Many organizations felt they were making good progress on their digital transformation plans to modernize business systems and operations. Then COVID-19 hit. Companies were then forced to accelerate these efforts to accommodate a particular component of digital transformation — supporting a remote workforce.

Remote Work Becomes Normalized

According to Globalization Partners, only 12% of organizations supported remote working arrangements before the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, this went up to 75% following COVID-19's emergence. The need to shift employees from the corporate office to an adequate home working environment posed a challenge for IT and business unit teams.

But despite the initial growing pains, most agree that the transition to a large-scale remote workforce has proven successful. According to research, 99% of people would choose to work remotely for the rest of their life, even if it was just part-time, 75% work remotely because there are fewer distractions, and 57% of remote workers think they are more productive while working remotely. In fact, only 11% of employees felt less happy when working remotely. Even as the world learns how to adapt to the pandemic, employees and enterprises appear united in believing that remote working is here to stay.

Related Article: Working From Home May Be Painful, But It's Making the Future of Work Better

It Wasn't All Peaches and Cream

The benefits of remote working are clear. But as with any form of digital transformation, equipping an organization to support remote working comes with its own set of associated challenges.

From an employee perspective, getting the right work-life balance is critical, but some workers also say that the commute to and from work plays a vital role in creating a separation between work and home. When working entirely from home, that separation can be removed.

Other issues, according to research by Buffer, include an inability to unplug (26%), loneliness (17%) and staying motivated (11%). The mid- to long-term effects of remote working will likely identify other challenges — but these are obvious places to start.

From the perspective of the business, digital transformation presents very different issues. Many organizations were not ready to move quickly to a remote working environment, but they were forced to deploy rushed and ill-strategized digital transformation initiatives due to the pandemic. These new solutions ultimately caused as many problems as they solved — giving enterprises headaches of varying degrees as they struggled to fix security, compliance and risk management issues exposed by the rapid transition.

Despite the challenges, most companies now have the digital foundation to support remote working. They can now leverage this infrastructure to drive the next phase of digital transformation throughout the enterprise.

Related Article: Don't Look Back and Other Business Lessons From COVID-19

Learning Opportunities

Next Step: Help Employees Work Smarter (Not Harder), Wherever They Work

Richard Branson once said that he makes sure that his businesses prioritize employees first, customers second and shareholders third. It’s not easy to always put employees first, but the global business push to support remote working has reemphasized this point for employers as many battle to retain and recruit talent.

The organizations thriving amidst the pandemic are the ones that have succeeded in getting the right technology to the right departments and employees at the right time (ASAP). As a result, their employees can work as efficiently and productively as possible, better supporting their work/life balance.

This can be achieved in several ways:

  • Encourage face-to-face video calls with other staff to reduce the potential for isolation.
  • Digitizing and automating manual business processes that cause frustration and inefficiency.
  • Encouraging the use of collaboration and product management tools and apps to reduce the number of video and conference calls.

Related Article: Lack of Social Interaction Tops Remote Work Challenges

Power to the People

Now more than ever, digital transformation is NOT just about technology but also about people. Globalization Partners research shows that the physical working environment is important to about 28% of employees. In contrast, factors such as suitable communications methods (35%), being listened to (36%), and having a good work/life balance (50%) all rank much higher. Technology has an essential role for organizations wanting to create a modern workplace and happy, effective employees, but it isn't the only ingredient.

The rapid shift to remote working would likely never have happened without the COVID-19 pandemic, but the benefits seen because of the pivot cannot be ignored. This initial phase of digital transformation is significant but is only the start. Almost all organizations recognize that technology offers a way to empower remote workers to be more productive — but successful organizations realize something else too. That technology can provide the framework for employees to find a better work/life balance, which will directly impact their performance.

Far from being a stick to make the workforce go faster, the next phase of digital transformation will be the carrot to encourage workers to be smarter, better balanced, and more empowered. And that will be a win-win situation for everyone.

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