Strategy & LeadershipHR StrategyHow is your remote working policy performing?

How is your remote working policy performing?

HR leaders Chuck Heaton, Chuck Kemper, Jason Anderson and Sanjay Harrichand outline why boards of directors must focus on remote working policy as a component of long-term strategy.

In the fifth article in our series focusing on why Boards of Directors (BODs) should pay more attention to HR issues within organizations, we focus on ways of working. How are organizations adapting to virtual working concepts, and how is an effective remote working policy enacted in organizational culture?


Companies are learning as they go in the new normal. Even BODs are being forced to engage with one another virtually. While accessibility is less of an issue as long as one has good connectivity, a lack of rich, face-to-face human interaction is upon us and is likely here to stay as virtual work and meetings become the default option. How will BODs and management teams respond to the future of work and the accelerating precipitation of the new normal? Our recommendation is that executives be required to have a remote working policy based on current research, to maximize effective one-to-one and group interaction, maintain or speed up the flow of information, and curb psychological detriments.

The cataclysmic change

In the early days of the pandemic, companies were forced to implement crash programs to allow employees to work from home. Manufacturing and service companies were faced with providing new mandates and barriers to try and keep their employees safe. Overnight, people started using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, BlueJean, and other platforms to meet, collaborate and share work. Initially, these stopgap measures were perceived as temporary fixes for a short-term exile from the office.

The evolution

As time have progressed, companies have a fully integrated remote working policy, video meetings, and collaborative work-sharing platforms. In-person manufacturing, retail, and service companies have developed and mandated health and safety policies such as masks, reduced occupancy, rotational schedules, plastic shields, one-way hallways, no outside visitors and contact tracing. CEOs have expressed, sometimes reluctantly, the positive impact on productivity, collaboration, and performance.

Yet we have seen an increase in burnout, mental health issues, lack of engagement, and a complete blurring of the lines between work and personal life. For instance, in the US, we already had the reputation of a 24/7 work culture. The pandemic has, in several case studies, cemented that reputation.

Results from a recent Willis Tower Watson Pulse Survey indicate:

  • 83% of those surveyed have some anxiety from the COVID-19 crisis, with 46% indicating a moderate or high degree of anxiety. Those results are slightly down from March 2020, when 92% reported some anxiety and 55% indicated anxiety to at least a moderate extent
  • 73% would prefer to continue working from home and not return to office locations
  • 33% of respondents are fully confident their company office locations are clean and that co-located working is not a threat to health and safety.

The future of work agenda – what lies ahead?

While various surveys show that most organizations plan to have partial or full remote working as a permanent fixture going forward, the decision to do this still needs to be made carefully.  Increasing levels of remote work may not be the best choice in all cases. Several CEOs are pushing back, including Rajat Bhageria of Chef Robotics, who said: “We tried it… It’s just not the same. You just cannot get the same quality of work.”

Personal interaction, ad hoc conversations, experimentation, inclusion, engagement, and other factors are all at risk of  deteriorating in a pervasive remote work environment.

At the same time, you cannot ignore the upward moves in employee engagement from March through July as witnessed by firms like Peakon, much of which they attribute to remote working.

However, an emerging risk is that companies are now focusing on the potential savings from reducing office space and may jump too quickly into making it permanent. To do it right, these savings will have offsets.

So, what’s a BOD to do amid the polarities posed by remote workforces?  Here are some questions to be asking:

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  • What is the approach? How many roles will be remote (whether entirely or partial)? How are the partially remote schedules structured?
  • How are we upskilling people leaders to manage remote work, to run effective remote team meetings and events, and to raise inclusivity and engagement? This implies, of course, that you need to measure the health of your workplace, as discussed in our previous article
  • How will we mitigate burnout and enable disconnection from work?
  • How will collaboration and its impact on efficiency, productivity, and innovation be maintained at a high level?
  • How will you take advantage of a global pool to upgrade talent for remote positions? Additionally, how will you onboard and integrate these people into the fabric of your organization?
  • For fully remote workers, what will your approach be for those that move to other markets where local compensation is very different? The Willis Towers Watson study shows 23 million Americans are considering moving, so should you keep paying a senior engineer the same package when they choose to move to a market that pays a fraction for the same role?

Boards need to be ensuring there is a comprehensive, well-considered strategy connecting all stakeholders within the organization. BODs need to critically challenge the alignment of the business strategy to the workforce strategy across three dimensions: the work, the workforce and the workplace.

Remote working is not a fad – it is another potential lever that, when executed properly, will expand the talent pool, increase employee engagement, productivity, and retention.

Organizations that fail to build the proper infrastructure of policies, management training and IT tools will suffer far-reaching consequences. We are advocating that BODs will need to ask the right questions and set the right expectations to ensure executive leadership invests the requisite amount of time in this effort.

The genie is out of the bottle and BODs cannot just focus on interim solutions. They need to be paying attention to their company’s long-term strategy regarding remote working policy.

Our final article in this series focuses on: Executive Leadership Organizational Health Assessments: How do employees feel about leadership and direction of the company?


Lead Authors:

Chuck Heaton, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is an HRD Thought Leader, Sr. Human Resources Consultant for Talent IQ and a global HR Executive with over 30 years of experience leading HR Teams in multi-national companies.

Chuck Kemper is a senior Human Resources Consultant and a global HR Executive with over 25 years of experience leading HR Teams in multi-national companies.

Contributors:

Jason Anderson is Vice President of Human Resources at U.S. Physical Therapy, Inc. with deep domain experience in compensation, accounting, finance and has spent the last 10 years leading HR Teams in multi-national companies

Sanjay Harrichand is the CHRO of Stratum Reservoir and an international HR Executive from South Africa with over 20 years of experience leading HR Teams in the mining and energy sectors.

Subscribe to HRD Connect for daily updates on the future of work, including thought leadership, video interviews, the HRD Live Podcast and more.

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