How Your Remote Workforce Can Thrive With the Right Tools

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In a rare, synchronous moment, the entire business community worldwide is in the same boat. Nearly every major economy, every industry, was touched – or, more accurately, punched in the face – by the coronavirus pandemic. Business leaders are searching for ways to keep their companies afloat and keep their employees working…while keeping them safe and productive.COVID-19 pushed the concept of a remote workforce center stage.

Incremental changes that were trending across the United States have been intensified. The gradual transition from an office-based to a home-based workforce has morphed into a high-speed immersion program.

Demands for policies, procedures, and technological adaptation are outpacing supply.

This is a time of tremendous opportunity. Employees who were marginalized or had hit a glass ceiling because they…

    • weren’t able to achieve a mutually satisfactory balance between work and family,
    • were restricted by geography or access to technology or,
    • had mobility issues,

… can see the door cracked open. They’re ready to burst through.

The companies that thrive and attract the best employees during this mid-pandemic restructuring will seize this opportunity and lead the way for a diverse and successful remote workforce.

Four steps to take in a mid-COVID workplace environment

Your company was thrown into the deep end last spring when the pandemic began and you’ve been treading water. But it’s time to get swimming now because you’re going to be in these stormy seas for the foreseeable future.

The patchwork of solutions you came up with to keep your company afloat – to keep as many of your employees working as possible, to maintain your profit margins – might have been successful, but they’re not sustainable.

There are steps you can take now to make your workplace sustainable, even more productive, as you embrace the concept of a permanently remote workforce.

Start simple: start cleaning.

  1. Prioritize your in-office cleaning policies.

This might seem like an odd place to start if you’re considering workplace changes to accommodate your remote workforce, but it’s important that you address your physical plant first.

It’s likely that you’ve ramped up your cleaning and hygiene policies considerably. If you have employees who can’t do their jobs remotely, you’ve been tasked with adhering to the COVID-19 OSHA policies for workplace safety.

They’ve probably become ingrained, even taken for granted, in the past several months.

Recommit to creating and maintaining a safe and hygienic workplace for returning employees…and be very public about your efforts. Develop a thorough communications plan that details all the steps you’re taking, circulate it among all your staff – even those working remotely.

Include safety measures your employees can take both in the office and at home to maintain their good health.

Here’s why:

    • Staff who feel safe and reassured in their workplace will be more productive if they’re not preoccupied by a perception of risk.
    • Staff working remotely will be reassured that their employer is taking all the necessary steps to keep on-site employees safe, reducing anxiety about colleagues, and reassuring them it will be safe if they have to come to the office themselves.
    • Potential employees will look at your measures and be reassured that their talents will be well-placed in a safe and caring environment.

The World Health Organization, among other global agencies, has compiled a thorough universal guide for employers. Follow these, and the recommendations of the OSHA,  when choosing your plan…you’ll avoid regulatory and legal problems in the future.

  1. Learn about your legal and regulatory obligations. 

Human resources policies are catching up with these new workplace conditions. Be sure that you’re thoroughly informed about federal, state, and regional regulations that might impact your HR policies.

Be sure to explore the company’s exposure to liability in the event of a workplace outbreak, as well as your responsibilities to your remote workplace employees. Your company might be obligated, or encouraged, to:

    • Provide home-based employees with the same or similar cleaning and hygiene provisions you provide to on-site employees.
    • Have provisions for extended sick leave due to a COVID-19 illness or quarantine in an employee’s home.
    • Modify your health benefits package to accommodate COVID-19, both mental and physical health support.

Some of these measures might look like costly line items on your operating budget. Keep in mind that you are going to realize cost savings in other areas of your business – including the option of downsizing your office space and locations. Overhead is a significant drain on a businesses bottom line…there are opportunities to trim expenses and increase profits.

There is a growing body of research indicating employees who work from home are more productive, healthier, and better able to maintain a healthy work/life balance. You stand to gain from this trend towards a remote workforce.

  1. Invest in productivity and networking software… and training. 

Perhaps your company is already tech-based or tech-savvy. Your offices might criss-cross the country or the globe…you have well-entrenched means for doing business from multiple locations easily and efficiently.

But it’s more likely that your remote workforce has only taken hold since the beginning of the pandemic. Everyone has been “getting by” with limited resources, waiting for the storm to pass over so things can go back to normal.

It’s clear that commerce won’t be returning to a recognizable “normal” any time soon…it’s time to embrace all the technical options you have at your disposal so you can adapt and, at the very least, keep up.

If you have a dedicated IT department, no doubt they’re already ahead of the curve. Stopgap measures that were put in place can be operationalized on a permanent basis – likely with some improvements or modifications that take into account broader use by the organization. Features such as back-ups and encryption will have to be watertight.

Be sure to consult a company that specializes in networked business solutions. And include company-wide training in the budget. Your employees could probably hunt-and-peck their way through a new, integrated remote office system, but why make them struggle and give up valuable time when you can do across-the-board training and get everyone up to speed at once?

  1. Communicate.

Misinformation runs rampant in a vacuum.

Be sure to establish clear and firm guidelines for workplace health and safety, as well as guidelines for performance. And communicate them with precision.

Employees who were already mobile have the terms and expectations in their job description. As you shift your team from office-based to home-based work, make sure you have transparent expectations, systems in place for monitoring, measuring and reviewing performance, and parameters for accountability.

Be prepared to be surprised: research tells us your employees will take the freedom to customize the terms of their work to suit their specific situation and exceed your expectations.

Change is inevitable. Progress is optional.

We’ve all heard the saying. Your company’s modus operandi has changed because it had to…now take the time to step back and rethink a future that includes a permanently remote workforce. Make the next set of changes because you want to…not because you have to.

Think of this shift as a hard reset on the way your business does business, internally and externally.

Up to now, you’ve figured out ways to get your products and services to customers because your employees have been willing to adapt in “exceptional” circumstances. These circumstances are here to stay…it’s time to embrace them and seize the growth opportunity that comes along with it.

It’s very likely that amid the hiccups and miscues you’ve experienced – children bombing virtual meetings, files lost in translation between hybrid software platforms – there have been breakthrough moments of clarity, cohesion, and innovation.

The freedom that comes with working from the space of your employee’s choosing opens up a new mindset for your entire team. Employees who were restricted because of family demands are better able to manage their time and focus more clearly when they’re able to dedicate their attention to work.

An organized, well-resourced remote workforce opens up possibilities for recruitment, as well. When you’re no longer hemmed in by geography an entirely new talent pool is there to explore. Parents who had to choose between sharing their skills or raising their families are now accessible to your company. The possibilities are endless.

This next phase of commerce in the age of the coronavirus has the potential to be more productive, more innovative and more sustainable than the phase that came before it.

If you’d like guidance bringing your remote workforce up to speed, contact us. We have the tools and resources to help you.

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