How are Professionals Adapting to Remote Working During Coronavirus?

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Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for Management pros

Monday, May 11, 2020

As the world comes to a standstill, shops close their doors, and businesses send their workers home, companies large and small are finding ways to adapt. These are unprecedented times and organizations must change their way of working in order to survive.

Article 8 Minutes

Right now, there are more people working from home (WFH) than ever. Whether employers like it or not, they’re being pushed to embrace the remote workforce. Although in recent years, more and more businesses have introduced remote and flexible contracts, statistics tell us that less than 30% of UK workers worked from home before lockdown, and only 16% of US workers worked remotely part of the time, with even fewer WFH full-time.

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Around the world, almost half (44%) of companies didn’t allow remote work at all prior to the pandemic. Back then, the digital workforce takeover probably seemed a long way off. Today, coronavirus drives the telecommuting concept forward, compelling businesses to rethink their setup.

This is all necessary if we want to flatten the curve and save lives. But how are professionals adjusting to this unexpected mobile trial period? We decided to ask our Insights for Professionals community. Here’s what we found:

Which industries have been affected most?

We surveyed 112 senior workers across IT, Marketing, HR, Finance and business management departments in the UK and the USA to find out more about their experience, including how badly business has been affected.

According to the responses, Retail is facing the most disruption, followed by Construction, IT, Education and Public Services, and Manufacturing.

Many retail businesses are now having to rely on online sales, while having to put social distancing measures in place in their warehouses or their click-and-collect facilities. Head office teams also have to coordinate the retail supply chain from their homes, while finding ways to stay connected to the customer.

In construction, projects have come to a pause, and many contractors are finding themselves without work. Even in the IT industry – a seemingly progressive community – there has been a lot of disruption. Tech companies undoubtedly face the prospect of delayed initiatives and missed partnership opportunities, but there’s also the potential to thrive.

Every sector across the world has had to accept new mobile practices during the coronavirus lockdown, but some are adapting faster than others. Businesses with remote working systems already in place are finding it easier to handle the shift from office to telecommuting. Accessibility to online tools for staff is key, and there needs to be ways of measuring productivity.

Adapting to the changing ways of working with remote tools

For many organizations that already had some remote working in place, the transition was always a gradual process. It takes time to setup the right digital platforms, and very few businesses jump right into it without a trial.

Only 16% of companies exclusively hire remote workers, according to the State of Remote Work Report by OWL Labs. That leaves over three quarters of businesses having to find ways to quickly get up to speed.

83% of our survey respondents said they’re currently working from home, with only 2% not allowed and 1% planning to do so ASAP

With such a large percentage of professionals now WFH, maintaining productivity is a priority for businesses. In order to make sure workers are able to complete their tasks, providing the right tools is imperative.

The majority of professionals (87%) have the tools they need to make working from home a success, but 9% told us they don’t currently have the tools or systems in place, while 4% are unsure.

With nearly 90% claiming they have access to the right platforms, we have a great opportunity to review whether WFH is working.

Over half (51%) reported that they’ve been more productive, highlighting the potential to open out telecommuting job roles when lockdown is done.

What businesses should also bear in mind is that productivity levels may be affected by the fact that schools have been closed and people are working in makeshift office setups. In reality, the results could be much more positive for productivity if employees weren’t simply just ‘thrown into it’ but actually worked from home regularly.

Is business as usual truly possible?

What’s particularly interesting in our research is how quickly teams have been able to adjust to their new home offices.  While many seem to be adapting – and fast – is it truly business as usual?

While the majority of respondents (77%) agree their work has been impacted by lockdown (and 67% agree that lockdown is putting a lot of projects on hold), the general consensus is that everyone is coping well with the changes, and is managing to keep processes and procedures running smoothly.

Despite widespread disruption to organizational plans, goals and targets, most are still able to communicate with colleagues and believe their organization is handling the challenge to the best of their abilities. One of the most critical areas that businesses should look at improving is communication between colleagues.  

Not only are over three quarters (77%) of people experiencing good or excellent communication with others in their colleagues, but the same number consider their place of work to be responding to changes very successfully in the current situation. Being able to acclimatize is vital in these difficult times, and businesses that find their feet first will be at an advantage.

 

Those that thrive during lockdown are the ones with the most agile setup. This means having robust, scalable, responsive technology and infrastructure in place. As well as using collaboration platforms to keep interactions and workflows efficient, it’s important to consider things such as cloud storage.

Migrating to the cloud has allowed companies to foster the efficacy of a remote workforce, making it safe, secure and easy to share, upload, download and manage business files. There’s great flexibility in this infrastructure, and it allows team members to access the system from anywhere in the world – and at any time of day.

Video technology is also proving crucial during coronavirus. Platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams and other similar apps are vital for maintaining a connection with employees, staying in touch with clients, or having meetings with business partners.

The emotional impact of working in lockdown

One of the biggest battles that managers are likely facing at the moment is team members withdrawing or being less participative in group discussions due to not being in the office. It’s important for HR and team leaders to recognize varying personality types and establish ways to detect changes in others. Some people may feel cut off from their colleagues, while others may suffer from serious mental health issues due to being alone.

Although WFH may create feelings of isolation for some, the majority of respondents are adapting well to the home office environment. Almost a third of professionals (31%) say they’re feeling lonely. While it’s a small minority, it’s imperative for businesses to have morale boosting activities in place to improve wellbeing for those staff members in particular.

From group video calls and quizzes after work to simply checking in on individuals throughout the day, managers should think of different ways they can motivate their teams.

With so much disruption in everyone’s lives, distractions and a lack of focus could easily occur. We must remember that many employees could be parents juggling home schooling with business emails.

Over a third (37%) of respondents are feeling easily distracted at home, while 54% are maintaining their focus. For those who are dealing with distractions, it’s important to get a schedule in place – and it’s the responsibility of employers, managers, team leaders, HR and the employee themselves to come up with suitable solutions.

All-in-all, the majority (61%) of employees enjoy working from home. This means that over half of a company’s workforce could be better, happier and more productive with remote or flexible contracts. If there has ever been a time for employers to consider different and more progressive ways of working, it is now.

Is this the future?

As businesses are forced to send their workers home and use digital collaboration platforms instead of face-to-face meetings, everyone is propelled into modernization. Workplaces have had to rethink their systems, tools and processes, and realize the importance of business agility in the digital age.

The outbreak of coronavirus has become an unexpected trial period for:

  • Digital collaboration tools and cloud sharing
  • Video conferencing instead of in-person meetings
  • Remote working environments and ways to manage mobile teams
  • Flexible working hours that fit in better with employees
  • Working parents (and offering them more flexibility)

These are all positives when it comes to futureproofing industries. Changing company culture and nurturing collaborative, flexible, rewarding work environments through digital technology is key to attracting and retaining talent.

According to research, 92% of millennials identify flexibility as a top priority when job hunting, but the research doesn’t just report on what the younger generation want. There’s also evidence that most over-50s are looking for contracts that allow them to ease themselves into retirement.

If organizations can establish seamless processes for remote working, maintain or boost productivity, and balance face-to-face with mobile teams, this trial period could lead us to the future. There’s a very good chance that after coronavirus ends, the 9-to-5 office will be modernized, digitized and completely transformed.

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