The shifting landscape of remote work is creating both positives and negatives for organisations and individuals but the challenges of remote work extend well beyond the location where work is performed. In this article we discuss six levers you can pull to make conscious decisions to optimise remote work in your organisation.
Large-scale remote working started out as a temporary response to the immediate threat of COVID-19 as workers all over the world subbed their external workplaces for the home office. What started as an enormous upheaval soon shifted to business as usual, and many workers are reticent about foregoing their newfound flexibility as workplaces reopen.
Our research reveals just how significant this shift is likely to be, with 75% of organisations reporting that virtual operating will remain part of their normal business rhythms.
It’s easy to focus on the benefits of remote working – including opening new talent pools, greater flexibility for workers – but there are real challenges too. Creating a successful remote working environment requires leaders to grapple with some fundamental questions that interrogate the accepted wisdom of the central office and the very nature of work itself.
The pros and cons of remote work
Greater acceptance of remote work has accelerated some of the key benefits that remote working advocates have discussed for years. Flexible working can truly become part of an employer’s EVP for all employees rather than just select groups, while shaking off the restraints of geographical location means talent can be targeted based on expertise and fit, rather than proximity to the home office.
Knowledge workers may also be more productive in work settings, not only because time can be clawed back from the daily commute, but also because individuals feel more in control of their own schedules and empowered to make their day work according to their individual needs.
But remote work also has its drawbacks. Many workers have seen their professional and personal lives overlapping well beyond the already blurred line created by the smartphone. For working parents with children at home during the pandemic, this emotional load is even heavier.
Some workplaces have seen engagement diminish and there’s also the loss of the benefits that well-designed meeting spaces offer when it comes to knowledge sharing and social interaction. And more meetings isn’t the answer – while we might have expected a decrease in unnecessary meetings, the opposite has often been the case leading to ‘Zoom fatigue’.
Six levers to pull to optimise remote work
The move to remote working was understandably driven by the need to prioritise the health and safety of workers at the beginning of the pandemic. But, having moved beyond the immediacy of the initial shift, the question of ‘where’ we work must now be considered in a more nuanced way to drive performance.
On closer inspection, ‘where’ is really only a small part of the decision matrix for future working arrangements. Leaders must also consider how remote working models interact with talent mix, collaboration models, work schedules, the role of automation and the very purpose of work itself. Rather than just asking ‘where?’ leaders also need to question the who, what, when, why and how of work.
The six interconnected levers of work (click to enlarge):
These six levers impact not only how the organisation defines work that can be done remotely, but also which of your people are remoteable. Just as not all jobs can be done offsite, not all people are suited to working (or want to work) offsite either.
Understanding these differences starts with asking these fundamental questions:
- WHO can work remotely – and who wants to? Our research on remote work indicates that some people may have a much higher preference for remote work than others.
- HOW can organisations best define their approach on topics like collaboration and performance? Should teams have autonomy to determine their on-site or remote working collaborative model?
- WHAT jobs are truly remoteable? Does the job have particular security requirements which mean it’s unsafe to perform at home?
- WHEN do you need people to work? How can organisations manage work-life balance – and stem burnout - in the remote context?
- WHERE should people work? What should “workplaces” look like under a changed paradigm? Is the ‘new office’ designed to promote collaboration?
- WHY does your organisation exist and how do you foster a sense of purpose and engagement in virtual space?
Understanding and properly handling these six interdependencies allows you to make significant, conscious decisions that will make remote work, work – for your organisations and your people. To learn more about how you can structure your remote and onsite workforce teams, download Korn Ferry’s new paper Evolution or revolution? Re-imagining remote work.