In its first survey about remote working, Gallup reported in 1995 that 9% of the work force telecommuted a few days per month. Fast forward to a quarter century later, as of mid 2020, the percentage of Americans who telecommuted was recorded at 49%. That figure was up from 42% in 2019. More significantly, the number of remote workdays per month doubled from 6 to 12 (out of 20) compared to the prior year. Companies participating in work from home prior to 2020 had the benefit of planning the investment needed to deliver mission critical tasks. The change in environment fostered by shelter-in-place directives have had companies scrambling to piece together a workable system in 2020. Remote work is here to stay. Business leaders should reimagine how to keep remote employees engaged, productive, and connected. Here are seven broad areas to wrestle with in 2021 and beyond:
  • Communication
  • Engagement
  • Work Life Balance
  • Wellness
  • Flexibility
  • Culture
  • Technology

Remote Workplace Personal Development

The first half dozen bullet points above center more on human resources and company culture. There are several well written articles that advise communications should be frequent, clear, and two-way given the reduced frequency of face-to-face interaction. Engagement could be promoted by scheduled check-ins, company-wide activities, happy hours, recognition and professional development, among other ideas. With email and other electronic tools having 24/7 reach, encouraging workers to establish boundaries will help work / life balance. When incorporating wellness, consider potential other familial obligations (for a Senior parent or school aged child), allowing scheduling flexibility and time blocking. Be aware that mental health could be impacted by the social isolation of team members. Beyond video conferencing, staying connected should incorporate emotional support for full time remote teams. Culture means different things to different people, but an intersection of opinions includes what are core values, what gets prioritized, how are conflicts resolved, and which unobtrusive controls set the tone. Having things written down, such as employee handbooks, reduces confusion. Highlighting company history or case studies further clarifies your company's brand and personality. Having a shared mission in a physical, analog setting is difficult enough so extra thought should be given to the increasingly virtual and digital reality we are hurtling towards.

Information Technology for Working Remotely

The most recent Gallup study published this work environment distribution:
  • 51% are exclusively on-site
  • 26% are exclusively remote
The balance of the workforce reports a mixture of both settings. Last year, about 5 out of 8 college graduates had telecommuted. Less than a third of non-college graduates telecommuted.
Does your workforce skews more towards "knowledge base" compared to "mechanically adroit" workers? Work from home reduces commuting time and overall can save on real estate footprint and office furniture. Different studies indicate that employees save about $4,000 per year working from home while employers save an average of more than $10,000 per year in overhead for remote status workers.
Many companies are redirecting these savings towards stipends to buy lunch or office supplies, new home-office equipment, childcare assistance, virtual summer camps, better training, professional development or extended paid leave.
At the same time, remote workers are challenged with the increased barriers in getting information from systems and coworkers due to fewer informal exchanges and lacking central data repositories. Remote workplaces may lack suitable space dedicated to taking phone calls or conducting client meetings. Disruption in the workday is more frequent given the closure of schools or potential new restrictions prompted by a coronavirus outbreak in a given area. So, what are some specific tools and training to consider now that work from home has been implemented with little transition?