One of the most dramatic transformations we have witnessed over the past year has been the shift to remote working, with employers everywhere being forced to shutter their doors and find ways to make remote working work for their people and for their businesses. As we pass the milestone of one year since COVID reached our shores, it is becoming clear that remote work is not just a temporary response to this global crisis. While the pandemic has been the catalyst for change, remote work is here to stay. How can businesses adapt and thrive in this brave new world?
At Grow Remote we are working with employers across Ireland to unlock the answers to this question. We know that remote work can add immense value to businesses, help build sustainable local communities and make a positive impact on our environment. Companies are more competitive when they offer remote work, giving them the edge when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent. A fully remote ecosystem means that companies can access talent from anywhere in Ireland, not just from the often limited pool living in their local area. In the past, many business leaders were skeptical about remote work, mainly due to concerns about employee productivity, but research has shown that not only are remote workers more productive, they also take fewer sick days with lower employee attrition. Remote work can also lead to cost savings for companies by allowing for more efficient use of office space, leading to lower overheads such as rent and rates. At the heart of any successful business is the wellbeing of their employees and remote work enables this by providing a better work-life balance, leading to increased employee engagement and job satisfaction.
The benefits of remote work extend far beyond the boundaries of companies and their employees. Local communities thrive and grow when people can work anywhere. Remote work gives people the freedom to choose where they want to live, bringing more people back into local communities, which in turn opens up and sustains further local job opportunities.
But remote work is not without its challenges and over the past year many businesses and their employees have experienced these challenges first hand. Managers are concerned about onboarding new staff and keeping their employees engaged, employees are struggling with stress, isolation and ‘Zoom fatigue’. The lines between home and work life are blurred, with people working longer hours due to the expectation that they need to be always available.
So how can businesses address these challenges as we navigate into the uncertainty of a post-COVID world? The first step is to recognise an important fact – what we have experienced over the past year was not remote work, it was crisis management. Apart from those companies who had embraced remote work prior to the onset of the pandemic, for most organisations remote work was forced upon them in an emergency setting. In an ideal world this is not how a business transformation should occur – it should be a journey, not a big bang.
At Grow Remote we have engaged with many companies at various stages along this journey and we have identified three key pillars which an organisation should consider as they plan their remote work strategy – technology, policy and culture.
Companies should recognise that technology alone is not the primary enabler of a successful remote work culture. Nonetheless, technology can provide the tools which companies can deploy to allow for better remote engagement, communication and collaboration. Email, Slack, Zoom and Microsoft Teams are some of the primary communication tools while teams can also leverage project management technologies such as Trello, Miro, Teamwork or Basecamp to foster sharing and collaboration.
Employers need to fully understand their obligations in relation to remote work. This means embedding remote work into all company policies and providing people managers and employees with adequate training to ensure successful implementation of these policies. To enable this, Grow Remote have collaborated with Laois and Offaly ETB, IDA Ireland and Solas to create two online training programmes designed to upskill prospective and current remote workers and frontline managers in remote working policies and best practices.
To unlock the pool of national talent, companies need to adopt ‘remote-first’ recruitment policies, such as advertising jobs as location-agnostic. Employers who want to employ people location-less can post jobs on the Grow Remote ‘Remote Jobs Board’, making these jobs visible and accessible to Ireland’s growing remote work community.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of remote work for employers is embedding the right culture within their organisations. To do this, companies need to think differently about how they and their people are working. It is not enough to simply ‘add remote work and stir’, without making changes at a cultural level within the organisation. Output needs to replace presenteeism as a measure of productivity. Managers need coaching, training and leadership support to enable them to effectively engage with and lead their teams. Leaders and managers must encourage their teams to disconnect and in this respect it is critical that they lead by example. Recognition, career development and promotion opportunities also need to be equally accessible to all employees, whether office-based or remote.
One of the most important pillars of a sustainable remote work culture is community. Isolation has been an issue for many working remotely during the pandemic, but there are steps organisations can take to ensure their remote workforce feel connected. As a community development organisation, Grow Remote has supported the establishment of 130 local chapters, where remote workers can meet others in their local community and participate in a wide range of community events and initiatives. Employers can promote awareness of local chapters within their organisations or avail of opportunities to contribute to and participate in local events.
At Grow Remote we recognise that we do not yet have all the answers, which is why we are engaging with employers across Ireland to learn from their experiences and to share best practices. We work closely with employers at every stage in their remote work journey, from those who are unsure about how to proceed, those who are in the process of transitioning to remote, to employers who have been remote-first for years. Remote work is a new frontier for many, and we are all learning as we travel along this uncertain but exciting path.
Joanne Mangan is the Employers Lead with Grow Remote, a non-profit on a mission to enable us to work, live and participate locally