers are going to go higher. That absolutely means that I need to administer resources dynamically.”

The importance of face time

Finding moments to sync up face-to-face, even if its through a webcam, can strengthen ties between remote and co-located workers in a mixed model.

As the coronavirus outbreak evolves, more companies are preparing for the likelihood of long-term distributed work, which makes it all the more critical that efficiency is sustained through the crisis.  

DigitalOcean has benefited from hosting employee training sessions virtually so as to deliver an equal experience to office-based employees as their remote counterparts. This helps level the playing field for remote workers, which in turn boosts their efficiency. 

Many companies offer virtual watercooler spaces through Slack. For Sonatype, that space is called “The Lounge,” which has a teleconferencing equivalent organically created by workers to connect.

“It’s been a surprisingly effective social exchange and helps remind us that hearing real laughter can sometimes go further than reading ‘LOL’ or observing some emoticon or emoji,” said Kristin Davidson, VP of HR at Sonatype, in an email to CIO Dive.

But setting up remote workers for success also means understanding their context and how they connect with the co-located team.

“Just because an employee is working remotely, doesn’t mean they’re off the grid working independently from others,” said Kirsty Ford, director of people operations at DigitalOcean. “Managers must avoid the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality and instead realize that remote employees are equally (if not more) connected to a company’s community than their onsite counterparts.”

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