Going all-in on remote in 2021: How to ensure your company’s remote working setup is optimized for success

Ignite is proud to share our advice in navigating the upcoming uncertainty of 2021 in this 4-part blog series compiled from expert resources, client feedback, and our own experiences. Be sure to check out Part 1: Budget, Part 2: Tech Stack, and stay tuned for Part 4: Strategic Substitutions coming next week! 

If there’s one topic that we’ve heard enough of this year, it’s remote working. We’ve been through it — the sudden shift, struggling to find our feet and then settling into some sort of routine — only to embark on another year of uncertainty that will no doubt be even more demanding. And that means throwing out the reactive remote work playbook and closely examining how your company can excel with a long-term remote strategy. Because, whether we like it or not, remote work is here to stay. 

According to the World Economic Forum in their Future of Jobs Report 2020, 44% of workers, almost half the global workforce, are able to work remotely. But that’s not to say they are doing it effectively. 

“The pandemic has shown that a new hybrid way of working is possible at greater scale than imaged in previous years, yet business leaders remain uncertain about the productivity outcomes of the shift to remote or hybrid work. Overall, 78% of business leaders expect some negative impact of the current way of working on worker productivity, with 22% expecting a strong negative impact and only 15% believing that it will have no impact or a positive impact on productivity.”

We simply cannot just resign ourselves to these figures. We must do better and undergo a significant shift in how we approach remote work to increase that 15%. In order to survive, and thrive, continued adaptation and implementing a solid strategy is key. This guide serves as a starting point for you: to start to build out a robust remote-work strategy, and to smash 2021. 


Source: Future of Jobs Survey 2020, World Economic Forum

Embracing the remote mindset 

We don’t know it all, but here at Ignite, we can absolutely stand behind remote working as a long-term play. For us, our organization has and always will be 100% remote. Two core benefits of a remote talent pool are that our talent isn’t determined by geography, and work is super flexible. 

According to Forrester in their 2021 Predictions, remote work is set to rise to 300% of pre-COVID levels.

“In 2021, at least 21% of US information workers will work primarily from home, compared with 7% in 2019. Some 47% of North American managers surveyed during the pandemic anticipate a permanently higher rate of full-time remote employees, and 53% of employees say they want to work from home more often even after the pandemic.

“Most companies will employ a hybrid work model, with fewer people in the office and more full-time remote employees. As a major portion of the workforce develops the skills and preference for effective remote work, they will come to expect a work-from-anywhere strategy from their company rather than an exception-driven remote-work policy.”

This is evident in the fact that many global companies are already embracing the significant benefits of remote work, according to Forbes. Tech giants like Google, Twitter, and Microsoft are making working from home a permanent option, giving their employees choice and certainty in an otherwise unsettling time.

A long-term remote strategy needs to be carefully considered and documented. When COVID-19 took effect earlier this year, there wasn’t time to carefully plan for what became our new normal. For most, remote work became a consequence, rather than a proactive play. Now is the time to embrace the remote mindset and look to 2021 proactively.

Based on our own experience of what works, we recommend building out a playbook starting with the three key things to consider when establishing a long-term remote workforce:

Flexibility 

From an employee perspective, one of the main benefits of remote work is the flexibility it gives them, in terms of both time and location. When COVID first hit, many employers tried to stick to the status quo. Employees didn’t know how to best represent their at-home productivity, so balance was quite often lacking and employees became fatigued.

When embarking on 2021, it is important to establish guidelines for your company for clear expectations of employees and a realistic view of the flexibility allowed to them. And with the right guidelines in place, productivity will soar. According to Dr Michael Ilgner, Global Head of Human Resources at Deutsche Bank:Employees have understood what’s expected of them working from home – and been able to achieve it. So people perceive themselves [working from home] as being very effective.” Which means they’ve embraced remote working, he says: “Over 70% of people would prefer a more flexible work model, with one or two days per week at least at home. Pre-COVID it was exactly the other way around. So that has changed dramatically.” [World Economic Forum]

By giving employees a forward-looking expectation of flexibility, with clear guidelines, they can begin 2021 with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for the situation. Plus, it gives you a significant cost advantage in the long-term, according to Ewen Stevenson, chief financial officer at HSBC. “If anything, it makes financial sense – more remote working can help reduce office costs. This aligns with the digital shift in customer behavior as well. ‘We’re seeing far higher levels of digital engagement than what we saw pre-COVID in some places,’ Stevenson said in a Bloomberg Television interview. ‘That will allow us to be more assertive about reducing some of the physical distribution costs we’ve got.’”

Asynchronous communication

Let’s start with a fact: Zoom fatigue is very real. Remember the day Zoom went down briefly and the world rejoiced? We’ve all been there. Long days spent in the glow of a screen, wondering “was this meeting really necessary”? And the follow-up meeting, and the meeting after that? In fact, is it just us, or are more Zoom meetings taking place than did in-person, not long ago? While life would not have gone on without video-conferencing tools, they can — on occasion — kill productivity. And every organization should be cognizant of this in 2021.

