Remember when telecommuting was a perk that was only granted to an organization’s most trusted employees? How times have changed. In the wake of COVID-19, many businesses were forced to send all but the most essential employees home to work. As workers continue to boot up their computers in their pajamas, we are watching workplace trends and it’s clear that remote working isn’t going to be sidelined any time soon.
While there are many benefits that support working remotely, there are some real challenges that come along with the practice. That’s why not every company had a telecommuting policy prior to 2020. In the coming years, businesses will begin to tackle many of these challenges and set the pace for the future of remote office life. Here are seven remote workplace trends that you can expect to see soon.
#1 Online Onboarding Movement
Digital transformations are occurring across a number of departments in all industries. Human resource (HR) departments are no exceptions. Dr. Mary Gowan at the Society for Human Resource Management pointed out that HR departments that adopt appropriate technology tools perform better than those that don’t. Onboarding is just one HR business activity that will continue to get a boost from technological advancements.
Making remote working a rule instead of an exception gives businesses the opportunity to hire the best and brightest from across the nation without paying for relocation expenses. You can reinforce your corporate brand as one that values innovation and productivity by digitizing the onboarding process.
It takes a very talented HR professional to make onboarding exciting. While the activity is usually accompanied by a warm welcome and an informative orientation briefing, onboarding is still mostly filling out and collecting forms. It can be tedious and time consuming to hire employees while complying with the law in completing the required paperwork. Managing the paperwork completion virtually adds another layer of complication unless your organization has an onboarding software solution that is designed to handle remote employee onboarding such as the one offered by WorkBright.
Onboarding software solutions contain electronic forms that all businesses need to bring new hires into the fold. When new hires accept employment offers, the digital onboarding solution goes to work sending them the needed forms in the right order with reminders and a process for approval. They contain electronic signature and identity verification technologies that allow new remote workers to send back completed forms without leaving their home offices.
#2 Increased Need for Cybersecurity
Many companies are loving the idea of having their employees work remotely because it means lower overhead costs. Besides having to pay for fewer desks, many organizations pay for fewer computers as well. Bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies are popping up everywhere and sending security-minded IT specialists into a storm of new cybersecurity issues. When more users connect to networks with a variety of devices, company computing systems are exposed to more threats.
Accessing company data with smartphones is the new normal for offices that have BYOD policies in place for in-house and remote workers. However, over 85 percent of mobile apps have very few built-in security features as reported by Appdome’s CEO Tom Tovar. This gap in security allows hackers to steal data, which can be used to launch larger attacks.
Employees praise BYOD policies for making them more productive, and finance departments rejoice that company funds aren’t used to buy every employee the latest $1000 iPhone or hardware upgrade. However, the cost savings may not be worth it in light of the latest rash of cyber attacks that have hit both small-to-medium businesses as well as large organizations such as the federal government.
The culture and the economy have changed, and there’s no going back to the pre-smartphone era of the 1990s. In addition to developing a security-oriented BYOD policy, your company will need to invest in the latest security software to mitigate risks to its data and network. Traditional antivirus software is no match for today’s mobile hackers, who modify and launch malware faster than security companies can update their virus definitions.
Virtual offices of the future need next-generation antivirus software to protect sensitive data and company computing systems. Consider advanced endpoint security antivirus solutions. These software products use artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to identify patterns, detect anomalies, and quarantine suspicious files before hackers can make their move on your company’s network.
#3 Communication With Remote Workers As a Policy
Everyone knows that communication is a vital part of any high-performing team. However, communication is a challenge when a large portion of your staff is working remotely. How many critical conversations take place in hallways, at the front desk, or over working lunches? It’s hard to mimic these conditions with employees working remotely.
Besides making your organization more productive, communication is a way to maintain your company culture. When the majority of your employees work remotely, they can easily lose touch with the company’s core values while trying to meet the next deadline. As their focus moves away from the company’s mission, they can give the wrong impression to their colleagues, clients, and other stakeholders whether they realize it or not. Keeping your corporate identity in the marketplace is crucial for attracting new talent and retaining experienced, knowledgeable employees.
Companies that didn’t see the need for a communication plan before will start to reconsider this valuable tool and will be a predominant focus you can expect to see in workplace trends this year. Organizations that already have a communication plan in place will want to update it with special provisions for a remote workforce. Begin with an emphasis on respect. All team members should assume that everyone is committed to the same corporate goals and values. Misunderstandings can be worked out by applying some standard protocols.
Your new communication plan should address issues such as:
- Acceptable response times for voicemail or email messages and
- The definition of “close of business” when people are working in different parts of the country.
- Establish standard protocols for using available communication channels. For instance, team members would use a video conference platform if they needed to present an idea for collaboration purposes. If someone just wants a quick status update, he or she could send a colleague a text or instant message requesting the information.
- Employees should avoid using inappropriate communication channels such as email and instant messaging to drop bombshells that spark deep discussions about sensitive topics.
#4 Weekly Check-Ins With the Boss
Besides interacting effectively with co-workers to produce deliverables as a cohesive team, your remote employees need a consistent lifeline that connects them to company leaders. They need to know that they are on track with the company’s strategic objectives, and senior leaders need honest feedback about employee progress. As a result, you’ll see more companies incorporating weekly check-ins into their calendars.
A weekly check-in that just covers status that employees can deliver via email is a waste of time, and both in-house and remote employees will recognize it as just another bad meeting. Some of the most successful weekly check-ins are informal, interactive, and highly engaging. This is an opportunity to get creative and have fun while emphasizing team building and productivity.
