businessman walking  out of an office building looking down at his  phone
PHOTO: Bram Naus

In the months since the majority of US office workers shifted to working remotely, organizations and employees have adopted new habits and routines to adjust to this new way of working. As organizations now evaluate their long-term plans, many are selecting flexible work options that will allow some employees to continue working remotely, some to go back to the office and some to rotate between the two. In doing this, business leaders must figure out the best ways to accommodate employees, no matter where they are, and help them be as productive as possible. This requires evaluating how sustainable remote work systems are for long-term flexible work, especially as some important areas may have been overlooked in the rush to transition to remote operations this spring.

Organizations should follow these guidelines to maximize productivity and ultimately succeed with long-term flexible work.

Build a Completely Virtual Office

Most businesses were already on a path to digital transformation, including deploying cloud and unified communications systems, prior to being forced into remote work. Yet for many companies these were intended as office-based digital platforms rather than fully fledged virtual communication and collaboration tools. With this in mind, organizations should take a census of user needs, streamline their platforms and designate cloud-based productivity, meeting and collaboration applications accordingly. Siloed adoption can lead to knowledge loss via miscommunication and can be detrimental to business efficiency.

With a cloud foundation in place and a closely monitored network, organizations can ensure teams are able to access shared files and storage, as well as workflow management tools, from anywhere. Along with software, employees can benefit from professional audio and video hardware to improve the quality of their communications. Again, these endpoints should be easily managed and monitored by remote IT teams.

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Set Expectations for Remote Working

A lot of social, cultural and organizational protocols are organically connected to physical office spaces. When an organization adopts remote work, whether it’s onboarding new employees or setting the standards and expectations of working, clear communications are essential. 

Companies should create guides to these social codes to serve all employees. In conjunction with HR teams, managers should plan out clear expectations for remote workers' performance and establish guidelines for flexible work protocols.

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Elevate Communications

A downside to working from home is the loss of watercooler moments and spontaneous interactions, including non-verbal communication, that take place in the office. Because all meeting time is scheduled and virtual, these more organic conversations often disappear with remote work.

To compensate for this loss, managers should set up more frequent feedback loops, regular team stand-ups and check-ins to make sure that each individual is well adjusted and has the resources they need to be successful working from home. Leadership should also demonstrate these behaviors to set an example for the rest of the organization and reinforce the new ways of working. With sophisticated communication platforms, it’s much easier for colleagues and leadership to stay in touch more frequently, creating a well-connected workforce.

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Prioritize Organizational Trust

Trust is essential to business success. Yet it naturally decreases or is more challenging to foster in distributed teams simply because of the physical distance and lack of transparency between colleagues. Organizations with flexible workforces must put extra care towards nurturing and strengthening trust throughout the organization.

Managers need to remain transparent, avoid micromanaging and focus on output rather than time logged-on. Some ways to do this are scheduling open “office hours” where employees have a dedicated time to speak freely, recognizing employee successes and organizing fun ways for employees to spend time together through virtual happy hours or game nights. These interactions can help build trust and strengthen collaboration throughout teams.

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Encourage Mass User Adoption

The effects of poor technology adoption are not always felt as strongly when working in an office, particularly if the tool isn’t critical to daily work. However, as most organizations have likely deployed at least one new software or hardware solution in response to remote work challenges, guaranteeing user adoption is increasingly important. Leadership and IT teams should not assume that simply implementing a new technology is enough to make employees use it.

To help drive user adoption, organizations should focus on the value the new tool brings and communicate this internally. When ramping up adoption, consider organizing lunch-and-learns or developing more extensive virtual trainings to educate employees on these new tools and resources. Business leaders can also select department influencers or evangelists to champion the new platform and be an official expert that employees can turn to for help.

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Set Employees – and Your Business – Up for Success

Although the shift to working from home may have been an unexpected and major transition for some, workforces have actually been trending towards remote work for years. Research has found that remote working allows employees to be more productive and maximize working hours, and with new tools and technologies, the benefits of flexible working are undeniable. 

With employees working from all over, it’s even more important for organizations to put in place the technology and practices that help their employees succeed. With well thought out strategies and plans that consider all aspects of remote work, organizations can achieve their most productive workforce yet.