When the COVID-19 crisis struck two years ago, organizations’ focus naturally turned to finding the best technologies and adopting the right processes to enable their newly-remote employees to work from home. Indeed, enterprise remote tooling choices have been a constant topic of discussion, especially since it became clear that working from home isn’t just a temporary measure to help curb the spread of the virus but, instead, is a long-term productivity strategy.
But with C-suite executives and HR professionals investing enormous resources into the ‘technology’ and ‘processes’ corners of the so-called Golden Triangle of people, processes and technology, many are doing so without truly considering the most crucial piece of a DevOps mindset—the people. For example, research into remote employees’ attitudes on communication in digital-first work environments found that 45% of global workers said they’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of tools and software they have to manage while remote working. Meanwhile, nearly a third (32%) said their management’s expectations of them during this pandemic needed to be more realistic.
These current issues need to be addressed for organizations to optimize performance in this new era, boost employee morale, and recruit and retain the best talent amid a global-scale hiring crisis. Here are three ways businesses can return focus to the people within their organization, as workers begin to voice their unique needs and concerns as they adapt to the future of work.
1. Unlock Flexibility for Knowledge Workers
More than ever, employees demand flexibility in when, where and how they work. The last two years have illustrated to workers that they don’t need to sacrifice missing family events or working out regularly to do their job well.
In fact, research found that nearly half (49%) of workers would favor a hybrid or remote-only work setup post-pandemic due to this type of flexibility. By cutting out the average 40-plus minutes of commuting time, employees now have the flexibility to take some of their non-work-life back while also dedicating more time to their job.
To that point, researchers have found that most employees are now ‘flexing’ their work schedules, with the total time between the start of the first work activity and the end of the last one expanding by 36 minutes. Therefore, while it’s a longer work window, there is now the flexibility to fit personal activities in-between work activities. This type of flexibility will be as common as a 401K in the years ahead for knowledge workers, and employers must continue to reach to unlock flexibility for their employees in new ways. Leading-edge companies will realize that means giving their employees the ability to work on their own personalized schedules from anywhere in the world as long as they are getting the work done. Furthermore, one-size-fits-all employment no longer works. Employees will also need to be given the option of full-time, part-time and contract work based on their own needs.
They’ll also need to be able to spot stumbling blocks. While organizations can say they are flexible, a critical aspect of unlocking employee flexibility falls on managers’ shoulders. It only takes one manager demanding nine-to-five availability from their direct reports to start throwing off an enterprise’s flexible environment. Just as with quantifying employee happiness, bosses play a significant role here. Therefore, the C-suite needs to practice flexibility from the top down, with lower touch management styles and ensure middle managers are doing the same.
It’s also important to ensure that collaboration doesn’t go out the door with increased independence for every worker. That means making sure employees have the right tools to succeed collaboratively in a flexible environment. When Adaptavist asked employees what they needed to do their job better in their current hybrid and remote workplace, the top answer was better tools, software, and hardware (36%). Along those same lines, Okta’s recently released Business at Work Annual Report found that collaboration and security applications are the most used tool categories by digital-first organizations.
2. Show Your Remote Employees You See Them
While remote work is improving work flexibility, and even productivity in some cases, it’s also contributing to a work environment where an overabundance of emails, Slack messages and meeting invites are making many workers feel lost in the rubble. Adaptavist found that nearly 1-in-5 workers from across the globe say they don’t feel visible within their company, and 10% don’t feel visible in their team. Furthermore, a whopping 71% admit that they regularly feel invisible on digital platforms.
With the hybrid workplace here to stay and a worrying number of people reporting feeling anxious and frustratingly unseen by their colleagues, it’s clear that company leaders need to step up and take action. After all, it’s an issue that’s significantly affecting them too, with 44% of those who say they feel invisible “all the time” in management roles.
The reality is that ignoring the problem will only worsen and contribute to a well-reported burnout issue impacting workers across demographics and industries. This burnout is something McKinsey explored in its new Women in the Workplace 2021 report, published alongside the women’s campaign group LeanIn.org. In it, they found that almost 40% of women have considered quitting work altogether, or downshifting to part-time hours, because they feel their work has been overlooked and underappreciated.
The good news is that optimizing communication—particularly virtual communication—can go a long way towards fixing this problem. This means prioritizing and promoting good digital etiquette practices across every digital platform an organization uses and, importantly, encouraging management to lead by example to deliver meaningful change.
3. Prioritize Workers’ Digital Well-Being
To add a different perspective, the above ultimately achieves better digital well-being for every person within an organization. Something that has been largely neglected throughout this worldwide remote work movement, although not by employees themselves. In fact, 1-in-5 global workers who are actively looking for a new job say they’re doing so because their mental health and well-being have been negatively impacted in their current role. Indeed, as it turns out, workers are placing greater value on their well-being than on their salary and job title.
But this certainly isn’t a new issue. Instead, it’s one that’s finally jumped into the limelight since Covid-19 pushed millions remote. For example, a 2019 Buffer study found that 19% of remote workers reported feeling lonely working from home. Something that has undoubtedly been experienced by many employees since the onset of the pandemic, as they’ve also had to severely limit their social interactions outside of work too.
Fortunately, team leaders and their colleagues can turn this around by taking actions as simple as introducing more one-to-one meetings, which Adaptavist found significantly boost morale for 54% of global workers. Company leaders showing more empathy for what their workforce has gone through during Covid-19 would also go a long way, with a quarter of employees from around the world saying this is something they’ve lacked.
Again, these problems can be solved by excellent communication and equipping staff with the right tools they need to succeed. And as organizations move from survival to revival, it’s the perfect time for them to reevaluate how they communicate with their remote employees and whether they’re empowering productivity through technology or killing it.