Initially, in the spring of 2020, employers were scrambling to make plans for remote work. The Covid-19 pandemic sped up what had to that point been a slow-moving trend toward more hybrid and remote work. Shutdowns meant people were no longer coming into the office, and that posed serious challenges, many of which had to be solved on the fly.
Now that we’re more than a year into the pandemic, some employers have employees returning to the office, but others are considering a different path. As an employer, you might have found that your employees are more productive, and remote work is just better all-around for you.
There are also new variants of the coronavirus circulating, so your employees might be reluctant to return to work.
In general, even outside of the circumstances of the pandemic, remote work does seem to be the way of the future whenever possible.
So, rather than relying on strategies, you cobbled together in an emergency, how can you start to build an effective long-term remote work plan?
One of the main things you’re likely going to need to address if you haven’t already are the challenges in cybersecurity that occur when your employees are geographically dispersed. The zero-trust model of cybersecurity may be something you think about adopting.
If, before March 2020, your employees primarily worked onsite, then you had a lot more control over devices, access, and general cybersecurity.
Now, your employees might be working on shared devices, using public Wi-Fi, and generally not using best cybersecurity practices.
You need to train them on the appropriate steps they can take, but you can also put in place more in-depth cybersecurity strategies like a zero-trust architecture.
A zero-trust architecture means that verification is required for everyone outside and inside the network. There’s never the assumption that anyone is safe in this model. It reduces the impact that can occur if someone does breach your network through features like micro-segmentation to minimize attack surfaces.
You may need to revamp the basics too, like your password policies, and make sure that your employees understand the risks of phishing.
Have Definitive Policies
Outside of cybersecurity, if you haven’t done so already, now is the time to create clear, well-defined policies for remote work that leave no room for ambiguity and address the changes in the workplace.
Take your time as you create these policies. Gather information and see how employees interact with one another, what behavior looks like, and what the organizational structure is in a remote model.
Set and manage expectations along with those policies. Ensure that you’re letting your employees know what you expect in terms of productivity, accountability, and communication.
As you develop policies and more concrete long-term plans, think about getting employee feedback. Ask for votes and use surveys. You want your team members to be a part of shaping the future of your business.
Some of the things you need to think about as you’re creating policies include:
- How will you keep employee morale high and maintain retention rates?
- How will the policies you outline help promote work-life balance?
- Are you going to be providing the tools and technology your employees need to do their jobs?
Providing the Needed Tools
Briefly touched on above, providing the right tools is something you should consider as you develop a long-term plan for remote work.
You need to invest in equipment, including laptops for your employees if you’re planning for them to work remotely over the long term. You should also give them collaboration tools and anything else they’re going to need.
If you don’t offer these tools, you’re not giving them everything that will help them perform at a peak level of productivity, plus it’s increasing your cybersecurity risks.
The more tools you give employees, the more control you have over cybersecurity.
As you’re thinking about the tools you’re going to provide employees, keep it streamlined. Don’t go overboard. You don’t want your employees having to work with dozens of different applications and types of software. That’s frustrating and bad for productivity. Be purposeful in every tool your remote employees use.
Keep Relationships Central to Everything
When you have remote employees, it’s easy to forget about how important strong relationships are. Don’t fall into this trap. You want to have boundaries that everyone accepts and understands, and you also want to take time every week to facilitate meaningful communication.
Have some times where there’s the opportunity for information communication, just like there would be in a traditional in-person environment.
Outline Cultural Objectives
Have goals for your corporate culture and what it will look like going forward with remote work.
Some of the facets of culture to think about include:
- How you’ll communicate and solve problems as a team.
- What behavioral norms are going to be?
- What types of contributions and interactions are expected.
- The level of communication and interaction that employees should have with their managers.
- How to keep communication transparent.
- What to do if an employee starts to feel isolated or lonely.
- How much time everyone should be together, whether that’s occasionally in-person or maybe in some type of virtual meetup.
- What conflict resolution will look like.
- How and when employees will have assessments of their performance.
Even though when you’re developing a long-term plan for remote work, you’re formalizing some things that maybe you hadn’t to this point, it’s still important to stay flexible in your approach.
Flexibility is essential because it helps you stay agile if you face uncertain situations and it allows you to pivot as you need to.
Yes, you want to formalize policies and guidelines, but not to the point that you’re preventing innovation in a remote work environment.
A recent survey from Deloitte found that 33% of respondents felt work flexibility would increase their job satisfaction, and 30% said it would improve their productivity or efficiency. These are essential objectives now, particularly as a lot of employers are struggling to find new employees.