Terminal, a tech-enabled platform for remote engineering teams, recently released its Remote Leadership Report. The authors asked some 400 HR and engineering leaders a series of questions on how they are dealing with remote work challenges brought on largely by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Remote work statistics and findings
The authors of the report began by noting the profound impact that COVID-19 has had on the modern workplace. Simply put, many organizations will never be returning to the office environment once the pandemic is over. The prolonged period of remote work by necessity gave leaders confidence that these work processes are sustainable. The report found that ½ of those leaders polled anticipate increasing the number of employees permanently working remotely in the next 2 years. Some 25% reported that the number of employees that will permanently work remotely will double during that same period.
For nearly all leaders this was their first experience managing remote teams. The report found that 77% of leaders had never managed a fully remote team, while 89% never managed a partially remote team. The reason being that before the pandemic there was little need to work remotely. It was viewed almost as a last resort, something you did when traveling or working with freelancers. A key statistic from the report shows that just 19% of business leaders had a remote work strategy in place prior to COVID-19. Moreover, some 61% of remote work strategies are less than 1 year old.
Organizations are playing catch-up at this point and the remote work plans that they have implemented are deficient in many respects. For instance, only 33% of those that do have a strategy have a remote onboarding component. Organizations have essentially adopted a triage approach, addressing more critical aspects of their remote work plans first. Factors like employee productivity (covered in 63% of plans) have been prioritized, while concerns over employee well-being have been less so (just 21% of plans addressed employee burnout while 32% addressed employee isolation).
While productivity is the focus of most organizations that have remote work plans, 19% of leaders report difficulty getting a sense of the level of their team’s productivity. Many have sought to gain clarity through tracking tools. While 78% of leaders say they favor trust over tracking tools, 34% have elected to employ tools to track remote work productivity. Another 29% require employees to report how their time is allocated.
Organizations also report difficult translating several aspects of traditional employer-employee relationships to remote working environments. For example, about 30% of organizations lack a plan for replacing traditional in-office benefits with home-based options like home office stipends or expensed meals. And 21% of engineering leaders are in favor of organizations paying a portion of an employee’s rent or mortgage, compared to just 9% of HR department leaders.
Remote work challenges
Once the pandemic is over organizations will continue to face workflow challenges, particularly for their remote processes. These processes are new, and organizations lack experience managing them. According to the report, 37% of organizations lack a centralized way of managing the remote processes of their organizations. Those that have been most successful in the short-term tend to have one person managing internal remote work processes.
In addition to designating a stakeholder to oversee remote work processes, organizations will need to leverage automation technologies to implement, manage, and improve their workflows. Business process management software helps organizations to design and test process designs before deploying them in real-time. Through careful planning and the use of intuitive software, organizations can avoid bottlenecks or reduced productivity.
Less clear is how organizations will meet remote work culture challenges. Only 27% of respondents thought that they had a strong remote culture. Leaders have tried things like Zoom happy hours (59% say that they don’t count as company culture), virtual hackathons (22%), inspiration speakers (26%), and brainstorming sessions (greater than 50%).
It may be that the best approach to improving culture is to make the process more enjoyable and comfortable. For example, some leaders have emphasized proactive communication and transparency (44% felt this was key to a successful remote culture). Others have focused on providing access to mental and physical health resources (less than 50% of organizations have these benefits in place).
While the COVID-19 pandemic may end it has made a profound and permanent impact on the ways that we work. For organizations to succeed in this new environment they must figure out ways to implement efficient processes that provide superior customer and employee experiences.