The coronavirus pandemic ushered in a new era of remote work: Companies sent their workers out of the office and into their homes to do a variety of jobs, and a recent survey shows that an overwhelming number of employees would like the option to continue remote work indefinitely.
While many companies shifted to remote work out of pure necessity, “one thing the pandemic has proved is that remote working works,” says Sean Hoff, corporate culture expert and founder and managing partner of Moniker. He points out that remote workforces are often more productive and happier, which can help companies recruit and keep top talent. Plus, being able to recruit workers from across the country — and not just your company’s immediate geographic vicinity — can widen the pool of applicants. “No longer having an in-person or local requirement means that recruitment teams can take their pick-up of the pack, cherry-picking the crème de la crème of talent from all hemispheres to bolster their business,” Hoff explains.
A remote workforce can also be a financial boon for companies: Office space is expensive — and “saying goodbye to the physical workspace means commercial mortgages and monthly rent and overhead costs will vanish,” Hoff says, “freeing up resources to reinvest in the business.”
And companies with remote workers have found they’re getting more work from their workers. “Instead of long commutes, employees are jumping on the computer earlier and able to stay on later,” says Amy Sanchez, executive career and leadership coach. “There have been unprecedented increases in productivity in the corporate space” over the last several months.
With all of these clear benefits — and employees’ clear desire to continue working remotely — it’s no wonder that many companies are considering making their remote work options more permanent. But to make that shift, they’ll need what’s called a long-term remote work plan.
A long-term remote work plan is a detailed plan that outlines how a company will manage its remote workforce over the long term — not just a few weeks or months. “A good plan would clearly address what the expectation is for remote versus not remote, and what systems should be in-place if employees do remain remote to optimize communication,” Sanchez explains.
It would also “balance productivity, health and wellness, and address a path to career growth and promotion,” she says, to keep employees happy, productive, and engaged with the company.
Any company that wants to make remote work permanent needs a long-term remote work plan, these experts say. Here’s what a good long-term remote work plan includes and how to create it.
Ask employees for feedback.
The first step in creating a long-term remote work plan will be identifying what’s working for your remote workforce now — and what isn’t. “Identify the main pain points your business has experienced since pivoting to remote by actively asking your employees to participate in feedback and double-down on research to find the perfect tools, clouds, and software to streamline new processes and iron out any crinkles” advises Hoff. And Sanchez agrees: She suggests using an anonymous survey to collect thoughts from the entire workforce. Ask your employees about “what they want from their remote workplace, the types of rewards and incentive schemes they’d like to see in place, how often they’d like to have career progression catch-ups, and [ideas] for business development or improvement they might have,” she says.
Once your plan is in place, though, your company should continue to solicit employee feedback.
“Implement regular check-ins with your workforce to find out how they are adapting and to take note of any recommendations, they might have for improving the remote work structure,” Hoff says. “Ultimately, they are the ones living and breathing this shift, so they will be best placed to make recommendations that feed into a bright vision for long-term remote working.”
Set clear rules and expectations for work hours.
An excellent long-term remote work plan establishes rules and expectations around work hours so that at-home employees can avoid burnout. Sanchez advises that you set a schedule that “will support healthy and motivated employees while also maximizing productivity. For example, your plan could include the hours employees are expected to respond to emails, not to feel like they have to be “on-call” at all times of the day or night. Or, it could set a policy barring back-to-back Zoom meetings so that employees don’t become overwhelmed with screen time. “The companies who get this right will be the ones who attract the top talent,” she says.
If you recruit top talent from across the country, you may have employees that live in different time zones, and it will be important for your long-term remote work plan to establish when they are expected to work. Their hours should have at least some overlap with the rest of your team.
Include team-building opportunities.
One thing that remote workforces can lack is connectivity to team members. So, a good long-term remote work plan will ensure employees build positive relationships with one another.
To do this, “consider what is already important to your employees,” says Hoff. For example, if your workers value speaking face-to-face, make sure your plan includes a schedule of “regular, weekly virtual calls to catch up about work and non-work-related items,” Hoff suggests. And as pandemic restrictions abate, you may consider outlining opportunities for in-person gathering, such as monthly meetups for team-building activities such as bowling or trivia nights, he says.
Support employees with comfortable workspaces.
Not all of your remote employees will have a dedicated office. Amid the pandemic, “all too often the kitchen table or small coffee table became the defacto office desk,” says Hoff. “For parents of younger children, this transition was challenging as they were forced to play both ‘teacher’ and ‘babysitter’ while also trying to juggle the day-to-day responsibilities of their jobs.”
And while working from the kitchen table might work in the short term for some employees, it shouldn’t be a part of your long-term remote work plan. Instead, the best long-term remote work plans will make accommodations for employees’ home workspaces to be productive.
Hoff suggests having candid conversations with your employees to learn about their at-home workspaces, asking how you can make their work-from-home situation better. Your plan might include supplying items such as sound-canceling earphones, ergonomic chairs, or even subsidizing a co-working space membership where employees can find some quiet time, he says.
Create a new, redesigned onboarding process.
With a remote workforce, it’s time to change up your onboarding process and make it a part of your long-term remote work plan. With in-person workforces, “most companies had a checklist of ‘new employee onboarding tasks’ they walked through one by one when introducing a new hire into the company,” describes Hoff. But “in most cases, this process won’t translate that well to a virtual onboarding, he adds, in part because, with a remote workforce, there needs to be a greater emphasis on introducing people to their coworkers. “What used to be taken for granted — sitting down with a new group over lunch, or spending time sitting with someone in their office as you were trained on company protocols — should now be a priority,” says Hoff.
Your long-term remote work plan, then, should “focus efforts on integrating them culturally into the organization and its people,” he says, with a new and remote-friendly onboarding process.
Whereas before, your company likely spent more time on-the-job training, “it’s now equally about integration,” Hoff says. “Ensuring new team members feel welcomed and familiar with people beyond their immediate team or the department should become a priority in the onboarding process to ensure company culture becomes engrained and proliferated” with your remote workers.
But you can’t forget about job training entirely, of course, and your long-term remote work plan should include an onboarding process that has training elements. Sanchez suggests that larger companies set up automated teaching modules as well as assigning new employees a mentor who can answer one-off questions; smaller companies, she says, could use mentors for everything.
Get your employees behind your plan.
With a long-term remote work plan in place, it’s time to rally your employees behind it.
“Although the majority of the workforce has adapted well to the remote work structure, some still do miss and prefer having that face-to-face interaction” says Hoff. “It will take a little more convincing to get this portion of the population behind long-term remote working, but there are some strategies that can be implemented to get workers excited about what this era has to offer.”
For example, your company might choose to offer incentives for working from home, such as a stipend for cell phone costs or childcare, for example. Or your company might consider scheduling annual offsite trips — retreats that allow employees to gather together for a combination of work and relaxing — for high-performing or newly remote workers. “Recognizing your employees’ hard work and whisking them off to somewhere exotic certainly won’t go amiss,” Hoff says. “The remainder of this trip throughout the work year will help those unsure of the remote structure get behind the plan knowing this reward will come.”