No one could have foreseen the pandemic’s potential to change the way we live our lives forever. From hand sanitizer becoming a handbag staple to a new, more profound appreciation of our ability to connect – in person – with loved ones, many things will never go back to the way they were pre-Covid. And this could very well be the unexpected silver lining of the pandemic.
One of the most seismic shifts in recent years is the huge increase in remote working. Research has shown that only around 6% of Americans were fully remote pre-pandemic, and approximately 75% of employees had never worked remotely before. In comparison, more than 25% of American workers are now employed in a fully remote capacity, with many more working from home at least some of the time.
How has this fundamental change impacted the business landscape, and what new opportunities – and challenges – does it present? We take a look below.
Leading from a Distance
A key change has come about as a direct result of managers needing to innovate new ways to connect with, motivate, and empathize with personnel remotely when leading a team that is not based in the office. While it may seem as if physical distance should inevitably create a wall between team members and managers, making it harder for the latter to lead effectively, an unexpected side-effect of the pandemic-driven regime soon became apparent.
Staff members’ mental health became a key concern during the pandemic; added to this, a ‘we’re all in this together’ communal mentality led to teams making efforts to connect more profoundly than they did when everyone sat next to each other in a physical space.
New tools and systems were introduced by companies keen to keep lines of communication with their employees not only open but working better than ever before. From switching to an email client that allowed for easier collaborative working to introducing ‘coffee break’ Zoom meetings to have some non-work-related chat, the best businesses (and the ones most likely to survive) strived to protect and uphold their greatest asset: their people.
A Focus on Collaboration and Productivity
Remote working becoming standard has also placed the linked concepts of collaboration and productivity at the heart of business strategy. Whereas a few years ago, these things were perhaps seen as airy notions that didn’t really have much to do with a bottom line, they’re now firmly front and center.
With a remote team, the best way to ensure productivity is kept at optimum levels is to throw the kitchen sink at solving issues around collaboration. This has seen businesses embrace new tech like never before. Getting on board with video conferencing solutions, using cloud-based tools, installing VoIP connections, and downloading project management systems designed to display interdependencies (and therefore prevent logjams) are just some of the ways remote working has led businesses to get to grips with new tech.
The Humanization of Work
Working from home has led to breaking down barriers between the home and professional life of employees: Zoom calls have allowed us a peek into the homes and lifestyles of those we work with so that we have increasingly got a sense of our co-workers as people, rather than just colleagues.
This has had a ripple effect on the landscape of business in general. Holistic customer experience, in which a unique individual’s needs, problems, and preferences are considered, is now king. We can see this in how businesses are increasingly using every means possible to personalize the customer’s journey through a website or how special offers are targeted at a specific segment of a client base.
Both as employees and consumers, we are looking for a more rewarding engagement with businesses, in which we feel like a valued individual rather than as a cog in a machine or a number on a screen.
The Emergence of New Trends
A new remote workforce has precipitated some other important business trends. For example, there’s been a growing focus on developing staff’s soft skills to ensure they have the tools needed to work as effectively at home as possible. Employees are more likely to be asked to diversify in their roles, and managers are increasingly willing to support the training needed for this to be accomplished.
The soft skills that have come to the fore in the post-pandemic world include conflict management, communication, critical thinking, and decision-making.
Brave New World
Despite fears that a shift to remote working would result in a less productive workforce with higher rates of absenteeism and lower morale levels, the opposite has proved to be the case.
The consulting firm Mercer recently conducted a survey which revealed that, of 800 employers, 94% believed employee productivity to have increased or stayed the same since remote working was introduced. As well as being more proactive, remote workers tend to be happier, experience a better home-work balance, feel less stressed, and are likelier to stay in their roles than their premises-working colleagues.
Finally, the move to remote working has fueled new corporate drives to find more sustainable practices and processes. With no need for the daily commute, remote working has taken literally thousands of vehicles off the road twice a day.
And with the CEO of Facebook stating that he expects (and is prepared for) at least 50% of his workforce to be fully remote by 2050, it’s pretty certain that this brave new world of work is here to stay.