While many expected remote work to become more popular in the coming years, nobody expected such a sudden shift in work trends that were driven by abrupt global changes. Organizations might have struggled to suddenly go remote initially, but as we reach the end of 2020, it has become as clear as day that remote work is clearly the new normal and it is here to stay.
For HR leaders, this means equipping their managers and department heads with the right tools and skills that they need to effectively manage remote team members, nurture the company culture, and engage employees successfully even if they can’t have everyday face-to-face interactions.
Here are some of the biggest learnings from 2020.
Productivity isn’t the only thing that matters
Working in the middle of a pandemic has not been easy on anyone. People were forced to quarantine, manage their families, and handle their daily chores -- all while working full-time. A slew of constant dire news from around the world only made things more difficult.
Expecting your employees to work at the same productivity levels as they did when they worked out of the office is wrong and impractical. Instead, organizations need to realize that productivity is not the only thing that matters. Instead, HR leaders should optimize for the happiness of their employees.
Keep employees engaged, cut them some slack even if they miss a few deadlines, and recognize their small accomplishments to keep them motivated. Only when the employees feel understood and are satisfied with their jobs can they be able to perform their best work.
Intentionally build social connections at work
The biggest problem that came with remote work was that there was no easy or simple way for employees to have informal conversations and build social connections. Employees were no longer eating lunch in the same cafeteria or grabbing coffee together which made it difficult for them to improve and sustain a team spirit.
Moreover, when working remotely, people become even more conscious about taking up their colleagues’ time. As a result, people only talk to each other about work and they only talk when they want something. Every discussion includes blocking the calendar and the conversations are usually less casual and more work-focused so that everyone can have shorter meetings and go back to their actual job responsibilities.
There is a need for HR leaders to rebuild social connections at work through digital conversations. The idea is to create separate communication channels for informal conversations and team building so that employees can bond with their teams and build camaraderie.
The social & emotional benefits of a physical office are grossly underestimated
It’s easy to assume that remote work is a win-win situation for both employees and companies. After all, employees get to work from home, create their own schedule, skip the daily morning commute, and have a better work-life balance. What is there to not like?
But the truth is, home is not a safe place for everyone. There are people who need a physical office to distance themselves from the difficulties in their personal lives. While most people see weekends as an escape from office, for some people, office is an escape from home. Moreover, many people live with families and roommates making it impossible for them to find quiet spaces to work.
It is good to offer remote work as a perk even when we are past the pandemic, but you shouldn’t enforce it on the employees. No matter how great remote work sounds, some people will always prefer working in an office because of the social and emotional benefits that the office brings with it.
Work from home is different from remote work
HR leaders and company executives need to realize that work from home is not the same thing as remote work. Remote work means working from anywhere you want -- It can be a coworking space, a cafe, a small hotel in the hills, or even a beach. Working from home means you are always working from only your home with not many opportunities to travel or move around. Work from home is actually more challenging than remote work.
We need to understand that our homes were never built to accommodate home offices. Home is the place where we unwind, relax, and spend quality time with our families. Everyone has a different situation at home, which might make it easier or difficult for them to work from home. HR leaders need to take that into account when creating remote work guidelines.
Working from home is not as simple as giving people a budget to set up their home office and expecting them to work at the same efficiency as they did when they were working in an office alongside their team members.
More opportunities for HR leaders in 2021
HR leaders should now look towards the many opportunities that long-term remote work will bring with it. For starters, companies will now have access to a global talent pool since they will no longer have location limitations. Organizations that offer remote work as a perk will also attract a large number of candidates who are looking for a job change without a change in their location. For HR leaders, the biggest opportunity next year will be to retain and sustain a remote workforce while ensuring an optimum work-life balance, improved productivity, better team bonding, and decreased infrastructure costs for the company.