emptied out office floor
PHOTO: Hennie Stander

2020 brought more than just the start of a new decade: The pandemic has forced companies to change faster and at a larger scale than ever before. With more companies allowing their teams to work remotely, it is time to rethink how the business operates. Is going fully digital the best way forward?

How Has Remote Working Gone so Far?

When COVID-19 forced the sudden shift to remote work, businesses had to scramble to put in place or scale up the right digital solutions. Companies that were previously resistant to the idea of a fully remote workforce had to adapt and quickly change their mindsets and entire workforce procedures.

Yet the transition to remote work has been overwhelmingly a success. In fact, Gartner found 74% of business leaders surveyed planned to permanently transition some positions to remote in light of their recent success.

Top CFOs and CEOs are now transitioning from skeptics to believers, with some companies even putting in place rollout plans within a week —which had previously been slated to incrementally roll out over a few years. A key focus of these transitions is the technology that supports remote workers.

In an article in Fast Company, Michael Hendrix, IDEO’s global design director, credited their successful digital workplace transition to agile digital solutions. Similarly, Facebook’s VP of Messenger Stan Chudnovsky credited digital solutions for maintaining productivity and making their fully-remote work shift a new normal. Steve Case, AOL’s co-founder, sees remote work as America’s chance to reshape how the world looks as people move away from crowded metro areas.

Related Article: Dealing With the 'Soft' Challenges of Remote Work

How Do You Maintain Productivity With a Remote Workforce?

Maintaining productivity with a remote workforce requires new approaches from management and underlying digital solutions to keep your remote workers connected and happy.

One way to ensure success is to switch from performance reviews that encompass the whole year to weekly or even daily check-ins. In fact, 60% of Gen Z workers said they wanted multiple, frequent check-ins from their managers. By leaning on technology, managers can provide regular, trackable feedback to ensure their remote workers are engaged, staying on track and accomplishing their goals.

Thus far, technology has successfully aided in keeping communication and collaboration possible. Microsoft has seen usage skyrocket, with 2.7 billion meeting minutes occurring on Microsoft Teams in one day. Providing tools that allow your teams to collaborate and stay connected easily helps your company maintain current productivity levels and increase the quality and quantity of work completed.

How Do We Transition to a Fully Digital Workplace?

There's no going back to how businesses operated before the pandemic. Employees are demanding more flexible work solutions, office operation costs have plummeted and businesses are adapting faster than ever to a new digital climate. But further changes are still required, both large and small, to every part of a company’s infrastructure to keep business continuity flowing and maintain momentum. Here are a few tips to help get started with your transition:

Change Policies to Reflect New Approach to Work

As your company transforms, you'll need to make in-person policy changes to apply to the new digital environment. A few areas to consider addressing include:

  • Who needs to come into the office physically — and how often.
  • How to reduce office space while maintaining social distancing efforts.
  • How your company will handle sensitive information virtually.
  • What policies are needed to ensure a professional work tone on virtual meetings.

Gain a Deeper Understanding of Your Workforce

Gen Z is entering the workforce en masse and is poised to change the structure of workplaces, as they already work towards shifting to remote-first processes. About 61 million Gen Z workers (or those born between 1997-2010) are currently entering the workforce.

We can’t lose sight of the importance of human touch in our rush to go digital. A 2018 EY survey found that 90% of Gen Z prefers to have a human connection or element in their work teams, rather than working on their own.

How does your workforce prefer to perform their work, and how can you support them?

Ways you could bring a human element to your digital teams include:

  • Providing a company-wide chat app.
  • Scheduling weekly video conferences, if not more often.
  • Organizing online social gatherings to check-in.

Related Article: Check In With Your Employees Without Adding Stress

Be Flexible

Understand that some digital ventures will fail, so flexibility is key. If a digital initiative doesn't work at first, ask for feedback and try again.

Prevent Workplace Burnout

We've all been under a lot of stress in the last few months and it likely won't abate any time soon. Help employees combat burnout by encouraging them to:

  • Go tech-free over the weekend.
  • Participate in meditation groups within the workplace by using meditation apps or videos.
  • Avoid accessing work email on personal smartphones.
  • Get more sleep.
  • Exercise frequently, especially at home.

You can also help prevent workplace burnout by:

  • Consistently gauging how employees feel at work with anonymous surveys.
  • Offer flex time and remote work without question so employees can feel supported without needing to explain why they may need it.

Related Article: Recognizing the Signs of Employee Burnout

Create Remote Work Training Procedures

While some of your workforce may be flourishing in this new digital workplace, don’t miss the signs of employees who are struggling. Continued training will ensure that existing remote workers have the tools they need to succeed and new remote workers don’t fall behind the technology curve. 

What Is the Benefit of Going Fully Digital?

The benefit of going fully digital in part comes with the increased access to top-tier talent. By expanding search focus from an immediate geographic vicinity to the entire country or world, companies see not only an increase in quality of expertise, but also the quality of work performed.

Canadian firms have found that offering hard-to-fill positions as remote opportunities gave them a competitive advantage, with companies that focus on treating their employees as customers flourishing ahead of the rest.

The transition to fully remote work will be challenging, but it's a challenge we've all proven we can surmount. Take care of your employees, create clear policies for expectations moving forward and invest in agile, cloud-based solutions that will help your workforce collaborate, communicate and stay productive.