Addressing the Most Common Challenges of Working Remotely

While we are learning to live with a global pandemic, we are also learning to work in new ways.

The Coronavirus is pushing businesses to integrate remote-work technologies to keep the company running, employees productive, and customers served. Consequently, many companies are implementing for the first time a company-wide remote work policy.

Employees who have never worked from home suddenly must figure out ways to be productive. At the same time, leaders are learning to adapt their leadership styles to motivate employees from afar. And for some leaders, they are learning to feel comfortable trusting that employees are being productive while working remotely.

For remote work to be effective and viewed favorably by executives, business results cannot be compromised. While there are business and workforce challenges associated with a remote workforce, they can be overcome. It will take a mix of business fundamentals and experiments.

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Overcoming Remote Work Challenges

Prior to COVID-19, nearly a quarter of America’s workforce was working remotely. That number is likely to be higher right now. For executive teams, the challenge is how to keep the business going and the workforce engaged. Certainly, the challenges that businesses face are unique to each company and its culture. That said, common challenges prevent themselves when adopting a work from home practice.

What follows are the two types of challenges companies face when implementing a remote work solution. I categorize and define the two challenges and then suggest solutions.

Business Challenges

Business challenges are operational and technological in nature: finding solutions that reduce operational costs and making it easier for IT to implement a company-wide tech solution. Here are three business challenges important for executives to solve if they want to make remote work a long-term benefit.

  1. Challenge: Maintaining visibility on important business initiatives

    The ease of dropping by someone’s office is lost with a remote workforce. It takes more effort to gather teams to get updates on important projects. This is where the right technology helps executives keep their fingers on the pulse.

    For example, with Bluescape, leaders can access any project’s workspace to view deliverables, project timelines, and budgets, for example. Within a workspace, anyone can add comments or give feedback on a piece of content. Communication doesn’t need to be compromised. Instead, choose a tech solution that offers a mixture of digital communication solutions, like leaving edits or comments on documents, and supporting video meetings to help executive teams connect and review feedback.

  2. Challenge: Lacking access to important information

    Finding information saved in the cloud by other colleagues can be frustrating even when working in the same office. Unfortunately, progress and timely decision making are compromised when documents aren’t more easily retrievable. Again, be sure to put into place a technological solution that makes it easy for authorized employees to find what they want and when they need it.

    Here are a few considerations to factor into choosing a solution that mitigates the annoyance inherent in information saved in multiple places:

    • Look for out-of-the box integrations to document storage tools already used within the company
    • Look for technology that ensures your data and information is safe. For example, Bluescape is ISO certified and adheres to the highest information security standards, policies, and standards to ensure all data types remain secure.
    • Choose a tech solution with an open API to build integrations with other back-end systems to automate the availability of the right data across tools helpful to executive teams working remotely.
  3. Challenge: Transitioning the company culture during a global crisis

    While COVID-19 is transforming the business landscape, what your company is doing in response should not be viewed as temporary. A remote work program is shifting the company culture. To go back to “business as usual” will be disruptive. As the virus abates and people return to the office, have a plan in place to continue to offer remote working as an employee benefit.

    The business value of working from home can impact important business metrics. In a Harvard case study, one company reduced hiring costs by 4.4%, reduced office costs by $38 million. What’s more, the study revealed that because employees were commuting less, remote workers reduced emission by 44k tons.

Workforce Challenges

Workforce challenges center on workforce preparedness; how ready is the workforce to successfully transition and adapt to working remotely?

In a Gallup survey, 54% of employees said they’d leave their current job for another that allows them to work remotely. While the data point is a pre-Coronavirus finding, it reveals just how important working from home is to employees. Here are some common workforce challenges associated with working from home and solutions to solve them.

The most common challenges of working remotely

  1. Challenge: Adapting how you lead

    Leading remote teams is a challenge. For example, communicating with one another is 100% tech-driven; home WiFi constraints make video meetings troublesome, for example. Team members can feel lonely due to isolation and from a lack of human interaction.

    Managers must learn to adapt their leadership to ensure employees feel informed and connected. Here are some solutions to boost team cohesion:

    • Hold video team meetings where people can see one another. Whenever technically possible, expect everyone to turn on their video cameras. Visually seeing one another helps the team connect at more meaningful levels.
    • Hold team meetings that solely promote bonding. Have themed meetings centered around topics that unify people during this crisis: show off your pet, share your favorite recipes, for example.
    • At Bluescape, we’re holding weekly town hall meetings. Each Friday different areas of the business share what they’re working on. It keeps employees informed and feeling connected to the bigger picture.
    • Keep or schedule employees’ one-on-ones. Incorporate discussions about how they’re adapting to working remotely. Even discuss with each employee how they are holding up given the current crisis.
  2. Challenge: Staying productive

    Working from home isn’t for everyone. Admittedly, I struggle with it. I prefer to be surrounded by the hustle of my colleagues shuffling off to a meeting or gathering in the lunchroom to catch-up with one another. Of course, the opposite is true for others.

    The internet is flooded with blog posts on how to motivate remote employees to be productive. Instead of adding to that noisy echo chamber, here are some fundamental practices that inform how you can motivate your team.

    How to Motivate Your Remote Team

    • Focus on purpose. Discuss with employees the team’s purpose. And equally as important, discuss with each employee how they contribute to the company’s success. The team’s success. Ask employees what purpose they fill in the team. A sense of purpose is a long term motivator. It taps into our human need to contribute to something important.
    • Focus on habits. Dr. BJ Fogg, a behavior scientist at Stanford University, explains that changing our habits starts with tiny steps. For example, employees can adapt their home workspace to fit their work style. Help employees think in smaller steps to tackle big obstacles. This approach is central to building habits that promote productivity.
    • Focus on belonging. In my book, Work Tribes, I studied how high performing teams benefit from the experience of belonging, or feeling valued, wanted, and welcomed. Leverage these three elements of belonging in your virtual meetings and interactions. It helps each person on your team feel as though they are part of a bigger team.

A mandated shelter-in-place order is an unprecedented business and leadership challenge in these modern times. A remote workforce may be challenging now. However, after the virus abates, your solutions do not need to end. You have implemented an approach that works for your organization. What’s more, you’ll have a flexible work arrangement that keeps and attracts high performing talent. These are evergreen outcomes that you’ve battle-tested.

Watch Webinar Replay

Learn about remote work best practices by watching our webinar replay

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