By Joe Mariano, Senior Principal Analyst, Gartner
Remote work practices can help shore up business continuity during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Midsize enterprises (MSEs) tend to be skittish about remote work, viewing it as a threat to productivity and the cohesiveness of their close-knit organizations. It is now time for MSE leaders to take another look at a practice that will yield benefits long after a crisis ends.
Lack of direction and understanding of remote work practices have led to immature policies and programs. These programs have failed due to poor adoption by business employees and management.
This time around, MSE CIOs have a chance to build more robust remote work strategies. Key steps are to work closely with HR to mitigate leadership’s fears and promote the benefits of remote work to the executive team. This sets the stage for crafting a remote work policy that will be effective now and in the future.
Tackle MSEs’ top 3 barriers to remote work
Three fears about allowing remote work are most common among MSE leaders:
#1 Cultural barriers
#2 The perception of “haves” and “have-nots”
#3 Employee misuse of remote work programs
The first, culture, is consistently ranked as the No. 1 barrier to digital growth. It can take a long time to transform the mindset of a manager who believes that people who can’t be seen are not doing any work. Educate managers in the principles best suited for digital business management — for example, shifting from a command-and-control approach to one focused on results.
Now that many employees are working from home due to COVID-19, emphasize the inherent long-term benefits of remote work, such as access to a wider talent pool and lower costs resulting from reduced need for physical office space, maintenance and security. In the future, remember that job candidates — especially younger ones — will expect to work in a nomadic way. Remote work bolsters organizational resilience in the face of unplanned events and disasters
Managing perceptions can be an uphill task. In smaller organizations in particular, tempers can flare over who is permitted to work remotely and who is not. In the current situation, keeping employees safe and healthy is the first priority. Determine the essential workers who absolutely need to be in a physical location; direct all others to work remotely. Revisit the situation when business returns to normal.
Misuse of remote work programs is a sore point for MSEs, most of which have limited resources and cannot afford to lose time and money on projects. Here again, education is paramount: Encourage managers to focus on employee deliverables and outcomes, such as a deadline met or sales target achieved, rather than the number of hours worked or where the work took place.
Far from crushing productivity, remote work helps cut down on unproductive time, including travel to and absences from work. It also increases employee satisfaction and retention. And by not tying people to an office, remote work bolsters organizational resilience in the face of unplanned events and disasters.
Establish a formal remote work policy
Make a list of everything the remote work policy must include — and check it twice. How you plan to address barriers and fears, as well as cultivate the benefits of remote work, should all be highlighted in the policy. It should also help prepare employees for remote work and clarify what demands will be made of them.
Two other policy points are important:
1. Determining suitable equipment and resources: Many MSEs try to keep technology costs flat, but this may cause challenges for remote workers. Define the minimum hardware and other technical resources required and who will supply them. Consider if, and how, the organization can provide them given the current supply chain and economic conditions.
2. Providing adequate communication technology: Ensure that all remote workers and managers can connect with one another regularly. Proper communication planning is essential to maintain the close-knit nature of MSEs.
Keep in mind that any remote work policy shouldn’t be created just to tide over the business during the current pandemic. Consider setting up remote work with the future in mind. It can flex as needed and is a working style whose long-term benefits for MSEs far outweigh any perceived disadvantages.