Remote Work: Is Your Company Making a Strategic Decision or Being Reactive?

It’s probably not shocking news that the interest in remote work has accelerated dramatically in midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Global Workplace Analytics, only 3-4% of the workforce was remote before the COVID crisis, but by the end of next year, this number could jump to 25-30%…talk about a radical change!

There are several advantages for a company to having their employees work remotely, including:

  • Less expense on real estate, furnishings, and other costs to maintaining a physical space.
  • Opens up the ability to recruit talent from other locations; no longer do companies have to look at their local area or convince a prospective employee to move.
  • Helps retain talent in the event an employee has to move for family or other personal reasons.

Although I am personally an advocate of remote work in many situations, the purpose of today’s article is not to promote one arrangement over another, but to discuss how companies should approach this decision.  As I explain in an earlier article, a company’s response to the coronavirus has to be about more than just minimizing harm.

Before the COVID pandemic, companies were hesitant to shift to remote work because of the many challenges involved, such as ensuring data is protected when employees are using home WiFi networks with minimal security or ensuring productivity without stifling micromanagement.

Keeping employees engaged and motivated in a “virtual” work environment is another huge challenge to remote work.  Are tools for fostering collaboration a long-term replacement to in-person meetings and impromptu discussions?

In the response to the COVID outbreak, necessity forced companies to quickly find short-term solutions.

But now that employees have been working remotely for 3+ months, many companies are beginning to wonder if it is possible to continue this arrangement long-term, perhaps even permanently. Do the benefits of remote work outweigh the challenges?

Decisions around long-term remote work arrangements need to be proactive and consider company strategy first and foremost, not risks…

In the immediate wake of the pandemic when companies were scrambling to switch to remote work and simply maintain their operations, they were reacting to the current situation.

For longer term arrangements though, companies must take a more proactive approach that considers their strategic goals…after all, being proactive rather than reactive and focusing on strategy (upside) instead of just risks (downside) are a couple of key differences between traditional risk management and ERM.

Therefore, any decision on whether to maintain remote work arrangements for the long-term has to be deliberate and tied to strategic goals in order for the changes to be successful. Some questions executives can be asking include:

  • Would having people work remotely help us achieve certain strategic goals and objectives?
  • What additional strategies could we pursue with a remote workforce?
  • Will reduced expenditures for office space allow us shift financial (or other) resources to pursue new strategies or accelerate progress toward existing ones?
  • Will eliminating commute times allow for a better work/life balance and therefore reduce employee turnover?

Even if the answer to all of these and similar questions is a resounding yes, it doesn’t mean it’s an automatic go – the benefits need to outweigh the challenges in order for the change to make sense.

Certain departments and job types may not be conducive to remote work, and not all employees will like or be able to work from their homes, so executives shouldn’t feel like it needs to be all or nothing. If a company takes a hybrid approach, there will have to be deliberate consideration on how to include remote workers in conversations and everyday decisions since they miss out on the impromptu but sometimes very important hallway and water cooler conversations. After all, not all critical discussions or decisions take place in a conference room.

If your company is considering a permanent shift to remote work, here are a few resources that can help you understand important considerations:

Just five short years ago, it would have been much harder for companies to consider remote work arrangements since tools for facilitating collaboration, data sharing, and so on were not nearly as robust as they are today.

But with deliberate, proactive thought, companies can reap the benefits of remote work and possibly create a strategic advantage in the process.

Is your company considering a long-term or permanent shift to remote work? 

I invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below or joining the conversation on LinkedIn.

If your company is debating the strategic value of shifting to remote work, talk with me to discuss your company’s specific situation today!

Featured image courtesy of Allie via Unsplash.com

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1 Comment. Leave new

  • Hans Læssøe
    June 26, 2020 2:55 am

    There is no doubt in my mind that remote work/WFH is an option which is here to stay and evolve. Many companies have been vary of allowing this as they were unsure about the consequences on productivity, collaboration, etc. Now, the Covid-19 crisis has “forced” companies to make a pilot test, where WFH was deployed on a rather large scale.

    Some companies may have found this was no good, but I guess many have found that once employees have grown into the possibilities and effective ways to work from home, this does not hamper their effectiveness at all. Some may even have demonstrated increased productivity.

    It is now up to Management to explicitly and deliberately address this as an opportunity and decide which positions under what conditions will be in future be available for WFH, and leverage that to the benefit of the company. Management teams that refuse to leverage whatever learning they got from this enforced WFH trial are, in my mind, not astute enough to lead

    Reply

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