Is your company still engaged in remote work? According to PEW Research, roughly 6 in 10 Americans are doing their jobs from home in 2022—some full-time; others, part of the time. Thanks to COVID-19, the work-from-home crowd has become a sizeable contributor to the country’s corporate economy, and it’s forcing companies to re-think the way they view operations.
As we finally begin to put the pandemic behind, the focus now is on combating the ripples that follow it: the Great Resignation, inflation and other economic hardships. The onus falls on executives to steer the companies they manage in a direction that accommodates a challenging and uncertain future. It starts with a realignment around remote work.
Not all employees want to go back to the office
While the PEW Research survey in question does indicate that many workers enjoy going to an office to work, a majority surveyed (60%) cited that they’d prefer to continue working remote if given the option. And, in fact, many companies have begun facing significant backlash from workers as they seek to reopen workplaces at full capacity.
Another survey, this one by Morning Consult, indicates that as many as 55% of workers would quit their job if mandated to return to an office with no remote work opportunity. It’s a clear shot across the bow of employers, made all the more serious by the implications of the Great Resignation. The foregone conclusion is that remote work is here to stay for many companies.
Companies that are mandating a return to work—whether as policy or to remain in compliance with state and federal contracts—are already seeing fallout. Notable quits have made headlines in several Fortune 100 companies, the most recent being Apple. Not only is the company facing poor employee morale after mandating a return to work, its Director of Machine Learning has left, citing the return-to-office policy.
The ability to work remotely will continue to be a battleground in 2022. Regardless of the factors that accompany it, executives will play an instrumental role in realigning operational strategies to support remote work—or to make a return-to-work appealing enough to retain talent who oppose it.
Realigning strategies around remote work
For many white-collar workers, the shift to remote work meant an ability to do their job more efficiently and with a greater potential for work-life balance. As executives consider remote work as a fixture, they need to understand these benefits through the eyes of employees to better-understand how to create a remote culture that’s conducive to retaining talent.
Remote work needs to continue to afford employees the freedom and flexibility they enjoy.
To preserve these benefits for employees, while still promoting operational success within the company, executives need to shape policies and procedures that observe the work-life balance. Examples of these new strategies include:
- Defining working and communication hours and standards;
- Instituting systems and policies for individual and team communication;
- Creating and maintaining stringent cybersecurity protocols;
- Establishing clear and mutually understood performance guidelines;
- Reviewing digital communication etiquette and standards with employees;
- Management for hybrid and flex work schedules within facilities.
Much of this boils down to a codified remote work policy. With the support of human resources, executives need to work with each business unit to create inclusive guidelines that support broad work-from-home policies, allowing flexibility across different positions and departmental areas. Policies need to center on broad concepts like eligibility, availability, responsiveness, standards, equipment and support. Specificity is key.
Executive input not only legitimizes a work-from-home policy, it also creates accountability that goes all the way to the top. In many ways, a work-from-home policy lays the foundation for the company’s culture in a remote work future. Executive buy-in is a key ingredient in shaping culture employees are excited to participate in and uphold.
Reinforcing remote culture starts with trust
More than anything, the arrival of remote work has forced executives to exhibit a level of trust they may not be familiar with. It can be an uncomfortable prospect, but it’s paramount for accommodating remote work and decentralized teams. Executives need to take the time to define the company’s remote work policies, then trust in the team’s ability to meet those expectations.
For many companies, developing a long-term remote work policy is a prime opportunity to expand the C-suite or executive consulting team. Specifically, the addition of a Chief Culture Officer (CCO) or a Chief Employee Experience Officer (CEEO) can help make the transition to remote the best it can possibly be. Rather than pinning the success of a transition to a Chief Operations Officer (COO), it behooves companies to ensure this fundamental realignment gets the ongoing attention it deserves to succeed.
Remote work isn’t going anywhere. It’s paramount to support it relative to company operations, starting from the top. Is your C-suite equipped to guide a successful remote work strategy? Or, is it time to bring someone aboard who’s committed to making it as seamless as possible? Either way, it’s time to find the trust to let employees work where they want to.