Work-from-home is a crowd pleaser. That may sound like an obvious finding, but – given the dire circumstances under which the world entered the virtual workforce this year – it’s a significant one.
Prior to this spring, the occasional day of telecommuting was often treated as a perk – a temporary respite for frazzled commuters and cubicle-bound office workers looking for a change of scenery, more time spent with family, or scheduled maintenance at home. Then the COVID-19 pandemic created a mass migration to makeshift kitchen table workspaces, and suddenly we were all working from home.
How has that massive overnight change affected the world’s office workers?
This past fall, researchers at Thomson Reuters polled 1,000 corporate professionals (500 in the United States, 250 in the United Kingdom, and 250 in Canada), and found that only one-in-10 respondents said they preferred their previous working practices. What’s more, 69 percent of respondents said they want to maintain at least some aspects of their changed working practices once “stay-at-home” orders expire.
Still, even as the honeymoon period stretches on, the feedback from professionals raises some clear pain points that need to be addressed before the ideal of work-from-anywhere freedom can truly be realized. As the months of working remotely blend into a year, forward-thinking companies can optimize their processes by focusing on a few key areas of concern.
Everyone has developed a little Zoom fatigue, haven’t they? It’s okay to admit it. Despite Zoom and other virtual hosting software becoming the stars of the pandemic, workers have begun to experience some tech challenges.
While 73 percent of respondents in our survey said they are satisfied with the technology available to do their jobs, the majority (83 percent) said they had at least one technological issue. Of those, 28 percent noted they have had to use too many different technology tools to communicate or collaborate with others, while 16 percent felt overwhelmed with the amount of technology they were being asked to use.
Notable among these challenges has been an overload in technological platforms. One-in-4 (24 percent) said they had been told by their organization that a new platform or technology would help them become more efficient, but respondents said it ultimately did not deliver on that promise. Sixteen percent said they had to use too many technology tools to accomplish their work.
What’s more, the lack of centralization of one technology source has impacted productivity. Twenty-one percent of respondents said they have been asked to download a platform or technological solution that they did not end up using. More than a quarter (27 percent) have been late to a meeting because they needed to download or update the meeting software.
As businesses focus on creating the ultimate, streamlined work-from-anywhere efficient workflows, they need to think hard about usability and address the pain points involved with toggling back and forth between different platforms.
The Social Network
After decades of carefully studying, cultivating, and refining best practices for workplace culture, suddenly this facet of an organization has all but disappeared. The problem is: Many workers miss it.
In fact, over half (54 percent) of all respondents, including 69 percent of UK respondents, preferred their previous work environment for in-person professional and social interaction. Can that be recreated in a work-from-home environment?
Increasingly, many companies are finding that they can maintain a strong culture amid a dispersed workforce. The key ingredient is effective, transparent communication – both from leadership and between employees. In fact, a recent study conducted by researchers at the MIT Sloan School of Management, found that average culture ratings across Culture 500 companies increased sharply during the height of the pandemic in March and April of this year. The study analyzed 1.4 million employee-written reviews on Glassdoor and found that the common bonds among top performers were transparent, clear and frequent communication; clarity of strategy and a focus on agility.
Getting that formula right is going to be important long after the COVID-19 crisis is behind us. In fact, 69 percent of respondents to our survey said they want to maintain at least some aspects of their changed working practices once “stay-at-home” orders expire. That will ultimately create an environment that encourages collaboration and innovation, but also meshes the two worlds of those that return to the office and those that remain on the home front or a blend of the two.
As the COVID-19 crisis wears on, it’s become clear that the key to maintaining a strong culture in a remote work environment is less about clinging to the old ways of doing things, and more about embracing the change. Jenny Chatman and Francesca Gino recently wrote a fascinating article about this in the Harvard Business Review, where they show that strong, strategically aligned cultures that have the capacity to adapt quickly to dynamic environments earn 15% more in annual revenue than peers who are less adaptable.
The Agility Economy
In April, I wrote about companies that had been able to rapidly transform their business models to accommodate the challenges presented by the pandemic. The common thread among all of them: they were not afraid to shift on a dime, adjusting their approaches, their business models and their infrastructure in a matter of hours to plunge confidently into an uncertain future, knowing that they will probably need to keep shifting things for the foreseeable future.
As work-from-home evolves into a more permanent form of flexible work arrangements, forward-thinking companies have to be emboldened by that same spirit that made them leap to create virtual workplaces in the first place, and commit to making them better. Whether its solutions to centralize communication or collaboration, develop culture-building activities, or other ideas that can springboard the process into next phase of productivity, those that can crack the code will ultimately be rewarded.