Meetings like these require careful planning. When coming up with a format for check-ins, start with an agenda that’s brief enough not to bore but leaves enough time for feedback and questions. Send discussion topics ahead of time so that employees know what to bring to the table. End the meeting with clear, actionable takeaways.
#5 Reevaluation of Job Responsibilities Trends
Employees who work remotely can feel isolated and “out of the loop.” This often happens when certain job responsibilities are no longer a good fit for them. Some assignments that employees take on are necessary but can be viewed as busy work. Other tasks could’ve been automated long ago, but managers allowed certain employees to do them manually to foster camaraderie among team members. To feel more secure in their positions, many remote employees prefer job responsibilities that offer clear value to the company’s mission.
Part of your weekly check-in time should be used to monitor employee development. When done properly, check-ins foster a sense of trust, and they serve to hold people accountable. Once rapport is established, you’ll find out whether an employee’s job responsibilities are still relevant now that he or she is working remotely.
#6 Personalized Rewards and Recognition for Remote Workers
During pandemic-related lockdowns, businesses reported that over 36 percent of their workforce worked remotely. With this many employees working remotely, companies can’t afford not to recognize and reward high performance and behaviors that enhance their mission. However, it’s easy to send the wrong message to remote employees, who may already feel like they are on the outside looking in. For instance, offering rewards that can only be used at the home office or running incentive programs that are centered around in-house activities are just a couple of examples of the wrong path to take.
The future of employee rewards and recognition is personalization. Implementation of these customized programs requires extensive research; you’ll need to get to know your remote employees well to achieve the expected results. One way to do this is to create an online community or virtual office where remote workers can communicate with each other over different social media channels. Leadership can drop in to chat, give advice, or help problem solve as needed. It’s a great way to get to know remote employees personally and professionally.
Here are some examples of personalized rewards trending in the workplace that work for both in-house and remote employees.
Home Service Perks
Everyone has chores to do that gobble up valuable time. Give this precious commodity back to your employees by rewarding them with home service perks. These personal assistant services that include grocery delivery, dryclean drop off and pickup, and child care are available as perks for employee rewards programs. When a remote employee doesn’t have to do house cleaning or mow the lawn, he or she has more time to spend with children, spouse, or friends.
Care Package Subscription
Traditional offices are known for their catered lunches and birthday cake celebrations. While these treats are largely unhealthy, they foster feelings of comfort and team camaraderie. With remote employees, you have the opportunity to create this sense of belonging in much healthier ways. Online subscription box services allow you to send care packages to remote employees. Packages can include anything from wholesome snacks to assorted teas.
Companies are saving a lot of money by allowing in-house and remote employees to use their own computing devices. Reward your high-performing workers or loyal brand ambassadors with some spending money for technology upgrades.
Professional wellness programs support the whole person. You can enlist the help of a wellness program service provider to offer your employees personalized health-related services. Some of these services could include memberships to a local gym, chiropractic treatments, or nutritional counseling services.
#7 Shift to the Online Training Experience
The education industry has plenty of experience delivering courses and training to remote audiences. HR departments will continue to use e-learning programs to train employees due to their flexibility, effectiveness, and convenience. However, managers face some hurdles when it comes to training team members who work in different locations. Here are some of those challenges.
Time Zone Differences
You have a great curriculum that allows a subject matter expert to teach a much-needed course to your teams virtually. Interaction is not only permitted, but it’s preferred. While the professor and most of the students are located within the same region, there are many team members who work in different time zones. How will they participate in this collaborative team training course? Make sure that your training provider is willing to arrange the training schedule to fairly accommodate each learner. If a training session is conducted at an inconvenient time for one group, then the next learning module should be at a convenient time for that group.
As companies increasingly allow in-house employees and remote workers the option to use their own computing devices, technical difficulties are bound to happen. Learning platforms may only allow connections with Windows or Mac operating systems, but your team of software developers prefers using Linux operating systems. Besides these incompatibilities, there are many different user errors that can occur when remote learners are left to connect to online education platforms on their own. To reduce the schedule impacts that are caused by these errors, make sure that your training provider offers 24-hour technical support.
Increasing Learner Engagement
Students learn in different ways. While textual and auditory learning are popular learning styles, some people learn by doing, which is called kinesthetic learning. You can increase engagement by including lesson formats that reflect the different learning styles. Choose training programs that use interactive videos, podcasts, and gamification.
Bonus: Offsite Meetings for Socially-Distanced, Face-to-Face Team Building
Remote working means less office space. This is fine for daily operations, but it doesn’t work for those occasional, in-person meetings. Quarterly in-person, team-building meetings work to strengthen ties among employees and managers. Another workplace trend to expect in the future, businesses will rent office space for these events. Third-party commercial real estate companies offer customized work spaces for short or long-term use. This allows businesses to scale up or down as needed.
Besides delivering sufficient workspace for meetings, these real estate companies specialize in offering multimedia and computing services. They rent offices that are equipped with the latest desktops or laptops through hardware-as-a-service agreements. With tech support included, you can give your visiting remote workers the VIP treatment.
While health crises come and go, the basic elements that make an organization’s workforce happy and productive tend to stay the same. Employees need to know that they are valuable members of a winning team. Policy changes and workplace practices that increase remote worker engagement are the basis for these trends that you’ll see in 2021 and beyond.