There’s nothing like a global pandemic to push businesses towards remote work experimentation. While remote work has been a growing trend for years now, 2020 added fuel to the fire for any corporate stragglers who were unsure of what sending workers home would do to productivity. In fact, productivity has been found to either remain consistent with in-office work, or even increase as a result of working remotely. This success, coupled with increased investment in remote-friendly tools and applications, mean that many employers don’t anticipate sending their teams back to the office anytime soon, regardless of what happens with COVID-19. In a survey by Gartner, 74% of CFOs said that they intend to make remote work permanent for some or all of their employees.
So in 2021, telecommuting will still likely remain the norm for many Americans. This will allow employers to hire the best talent for their teams, regardless of location, and it will give flexibility to the workforce, as well. But our prediction isn’t a like-for-like trend from now, with a pandemic still looming, to a post-vaccine world. Rather, we believe that the trend for 2021 will be a work hybrid.
You see, there’s another kind of epidemic in America — an epidemic of loneliness. In a study by Cigna, 61% of respondents said they feel lonely at least some of the time, and that was a study done prior to the spread of the coronavirus in the US. This can lead to depression or social anxiety for remote workers who can find themselves secluded most of the time.
To combat this, a mix of meaningful virtual interactions and some in-person sessions can make an enormous difference. For those employees scattered across the globe and away from any of their peers, video conferencing will have to remain the primary meeting tool to ensure participation from all team members.
In a Gallup study, researchers found that the optimal engagement level for employees happens when they spend 60 to 80 percent of their time working off-site. Since 2020 proved that many businesses can accommodate such an arrangement, employees will begin to expect this flexibility and refuse to settle for less.
From a managerial perspective, this means that regular check-ins and availability to your remote workers will be more essential than ever before. Without the ability for a random walk-by, managers must be more intentional about their engagement with their teams. You should also ensure that your team doesn’t burn out by reinforcing regular work hours. Yes, flexibility should be allowed, but help your employees from creeping into regular 10-hour workdays by encouraging them to establish regular hours on most days.
What other ways can leaders ensure that remote work results in the best possible output from their employees? For one, strong tools will be the bedrock of remote organizations. By adopting platforms that help you communicate with your team and keep everyone organized and on-task, you’ll ensure that nobody ever runs into an unnecessary road block.
There’s also the matter of building your remote culture. Regular team happy hours at the local bar or other in-person team building activities may not be possible if you’ve got teammates scattered in different cities. This is where creativity is key. Host a virtual happy hour, celebrate a work milestone by creating a short celebratory video you distribute over email, or snail-mail swag to your team after a particularly successful quarter. The possibilities are limited only by your budget and your imagination.
If training and on-boarding practices aren’t already in place for remote employees, this will need to be another priority for 2021. As your business settles into a remote or remote-hybrid pattern, you’ll need to be able to successfully bring more people on board without losing the white-glove treatment that in-person on-boarding provides. If new employees need specific technology to do their jobs, plan ahead — don’t leave them waiting for programs or passwords. Instead, create a shareable on-boarding document that will walk them through everything they need to know so they can ramp up quickly.
Since 72% of employees have said they’d like to work away from the office for at least two days a week after the pandemic is over, it is safe to say that the remote-hybrid workplace is here to stay. By investing in the right tools and procedures to accommodate this structure, and by beefing up intentionality behind your one-on-ones with your employees, you’ll assure success in this new world of remote work.