From the onset of 2020, there has been an exponential increase in remote work, globally as well as locally. While Covid-19 has been an accelerant in the transition to a remote work culture, the general trend in the pre-Covid days also exhibited a similar picture. In fact, countries like the US saw a 159% increase in remote work from 2005 to 2017. One of the major reasons for this transition has been a mindset shift. Earlier, remote work was seen either as a privilege for those who were high up in the leadership ladder, or for those who failed to land a full-time position and had to settle for a remote role.
Fortunately, changes in the nature and scope of work, advent of technological solutions, among others are making remote work a new normal. In addition, Covid-19 has shown how most work can be performed remotely. Therefore, most organizations of India Inc are strategizing to move this temporary measure into a permanent practice and promote a remote work culture. For instance, IT leader TCS is looking at having 75% of its workforce working from home by 2025. The challenge lies in ensuring a smooth transition. Here is a quick guide to help organizations map their remote work journey and push the accelerator to reach the next step.
Stages of Remote Work
It goes without saying that most organizations found themselves underprepared for this sudden transition. The entire remote work journey can be divided into several stages to help organizations identify their level of readiness. Here is a broad categorization:
This is a peculiar stage and involves those organizations where remote work is virtually impossible. For instance, construction work or manufacturing. These roles invariably require physical presence and, thus, not much can be achieved while working from home. Most of the organizations in this stage do not have the scope to move through the other stages because of the nature of work, and hence are not active players in the remote work spectrum.
Numerous organizations in India Inc find themselves at this stage under the current circumstances. These organizations seldom gave any thought to the idea of remote work and were sceptical about its output. Therefore, they were bent on traditional ways of office work. However, the nationwide lockdown has given these organizations an opportunity to reinvent their strategy and almost six- seven weeks into working from home, these organizations are beginning to make sense of remote work.
Under this stage are organizations which see work from home as an option, but do not consider it a norm. These organizations offer some form of flexibility to their employees to work remotely every once in a while. However, physical office presence still overrides the idea of remote work. There is an ongoing belief that onsite work is more productive than remote work. This is somewhere in the middle of the leader-laggard spectrum, and these organizations have been quicker to adapt to the changes in work dynamics with the lockdown.
This stage onwards, organizations fall in the leader end of the remote work culture. They generally prefer the remote first culture. This translates to a work culture where the normal course of operations is in a virtual setting. However, there has not been a complete shift. This means that every once in a while there are in person meetings in a traditional office space.
Organizations in stage four find themselves almost as top leaders in the remote work space. They are just one step away from leading the way. Such organizations believe work asynchronously. All work and collaboration is completely remote. One of the major advantages of this stage is that organizations can tap on location agnostic global talent and work across geographies. Organizations falling in this stage were least affected by the lockdown as their normal way of work is remote.
For the purpose of understanding, these organizations have attained Nirvana in the field of remote work. There has been a complete role reversal and the culture of the organization thrives on the fact that remote productivity is higher than onsite productivity. All employees across the organization have a similar pulse and believe that remote work is the ideal way. These organizations fall at the leader end of the laggard-leader spectrum and have shown greatest productivity since the lockdown.
Mapping your Position on the spectrum
Now that organizations have been able to understand their readiness, the next obvious step is to judge how well they have been able to transition to a remote work culture in the wake of Covid-19. The following few questions can help organizations gauge their performance:
Question #1: How effective is the communication remotely?
Start by answering how well are employees able to communicate virtually. When in person, communicating one’s thoughts and opinions are easy to voice out. However, virtually, most opinions take a back seat. This can hamper an organization’s growth. Therefore, the first parameter is to understand, since the pandemic struck and work from home became the norm, how effective has the communication been.
Progress measure: Teams that use Webex, Zoom or other video conferencing tools are high up the ladder.
Question #2: How efficient is the collaboration?
While in person collaboration is easy to achieve, organizations need to identify how collaboration has been affected when working remotely. Are your employees still working together seamlessly or has work in silos become the norm? If an organization is able to achieve efficient collaboration in a remote work culture, it can proudly put itself in stage two.
Progress measure: Teams that use tools like Slack, Redbooth, among others should be proud of their performance.
Question #3: How effective is the employee engagement?
Employee engagement can take a back seat when it comes to remote work. If an organization is able to engage its employees even remotely and add to their productivity and operations, its position in the remote first stage, i.e. stage three is a safe bet.
Progress measure: Organizations using platforms and tools to gauge employee mindset and strategize initiatives accordingly are up on the remote work journey.
Question #4: How well is the completion of work within deadlines?
A remote work culture can lead to delays or may lead to completion of work before the deadline. How well an organization fares on this parameter plays an important role in determining its position on the leader-laggard spectrum. If an organization is able to deliver before deadline while working remotely, it can safely pin itself somewhere between stage four and five.
Progress measure: Organizations using tools like Asana, Trello and other project management tools to assign and stick to deadlines and ensure timely completion deserve a tap on the back.
It’s Time to Move From a Laggard to Become the Leader
The move to a remote work culture was around for quite some time. Covid-19 has been a fuel to accelerate the journey. Most organizations today are realizing that the question is not whether remote work is the way to go or not, but how to make remote work more productive. While there are several technology tools to ensure productivity, organizations need to focus equally on how to build employee experience virtually to ensure retention, engagement and wellbeing.