We’re so used to being hyper-connected in real life. Everything must be instant, every email read, Slack message responded to, every simple task a meeting. This simply does not work in an effective remote organization. The concept of asynchronous communication must be adopted, and encouraged. According to Zach Holman of Github: 

“Asynchronous communication means I can take a step out for lunch and catch up on transcripts when I get back. It means I can ask my coworker a question in-chat and not worry about bothering her since she’ll get back to me when she’s available. Asynchronous communication means I can go to rural Minnesota and feel like I’m working from the office like normal.”

For remote organizations like ours at Ignite, asynchronous communication is at the core of our culture. It’s how we stay effective and get things done in a highly collaborative manner. This means making the most of the tools at your disposal. Collaborative documents, project management software and clear guidelines and expectations are key. Done right, it can transform the productivity of your workforce. 

Accountability 

Remote work needs a very clear accountability structure in order to sustain your business in the long-term. According to Fast Company, there are four key ways you can help your team stay accountable: 

  1. Set expectations: ensure that the mandate is crystal clear, and validate with employees that expectations are well understood
  2. Set employees up for success: ensure that your employees have the right tools and processes in place to track remote work. Whether that be simple or sophisticated task management tools, ensure that they have the resources to showcase their output in a holistic manner. 
  3. Give feedback: and make it a regular activity. Many employees have struggled to adapt to the new way of working, so it’s important to check in regularly and give feedback on what’s working and what isn’t. 
  4. Offer opportunities for social interaction: loneliness is one of the biggest de-motivating factors when it comes to remote work, and it significantly impacts employee output. Creating social interaction opportunities, whether it be through a Slack chit-chat or a Zoom happy hour, will have a direct impact on happiness and therefore trust. Or, if you are an Ignite Technologies customer, why not leverage Sococo, a virtual office tool already included in your Ignite Technologies contract.

Aside from these top three areas, we recommend reviewing these additional considerations from Financial Management when building out your remote working playbook:

  • Performance, timekeeping & supervision
  • Reimbursement of work expenses
  • Health & Safety 
  • Computer, email & internet usage
  • Client confidentiality & data protection
  • Flexibility & personalized solutions
  • Potential remote working risks for finance teams

Policies and processes built for on-premise work may not fit for a remote team. They can hamper a team’s ability to work efficiently, and they can even expose your organization to unknown risks. Reviewing policies around these areas in advance, with a keen eye for how they apply to remote work, will save your organization time and headaches down the road.

Keeping your employees engaged

Once you have built the infrastructure and defined expectations for your organization, it’s time to implement and then sustain your new remote work culture. A huge factor for successfully going remote indefinitely is employee engagement, the idea of ensuring employees feel connected to their work and their team. This is often a challenge when switching to or from remote work, especially for organizations not used to accommodating those different work environments.

Human Resources Today advises looking at the 3 C’s of remote engagement to boost morale and support remote working culture:

Connect

While working from home has its many benefits, there is also a downside. The potential lack of meaningful human interaction makes it difficult for employees to feel connected to the company and maintain a good corporate culture. This is particularly difficult for new hires, who may struggle to feel a virtual sense of belonging. It is imperative to establish regular team events such as virtual all hands, sales kick-offs, and happy hours to keep your team connected and engaged. Again, Ignite’s Sococo product is ideal for this, as it enables employees to come together in an innovative way to bridge the barriers of physical distance. 

Cultivate

Learning and development shouldn’t stop just because work went remote. e-Learning should be embraced now more than ever, particularly with a slower pace of life and the emergence of better work-life balance.  The popularity of online learning subscriptions such as LinkedIn Learning has soared this year, with people-focused employers maintaining learning & development initiatives despite their workforces being remote. What is important to remember, is that while work has drastically changed, the progress of an individual’s career has not, and therefore cultivating employees’ skills and capabilities greatly helps them feel a sense of achievement and progression in their work. A focus on continued learning and development is imperative in maintaining culture online and boosting morale. 

Care

Simply put, organizations need to show their remote workers they care about them. Remote workers lose the little things like buying a luncheon, putting doughnuts in the breakroom, chance interactions with company leadership, and many of those little social aspects that build company culture. It’s important then to ensure remote workers aren’t left out of those little things, which can include ideas like sending food delivery gift cards to remote workers or creating opportunities for random social interactions. Company leadership should use these opportunities to stay visible and connect with employees. And finally, every organization should offer the flexibility for remote workers to take time for self-care, because a little flexibility in the short term will make for a happier and more productive employee in the long term.

Conclusion

We hope this guide will help organize your thoughts as you prepare for an uncertain yet exciting 2021. Committing to these principles ahead of time is the key to keeping your organization thriving, no matter the circumstances.

At Ignite, we’ve used the principles in how we have always internally organized our team, and we really hope this is useful for you. We’re committed to 100% customer success and that means helping our customers in any way we can, like activating your Ignite Prime Unlimited entitlement to enhance your remote working landscape or unlock your budget through cost savings. Customers leverage Ignite Prime Unlimited in three ways: to add new capabilities, to cut costs on tech that they can replace through the Prime Unlimited program and to augment their existing Ignite solution.

As mentioned above, our next installment of this blog series will cover strategic tech replacements for 2021 and beyond. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact your Ignite customer advisor at any time for an assessment of your remote landscape for an optimal 2021.