The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is causing many companies to rethink their stances vis-à-vis remote working. Big tech names including Apple, Microsoft, Twitter and Square have decided to embrace remote working – something that seemed inconceivable just a year ago.
In what is the latest and perhaps biggest vote of confidence in remote work, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg last week told employees during a live stream that the social media giant plans “to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale” and could see up to half of its employees permanently working from home in the years to come.
According to Zuckerberg, “When you limit hiring to people who either live in a small number of big cities or are willing to move there, that cuts out a lot of people who live in different communities, different backgrounds or may have different perspectives.”
Such arguments have been made by proponents of remote work for years, but until pandemic struck, large companies were moving in a different direction, with many investing heavily in expanding their already huge office footprints.
As remote work has its moment, here are six big issues that companies considering letting employees work from home should think about.
How new employees are integrated into an organization is critical to determining whether they succeed or fail in their roles. Onboarding remote employees creates a number of challenges, from ensuring that these employees have adequate support to helping them forge good relationships with their new colleagues.
In some cases, companies might find it appropriate to hold on-site meetings, if not adopt an on-site onboarding period, to help new employees get situated. In all cases, companies are likely to find that embracing remote work calls for investing in greater formal documentation and resources such as intranets since there won’t be the same continuous and casual knowledge transfer that frequently takes place in office settings.
2. Trust and performance
When employees are on-site, there’s a general expectation that they’re working when they’re supposed to be. And when they’re not, it’s usually a lot easier to notice.
Remote work requires a higher degree of employee trust. After all, how can a company know that employees aren’t watching movies, working out or sleeping when they’re supposed to be working?
Some companies use technology-based solutions that allow for remote employee monitoring, and while the use of this technology is sometimes appropriate, companies should also be careful about creating Big Brother-like situations under which remote employees feel that everything they do is being tracked.
At the end of the day, remote work offers companies an opportunity to embrace the notion that rather than focusing on how many hours employees work, they should focus more on what employees produce. With this in mind, it’s important for companies going remote to create and formally document performance metrics and communicate them to employees. As part of this, they should also ensure that employees are provided feedback about their performance on a regular basis. More regular feedback might be appropriate for employees who are working remotely for the first time.
3. Security and data access
Building a remote workforce creates significant security issues that companies must address. As a general rule, when employees work on-site, it’s easier to manage security and data access.
Remote work demands that companies rethink their security and data access approaches. For productivity’s sake, security and data access policies for remote employees should not create unnecessary burdens that make it more difficult for them to do their jobs, but at the same time, a large, distributed staff can create new vulnerabilities that, if exploited, can be very, very costly.
Already, there have been over 160,000 data breaches requiring enforcement under the GDPR, and by many estimates, these kinds of breaches will cost companies billions of dollars in the coming years.
Because the costs are so high, both financially and reputationally, companies that embrace remote work need to be prepared to make greater investments in security-related technology solutions and IT staff to deal with the risks created by distributed workforces.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has likely demonstrated that many of the challenges relating to remote collaboration between employees aren’t insurmountable, there is no doubt that remote collaboration is different.
The creative magic that often comes from putting a group of people together in a room can be difficult to replicate when employees aren’t physically together.
Collaboration tools, including Slack and Zoom, can ensure that employees remain connected even when they’re located in different places, but they can never fully replace face-to-face interactions. Companies need to be realistic about this and prepare accordingly.
For some, like Facebook, a solution is to periodically hold onsites so that employees can come together. Companies should take the costs of bringing teams together physically. Specifically, this can help companies decide whether to adopt a live anywhere you like or live anywhere within a specific region approach to building remote teams.
For years, many companies that have embraced remote work have done so in part because it gives them access to talent at lower cost. After all, most employees working in cities like London, New York and San Francisco will reasonably demand higher salaries so they can cope with the higher costs of living. This is unfavorable to SMEs, including startups, as well as companies in industries where offering Big Tech salaries is not viable.
But pay can become a more complicated issue when companies transition from traditional to remote workforces and employees move from higher cost-of-living areas to lower cost-of-living areas.
For its part, Facebook plans to adjust salaries based on where remote employees work, meaning that employees relocating from the company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley — one of the most expensive regions in the world — to less expensive locations could see their pay cut.
While their quality of life might be comparable or higher with a lower salary, individuals with extensive experience and highly sought-after skills might not be so eager to accept cost of living adjustments that result in a top-line pay cut. Within the engineering community, for instance, some argue that employees should be compensated based on the value they create, not their cost of living.
Obviously, there is no right or wrong solution to this issue. The key for companies is to be transparent and consistent so that employees understand what factors influence their compensation.
6. Relationship management
Remote work changes numerous aspects of the relationship between employer and employee. Beyond the practical and logistical, there are a number of qualitative aspects to the relationship that companies are wise to consider when going remote.
For instance, how invested in a company’s success are employees? How satisfied are they? The answers to these questions can have a huge impact on a company’s performance and obviously, how companies manage their relationships with remote workers will weigh heavily on how they feel about their employers.
Another issue is career development. When employees are physically separated from each other, it might be more difficult for them to develop a sense of how they’re progressing within the company ranks. Those who don’t see a bright enough path forward might be more likely to look for new opportunities.
In many cases, companies will find that the ways they communicate with their employees, and how frequently, need to change to ensure that their relationships with remote employees stay healthy.