Before the COVID-19 pandemic, most employment in the U.S was built around the traditional physical location and the 5-day work week. The entire culture of most organizations is based in and around the office, where people can chat, exchange ideas, and interact socially at will. Remote work for many years had been considered a perk that was limited to relatively few employees. Prior to 2020, only 4.7 million U.S. employees worked from home, or less than 4 percent of the workforce. In the past two years, that number has climbed to 58.6 percent working remotely one or more days per week and more than 41 percent working away from the office on a full-time basis.
This new trend of having “digital bosses” has now become the norm thanks to the pandemic. Within months, companies like apparel manufacturer Cotopaxi have begun to allow employees to choose for themselves where they work. Others, like software company Drift have announced that their employees will work remotely full-time and that office space will now be used for meetings and events. These organizations have also begun to embrace the practice of recruiting and hiring employees utilizing remote tools.
How Employers Feel About Remote Work
Digital bosses have always had some concerns with remote work for their teams, but the challenges have grown along with scale of remote work. One such challenge is a manager’s perceived loss of control, where they give up the ability to supervise and engage employees face to face. Remote work software and services make the task easier, but managers lose the personal touch they often need to be effective leaders. Most lack the ability to thrive in a digital environment, and that’s why more than 70 percent would prefer their employees return to in-person work.
Another challenge facing organizations is the inability to create a collaborative environment. Organizations such as Apple, Google, Netflix and Zappos have long described themselves as collaborative environments that rely heavily on the ability to interact with other employees spontaneously and foster proper mentoring. Others express concerns that when employees are not connected naturally there is a decrease in team synergy.
Trust is a final key issue. One UK study conducted in 2021 indicates that while only 19 percent of employers have seen a decrease in productivity with remote work, only 35 percent fully trust their employees in the current remote working conditions.
Improving the Remote Worker Experience
Working from home sounds like a huge perK and it is to many employees. However, it does not come without its challenges. Employers can establish policies and practices that show a commitment to the long-term success of their employees. Consider implementing the following:
- Promote healthy work-life balance by establishing clear work and attendance policies and healthy workloads.
- Encourage employees to maintain their mental health. Train supervisors and HR to be empathetic to worker needs and to know what services are available.
- Promote and maintain open communication with all employees.
- Continue to offer professional development on-site and off.
- Develop and promote a company culture that optimizes remote technologies.
- Provide mentorship for new employees to ensure they are maturing in the digital environment.
Most employers have come to understand the long-term benefits of employee training and development, but many companies have failed to implement these same programs for remote work conditions. According to one HRCI study, almost 60 percent of HR professionals have indicated that they have not offered any training specific to working remotely. Remote employees need to understand the nuances of the remote experience, how to optimize time, maintain emotional stability, and still be highly productive. These types of investments can pay long-term dividends in employee productivity and tenure.
Tips for Working With Digital Bosses
The onus of remote work success goes far beyond the employer, of course. From the employee standpoint, there are several important steps that can be taken to improve rapport with a digital boss. Some tips include:
- Over-communicate with supervisors and co-workers alike. Schedule times in advance for one-on-one meetings to connect on current projects and upcoming deadlines.
- Build your community. Engage with others in your social circles to maintain healthy relationships and support, showing your team commitment.
- Personal workspace. Whether working from home or elsewhere, have a dedicated space that offers a conducive environment to show your manager you are being as productive as possible.
- Self-care. Working from home tends to blur the lines between the personal and professional. Make time for maintaining your health and mental well-being. Your manager will appreciate the effort.
- Know when to sign off for the day. Managers know that no one wants to be on call 24/7, so set your parameters in advance and communicate them to others.
Upskill for the Future of Remote Work!
Technology professionals in particular have a lot to gain by pursuing online training for the types of skills that can help them thrive in a remote work environment and with digital bosses. Top choices include:
- Digital Marketing – to master SEO and social media skills easily applied remotely.
- Data Science – great data scientists should be able to analyze data from afar.
- Project Management – project managers are impacted by remote work more than most, so understanding best practices becomes mission critical in these challenging times.