In a recent remote work survey of some 1,200 office workers, PwC found that in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic 77% would like to work from home at least two days per week. Most (83%) want to work from home at least one day per week. That’s a lot of employees wanting to get out of the office and onto their computers from home.
Months after the pandemic hit, teams are still adapting to this new remote-first world—it’s the latest organizational buzzword. But let’s hold the phone just a second. What might this desire to get out of the in-house work environment really mean?
The question isn’t whether your people will be able to work remotely over the long-term. We have the communications and collaboration technology to make it happen. The real question is whether your company can survive a sustained remote environment.
Business leaders need to begin this evaluation of remote vs. in-house work by asking themselves a really difficult question:
Why don’t your people want to come back in and work together?
Work Has Changed — People Haven’t
The thing is, people haven’t changed one bit. We’re still made of the same stuff… no one has suddenly developed a whole new set of emotions. Nope, still just the basic ones. And don’t kid yourself, emotions still drive much of what we do (and what your team does). Of course, some employees are struggling to meet the needs of children and other family members at home creating the need to work out of their homes. Others are experiencing for the first time a workspace without the commute and expensive wardrobe. And let’s not forget the very real, legitimate concerns about safety and exposure to Coronavirus.
The transition to remote work may well prove the most profitable and successful choice for some. But if you don’t have the company culture to support that shift, going remote as a knee-jerk reaction to this trend could be a massive mistake.
In fact, remote work can introduce a whole new host of problems for your people. Harvard Business Review researchers identify social isolation, distractions at home, interpersonal challenges, and reduced access to managerial support as among the top challenges of remote work.
Without the underlying culture to solve the initial set of in-office concerns for your team, how on earth are you going to combat remote work issues like that?
What we need to be doing now as leaders is asking our employees what they want.
Remote Work: What Does Your Team Need?
It’s going to be different for your team than it is for mine, and you’re going to find a whole host of diverse issues and concerns across your organization.
Company culture isn’t just a concept at the executive level—it’s the heart and soul of your company, from bottom to top and everywhere in between. People need to know that they can make a difference regardless of their job title. After all, the culture IS the people; it’s theirs. They comprise company culture. Leaders don’t dictate the culture, but rather are responsible for keeping it going strong.
You can’t just ask what your team needs and then fail to act, though. Leaders must follow through. You must be willing to listen—really listen—and act on those suggestions that are in the best interests of your company, customers, and employees.
Since you’ve asked for the truth, be prepared to hear that you and your policies may be part of the problem. That can definitely smart, but that’s just the nature of the beast. Hearing only what’s great doesn’t change anything. In fact, this kind of honest, clear feedback is part of the process of learning how you need to show up for your employees.
Ask them, and they’ll tell you if the environment has been made safe for open feedback. Hearing directly from your people what would make their work better gives you a free and concise direction on what to tackle. There is a huge bonus to this as well; when you make their needs a priority (and they trust that it’s important), they’ll show up for you in the most surprising ways.
Ask the Right Questions
If you haven’t been receptive and open in the past, you may need to work a bit harder at gaining employees’ trust. Enable employees to give their feedback anonymously. Don’t ask questions that simply confirm what it is you already think you should do; ask open-ended questions and give your people space and time to respond freely.
Ask your employees:
- Why do you want to work remotely instead of the office?
- Why do you want to keep coming in and not work remote?
- What challenges do you feel are preventing you from doing your best work?
- Which supports would make your life easier?
- What do you feel is missing from your at-home work environment?
- What do you feel is missing from your in-office work environment?
- How can leadership do better?
You don’t need to run out and implement every idea that surfaces. Instead, be willing to evaluate each employee’s needs and have an open conversation about which supports you can put in place and which you cannot. Don’t make change just for the sake of change—make the right change based on that clarity about what you’re doing and why. And then, do it all again down the road. You have to stay in touch with what’s going on, and it can change quickly.
Assume the Best of Intentions
Assume your employees have the best of intentions in sharing feedback. Don’t presume there is negative sentiment driving their input, even where a negative experience may have been shared. Show kindness and appreciation for their input by discussing it openly and sharing feedback back to the team. Stay connected, stay curious, and never lose the sense of fun and love that brought all of these people together in the first place.
The right change may be a transition to flexible hours or some variation of a remote work environment. But you might just as easily find that the solution for your people involves in-office supports you hadn’t considered, activities and programs that energize the team, incentives that help them celebrate one another’s successes or some combination of all three.
Industry trends are one thing, but the way forward comes from within. It comes from your people. They will love you even more if you’re willing to listen and make a change for them.
Now that’s magic.