When COVID-19 struck, many organizations pivoted to remote work almost overnight, leaving little time to lay the groundwork for working as an effective decentralized team.
Despite the challenges those abrupt shifts created, the vast majority of organizations found that productivity levels stayed the same or increased during the pandemic, according to research by Mercer.
As employers consider if and when to bring workers back into offices, many are also considering what it would look like to support long-term remote work. Here are a few things to evaluate as you consider the feasibility of decentralization for your organization.
Processes and Technology
One of the challenges of remote work is fragmentation of your workforce. You’ll need to develop ways to keep your remote workforce connected, especially if some employees can’t operate remotely. Establish a cross-functional team across in-person and remote work groups to explore ways to adapt interdepartmental processes and culture.
“Have a representative for each of those teams come together and form a resource group,” says Michael Gutman, remote work consultant and an educator with LinkedIn Learning. “This is a way for teams to come up with creative ideas for staying in communication and building culture together.”
The good news is you probably don’t have to revamp your entire tech stack. In fact, you probably already have a lot of the resources you need. “You need the right tools and technology in place, but don't overcomplicate it,” Maryellen Stockton, co-founder of Work Well Wherever. “Don't throw out all of your technology; build on what you already have so that people can get up to speed faster.”
Keep in mind that developing the right framework to support long-term remote work won’t happen overnight. “Look at your company culture and people plan,” says “Have roles and responsibilities shifted? How do you say connected?” Assess what worked from the pandemic-driven remote work pivot and what didn’t. Remember, however, that COVID-19 wasn’t a normal remote work situation — normally schools would be in session, for example, and working parents wouldn’t simultaneously be working and homeschooling their children.
Policies and Guidelines
Ad hoc decision-making was fine during the crisis, but moving to long-term remote work requires reviewing and updating guidelines and policies.
For example, access to home-office resources and technology should be granted in predictable, equitable ways. “Have clear guidelines across the board so it doesn't become a manager granting an individual employee some sort of resource because they like them better,” Gutman says. “You take that out of the equation when everybody is working with the same guidelines.”
In the longer term, you may choose to hire outside of the state you operate in. This requires establishing legal infrastructure, so you may want to consult an employment lawyer and a tax attorney, Gutman says. Consider standardizing your remote compensation practices, too. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently gave the issue widespread attention when he announced that remote employees who leave Silicon Valley could expect a reduction in pay.
“Constantly chasing that market rate is a headache that I think organizations can avoid,” Gutman says. “Pay what you’re going to pay for the job.” He recommends establishing the value of the role and paying that rate no matter where the employee lives.
One of the most common remote work challenges is communication. When you can’t pop into someone’s office to clarify an email, it’s even more crucial to communicate effectively on the front end. A big part of that is setting everyone’s expectations for communication frequency and individual preferences for various situations.
Share specific modes of communication, including channels for messages that are urgent versus those that aren’t. “Make sure that you're having those companywide meetings and sharing communication plans across the teams for all your employees,” Stockton says. “Have a communication chart that outlines which tools you use for specific things.”
Your standard communication channel might be email, for example, while urgent needs are communicated via phone call or text message. If your team doesn’t know which channels are for urgent communications, there’s a chance they won’t be read on time. Clarifying those channels upfront helps you avoid communication pitfalls.