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How to Make Remote Work a Strategy, Not a Crisis Response

Remember life before COVID-19? Sometimes it feels like a decade ago. If the amount of change over the past few months seems, for lack of a better term, unprecedented, that’s because it is, particularly with regard to the impact on the workplace.

Seemingly overnight, office closures forced employers to piece together impromptu work from home policies, while employees scrambled to set up home offices (or a laptop at the kitchen table) without much notice.

Ironically, many of the remote work tools that kept organizations going during the crisis had been around for years. Some, for decades. Despite having the ability to support a remote workforce from a technology standpoint, most employers remained fully committed to physical office locations. In fact, research from March 2020 showed that only 7% of U.S. workers had the option to work from home regularly.

That number is likely to increase, especially as companies follow Twitter’s lead in allowing employees to work from home forever. The World Economic Forum writes, “COVID-19 may yet do what years of advocacy failed to: Make telework a benefit available to more than a relative handful of U.S. workers.” 

Whether that possibility is exciting or disruptive to your business, the wheels are already in motion. Here are some additional stats to consider:

  • 56% of U.S. workers hold a job that is compatible (at least partially) with remote work.
  • 25-30% of the workforce will be working at home on a multiple days a week by the end of 2021.
  • 80% of employees want to work from home at least some of the time and 1/3 would take a pay cut to do so.

For these reasons, employers need to need to start thinking about making their move sooner rather than later, building the business case, allocating resources, and rethinking their approach to hiring. Here are some factors that will help shape your remote work strategy.

Return on investment 

Let’s start with the practical piece of the puzzle: the business case. As Fast Company explained, before COVID-19, many companies maintained their physical offices for security reasons. Those that handle sensitive data couldn’t send their employees to work from home without setting up the infrastructure needed to protect the business.

Now, having implemented at least temporary solutions to shore up the organization, there’s less of a reason to go back to the way things were. On top of that, early reports show that remote employees are spending three hours more per day online than they were before the pandemic. The idea of lower costs combined with the potential for higher productivity makes it unlikely that employers as a whole will return to the office.

Instead, a good portion will opt to maintain the new status quo. This means turning temporary solutions into permanent ones that will support employees and the organization long term.

Expanded global reach

As the remote work model becomes permanent, talent teams need to start thinking about next steps. What makes a good remote employee? Are the right people in the right roles today, or will teams be re-organized? What are hiring needs going forward?

In answering these questions, new opportunities become apparent. No longer are teams or new talent confined a 25-mile radius. Now the organization can think – and hire – globally. That opens up a world of possibilities from a recruiting perspective, but one that will also need to be satisfied remotely.

Everything from sourcing and screening to interviewing and onboarding will become part of a digital hiring process, one that connects candidates and hiring teams anywhere in the world. This streamlined virtual experience will replace the need to travel in, shakes hands, and awkwardly parade around the office.

Competitive employer brand

Working from home has long been seen as a perk for interested employees, especially those seeking more work-life balance. Much like employers have “seen the light” in how well a remote set up can work for the organization, employees who experienced the benefits of working from home during the pandemic are less inclined to restart their commute.

Having weathered the storm and worked out the kinks, remote employers will become increasingly attractive to candidates in the months and years to come. Embracing remote work communicates nimbleness and resilience on the part of the organization, showing its ability to move past self-imposed limitations to create a more flexible and sustainable model – one that instills trust in its workforce. Pretty good value proposition, no?

For some, going remote might not have been the plan. And staying remote might not be either. But as this year has proven, and as the famous Mike Tyson quote goes, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

It’s how organizations react and adapt that matters in the long run.