The Art of Working Remotely, Part One: 4 Ways to Support Your Employees

It’s easy to get caught up in the moment
during a crisis—in recent weeks, business leaders have focused much of their
energy on making sure employees have the equipment and access they need to be
able to work remotely.

But, as is expected during an
unprecedented disruption such as this, organizations run the risk of
overlooking a critical element of remote work—employee productivity. To
actually get things done while working remotely, employees need more than just
hardware, software and bandwidth. More than ever, they need support, training
and guidance.

Even before COVID-19 hijacked our collective consciousness, organizations were increasing their focus on employee productivity—and, on a grander scale, employee experience. CIO magazine’s 2020 State of the CIO report, which was published just before the United States started seeing an uptick in infection rates, urged CIOs to prioritize employee experience this year.

Upskilling is an important part of employee experience. And although it’s been a priority for business leaders in recent years, recent studies indicate that employees don’t feel they are getting enough upskilling to keep up with advancements in technology.1

Even before COVID-19 hijacked our collective consciousness, organizations were increasing their focus on employee productivity—and, on a grander scale, employee experience.

If that was the sentiment before the
sudden, massive shift to remote work, imagine what it is now.

The State of the CIO report explains: “Employee
dissatisfaction with IT tools can have a ripple effect that can result in
long-term damage and a lack of competitiveness.”

Inaction on the part of business leaders could
easily turn that ripple effect into a tsunami.

The time to get started is now. First, assess
whether your organization is capable of handling it in-house. If not, hire a
partner that can provide the level of focus needed.

Next, be sure to do these four things to ensure
employees are productive, engaged and innovative:

  1. Communicate clearly and consistently. Effective communication is essential, whether employees are working in the office or remotely. It’s even more important now. Workers who have a clear understanding of their responsibilities are more effective. When they feel like their actions and opinions matter—regardless of level or career stage—they are more involved, and even more innovative.
  2. Provide reliable, around-the-clock support. Employees are suddenly isolated and now must rely on new or unfamiliar applications like Teams or SharePoint to collaborate on files, access critical data, and participate in meetings. Without a doubt, they will get stuck. How long they are stuck is up to you.
  3. Deliver relevant training in a range of formats. Do your workers know how to use Teams effectively? What about document sharing? Co-authoring? In addition, you must keep an eye on the Microsoft 365 Roadmap for new and changed functionality to ensure users are prepared. For example, with Microsoft Power BI, the modern filter experience will automatically go live in April in all reports for all users in Power BI Desktop and Power BI Service. Because the old filter pane will no longer be available, Microsoft is strongly recommending that users upgrade their reports so they can tweak/customize formatting before they are auto-upgraded. Preparing for changes like this in advance can help you avoid costly disruption.
  4. Solicit feedback and act on it immediately. Check in with staff regularly. Ask questions. What challenges are employees facing while working remotely? What is working well? What requires immediate focus? How can you improve their experience?

While organizations are scrambling to
figure out how to make remote work actually work, they must also think about
how high the stakes are.

“What we learn in the next few months could help shape a future of work that might have been inevitable, with or without a once-in-a-century public-health crisis,” writes Derek Thompson in The Atlantic magazine. Rather than sitting on what they learn during this crisis, organizations must instead figure out how to put that knowledge into practice immediately and perfect the art of working remotely.

1. See “Upskilling a priority at most companies, but some workers are left behind,” HR Dive, March 17, 2020.

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