With the world of work now out of the initial pandemic phase, many companies are looking for remote work strategies that work for the long term — especially as it’s what employees want going forward. However, making remote work, well, work isn’t 100% straightforward: employers have to manage global employment laws, regulations, and payroll and compliance; not forgetting the culture, communication, and connection of remote work.
As such, an Atlas-UNLEASH roundtable on the topic of remote work was timely, especially with some employer kickback and confusion making the news in this area. From getting beyond the hype, to explore best practices and what remote work scaling might mean, and experimenting with the form of remote work, it all formed part of this HR peer-led discussion.
Read on to find out more.
Remote work does come with challenges
The roundtable kicked off with a nod to how complex and broad remote work now is: it’s not just employees working away from a central office, but encompasses global talent and those who might be working via an EOR in a country that an employer might not officially operate in. Attendees also noted how in-demand remote work now is: 72% never want to go back to old models of working. It means it’s incumbent on HR to get it right — especially with so many business leaders starting to push back on remote working.
But pushback against remote models isn’t the only challenge. There can be taxation and compliance issues which, in some countries, means that employees have to spend specific amounts of time in the office, even in remote-friendly models. There’s even, as one attendee noted, the difference between some teams that have to be in a central location to do their job and other teams, such as technology teams, which more reticent to do this. This added another HR participant, can create communication, learning, and knowledge-sharing issues as many, especially younger workers, need to have access to a variety of colleagues to get up to speed in their jobs. One attendee said two-plus years of remote-ish working was having a noticeably negative impact on the development of younger workers.
Another HR attendee said that they were learning the hard way it’s better to be more rigid with remote work and eventually loosen it as the business learns to effectively manage it than vice versa. They were also learning that organizations don’t want to intrude too much into the personal life of employees when they create remote models. Additionally, with different cultural expectations of remote work across the globe, countries which are further behind on the remote work implementation curve were at serious risk of losing out on top talent.
Sometimes this manifests into a big issue when a business with global presence has to balance local working customs with the need to be fair and equitable across the organizations. This can cause a headache for HR, as people operations need to balance compliance, cultural tradition and employee expectations in a constantly changing landscape. Alongside this, one attendee said HR has to be getting an extra budget for remote teams in order for them to enjoy the in-person social aspects of work. Otherwise, it can just be Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, and that addiction to remote meetings can be fatiguing and undercut the important personal and productive aspects of work.
As one attendee said: “I don’t think companies have cracked this at all – we’re humans, not robots, we need time for a coffee with a colleague [and] less focus on productivity.”
Be the remote magnet, not the remote mandate
Yet, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Yes, there are challenges when it comes to implementing remote work but as one attendee explained: “It’s on companies need to not mandate but make their remote working patterns a magnet.”
In fact, it was agreed upon that remote or hybrid work can allow businesses to better personalize work for the individual, which can help with talent attraction in a disrupted market. It’s what people increasingly want and with many business models overhauled over the last two years it also opens up wider talent pools to businesses. And, once businesses get their heads around it, it can open up better operations. Asynchronous knowledge-sharing; documenting rather than too many meetings, getting rid of video call fatigue, this can all happens as long as HR is using good tools.
It’s also important to remember, added one attendee, that even in wholly remote models physical meetups are important and can play a role in retention and attraction, too. In this way, it might mean that offices need redesigning and remote patterns to be managed creatively to create anchor days or effective sweeteners — such as wellbeing perks — for people to come into a central location so collaboration happens effectively. And, for remote collaboration and productivity to happen effectively, this should mean, added another attendee, that investment in managerial skills to make this happen should also occur. As one HR practitioner said: “Enable deep work and thriving” and give people the tools and skills.
The discussion also turned to little hints and tips that people thought would be useful for successful remote work. One attendee said that impositions of specific days to be in an office were bad and it was better to focus on the purpose of being there. Another added that this might require pushing back against meeting-centricity and re-evaluating the mechanisms of work. Others said employees should be trusted to manage their own remote work patterns as long as they delivered for the business. Others said to focus on the social and wellbeing elements of work, as HR should be regardless
But, what was clear, is that not one approach will work, especially with such a variety of people and people needs in a business. As such, constantly speaking to your people and understanding what they need is the key to remote success.
WHY JOIN AN UNLEASH ROUNDTABLE?
Amid the current disruption, HR leaders need to get ahead of the exponential trend where work, technology, and how work gets done have changed forever. But how should we approach the relevant questions, given the radical uncertainty we continue to face as the pandemic becomes more protracted than anyone imagined? Our exclusive Virtual Roundtables are designed to explore where business leaders are focused now, key challenges and prioritization for the rest of the year, and what matters most in planning for what’s next.
Check out our upcoming events here: HR Roundtables