If you felt like you were totally unprepared for the transitions you had to make in the first days of the Coronavirus crisis, don’t feel bad; so was the rest of the world. Hertz went bankrupt 12 days after the CEO described it as an exceptionally resilient company. A Congressional oversight meeting got Zoom-bombed because they were using insecure software. Not many people were prepared for a pandemic, including the government agencies and hospitals that would need to respond to a pandemic.
The return to work is likely to be better organized than the exit, but it’s also going to be a much slower process for most businesses. Until a large portion of the US has been vaccinated, remote work is going to be part of the new normal for many companies.
You’ll probably have people who won’t return for months – COVID-19 is highly lethal for older and immunocompromised employees, who should be among the last to return. Other employees will return sooner but be working offsite more frequently. Employees with a cough will be advised to stay home until it’s gone. And when people start getting the flu this fall, you aren’t going to want them back in the office when they’re better until you know it was the flu. All this is going to lead to higher rates of remote work for companies that can manage it.
Of course, remote work requires technology – remote access licenses, teleconferencing software licenses, work laptops, encryption software and the throughput to support all of that data transmission. We’ve been working with customers to meet these technology needs for months and most companies have already navigated these challenges. Technology won’t be the only piece of the remote work puzzle going forward, however.
Many offices allowed remote work only in limited situations before the crisis. If this describes your office, you have to make sure to reinforce your preference that employees work from home in specific situations. Here are three important parts of that.
1. Model the Behavior. It’s easy for senior management to think they should play by different rules. In most cases, those rules are more demanding. Many managers feel a responsibility to work harder and be more available, both because they are paid for that increased responsibility and because their own success impacts the lives of their subordinates.
Managers can’t do that when it comes to remote work policies. If employees are expected to stay at home if a household member has a fever, a manager needs to be at home in the same circumstances. Otherwise, employees will determine that the hardest workers ignore the “guidelines” and do what it takes to get to work. That’s not a good message to be putting out to employees right now.
2. Acknowledge the Company Benefits from Remote Work. If your company didn’t embrace remote work before the crisis, employees aren’t going to automatically assume you’re embracing it after the economic shutdown. Remote work has typically been thought of as an employee perk – something the company provides as a benefit. Employees who want to demonstrate their commitment to the company might think that working remotely will reduce their stature within the company.
It’s important to acknowledge that remote work isn’t just an employee benefit right now. It’s important that people work from home in certain situations so that the company can maintain a reasonable level of risk, and employees who ignore that are bringing too much risk into the office. It’s also a great time to acknowledge any surprising company benefits of remote work discovered during the shutdown, whether they were related to productivity, employee availability or even employee satisfaction.
3. Set Goals and Manage to Them. Do your employees have weekly or monthly goals that help to measure their contributions? Do they know about those goals, and do they discuss their progress toward them frequently with their manager? If you don’t have goals for all of your employees, this is an important time to put those in place. It will help to ensure that remote and onsite workers are being held to the same standards.
It will also lead to better communication and a shared understanding of what success looks like. If an employee is working remotely for the first time, they’re missing many cues that they’d receive onsite when their work quality isn’t sufficient. If you have to discuss an employee’s sub-par performance with them, you don’t want it to be a surprise to them – especially if they would have been capable of delivering great results, if they had only known what the expectations were.
To learn how WingSwept can help you leverage technology to achieve your strategic goals, call us at 919-460-7011 or email us at Team_WingSwept@WingSwept.com.