The global pandemic has fast-tracked many of the remote working schemes that companies have planned on rolling out to support a more productive and engaged workforce.
Despite initial concerns and a short window for deployment, nine in 10 human resources leaders say that they have been able to implement some sort of work-from-home initiative since the outbreak of the coronavirus. With a ‘new normal’ now taking hold, is it possible to manage a virtual workforce in the long-term?
Not so different after all
While remote working has been forced on companies attempting to maintain some semblance of normality for core operations, the concept of a virtual workforce is not a new invention. The take-up for such policies has increased markedly during the last five or so years, facilitated by improving tech and a push for a new culture and policies that offer employees a better work-life balance.
A study from 2018 showed that more than half of employees around the world had already started working from home at some point during the week. COVID-19 is sure to strengthen this trend as companies and employees realise the benefits of completing tasks from the comfort of a home office or designated workspace.
Upwork expects three quarters of all teams to have at least one remote worker by 2028, though that prediction came before the current crisis. Now that companies have embraced remote working, it may be difficult for them to row back on those plans and switch to a workforce made up primarily of on-site employees.
Regardless of the initiatives you have in place at the moment, tech leaders believe that it will be in the best interests of companies to start looking at new ways of working so that they have everything in place to adapt to the new normal.
Gartner vice president Aaron McEwan says: “The first lesson learned from the coronavirus situation is to accelerate the development of a technology infrastructure that can support alternative types of working.”
If you are interested in adopting a remote working model after the current crisis subsides, you should first analyse each work role and determine whether the tasks and responsibilities can be supported with a work-from-home scheme.
Categorising these into ‘not possible’, ‘possible at cost’ and ‘highly possible’ will give you a clear overview of what can be changed. Obviously, some roles need to be completed on site, but others may be very suitable to remote working in the long term.
Now is a great time to consider whether remote working is preferable as you are likely to have already gone through the disruptive phase of switching many of your roles to work-from-home. But what exactly are the benefits moving forward?
Smaller companies are twice as likely to hire remote workers and that’s for one major reason: cost reduction. Global Work Analytics president Kate Lister notes that employees are only at their desks 50% of the time when they are in the office. It becomes harder to justify the space required for workers who can just as easily complete tasks from home.
Lister adds that costs savings of up to $11,000 (£8,835) can be achieved for each part-time telecommuter due to increased productivity and the lower costs of real estate. Days off work are also minimised due to the lack of a daily commute, and perhaps more importantly, companies are better prepared for ‘disaster’ situations similar to the one experienced this year.
Improve employee happiness and retention
Nine in 10 remote workers say that the option to work from home gives them a better work-life balance and 86% agree that flexible working lowers levels of stress. A similar number say that it is more conducive to a healthier lifestyle and many appreciate the ability to spend more time with family.
Your company benefits from a more content, productive workforce and the added prestige of being open to flexible practices. Three quarters of employees say that just a simple remote working option would make them less likely to up and leave for another company. Having a remote work initiative in place also lowers employee turnover by 25%.
Expand your talent pool
If you have partnered with an agency for marketing, you will be aware that you are tapping into a network of freelancers and contractors with specialist skills, many of whom will be located in regions around the world, to buttress campaigns. A virtual workforce will allow you to broaden your horizons when you next need to source talent for new job roles.
Make the move gradually
The pandemic has pushed remote working into the spotlight, but this does not mean that you have to make the switch wholesale. A gradual move for certain roles may be best as you will be able to test the waters and see whether it will be beneficial for your company.
After the current crisis, you could give employees the opportunity to work from home once or twice a week. Depending on the role, you could also implement one or two mandatory office days for face-to-face meetings. You should have a good idea about who has been productive during the current lockdown period, so use that knowledge as a starting point.
Managing a virtual workforce is not easy. Around 54% of human resources leaders say that lacklustre tech or infrastructure is holding them back from deploying effective remote working. Managers also have concerns about security, accountability and visibility and the impact on company culture. These are things that can be addressed through the use of new tech, software and tools and greater collaboration and cooperation.
The good news is that employees can be trusted to work to the best of their abilities. McEwan notes: “When the dust settles, we’ll likely see that our remotely working employees were just as productive during this crisis – if not more so.”
The pandemic has been incredibly disruptive for business, but you can use this difficult period as a springboard for change. Being able to manage a large-scale, virtual workforce can increase the productivity of your employees and the wider organisation and prepare you for a future where work-from-home schemes are commonplace.