Workplace Culture & Solutions During the Remote Coming of Age
Updated: Aug 12, 2020
When “maybe down the road” becomes “we need a better way now,” prototype becomes product. But what happens when the product is people? Getting it done with what we've been given is the name of the game in 2020. The adoption of the remote lifestyle will largely determine success or failure in this future of work.
Remote work has always been (or, for some, has just recently become) a lifestyle. Some companies who have built their cultures around the virtual workforce view acceleration and awareness for the remote lifestyle as a pandemic silver lining (or an “I told you so”). But for most, the struggle to adapt under-the-gun continues.
History shows how extremes beget evaluation.
Consider the early 2000s, when sugar became edible enemy #1. A nutritional trend pushed by rampant fad diets (Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, etc.) sent a shock through the food industry and the general population--cutting carbs, eating grass-fed meat off the bone, and demonizing the food pyramid of old. Like new year’s resolutions, the initial fervor was never going to last. However, the larger movement identified a problem and changed our thinking.
As always, there were trailblazers who already had balanced diets and workout regimes in order. But for everyone else, aka, the majority, this was a huge shift. Cutting sugar was literally giving us withdrawal symptoms. Since the 1980s, low fat, whole grain, and aerobic exercise led the charge toward good health. It was pretty comfortable, and the war on sugar was an important disruption.
While this new information didn’t ban sugar, it accelerated awareness, inspiring new scrutiny around what we eat, how we approach meals and nutrition. You probably don’t know many people who are die-hard Paleo anymore--because it’s not very sustainable. But nutrition guidelines and food products, in varying degrees, are forever changed.
Evolving a business, in moderation.
Fast forward to the present-day workplace dynamic. With Covid19 sending everyone home seemingly overnight, businesses experienced their own versions of sugar withdrawal. The well-oiled predictability of the in-person office routine was gone. And, minus a small cross-section of already-virtual companies, everyone suffered.
Will we adjust? Will everyone be remote forever? When we are deprived, we reel. Fortunately, the fear-mongering, clickbait headlines around remote work are already dwindling, and the long term future of work concept is gaining momentum. New questions shift our gaze up from our feet to several paths forward. This is our our chance, but businesses have to make a commitment to change.
How do we adjust remote policies to benefit our people and the business? How can we change, in moderation, while keeping our business running? Companies, both large and small, are already sharing new remote policies, providing role models across industries. The ability to re-educate and establish sustainable, effective solutions based on internal, customer, client, and market needs shouldn’t paralyze a business--it should define it.
Asking and Answering Different Questions to Empower Remote Culture and Workers
Right now, companies have the opportunity to recognize the essential value of remote work and culture: a balanced work-life diet. And to succeed, business leaders need to be able to pace themselves per their unique business needs.
Generally, the success of remote work culture and operations depends on:
Leadership and decision-makers listening to remote workers and encouraging a feedback loop around productive remote work culture.
Investment in and implementation of the right solutions remote workers need to ensure business results.
This isn’t just a test in IT infrastructure and the ability to properly furnish home offices with equipment and VPN. Remote work has engagement and safety implications across your entire business from HR and recruiting to operations, leadership, and so on.
What to ask of the business.
There are many questions to ask when considering the business impact of remote work.
How do we need to adjust the way we sell our product/service?
Do our hiring policies and employee benefits need to change?
How does this impact continuity and our hours of operation?
Does our current work culture and philosophy support remote workers?
What success metrics do we need to consider changing or adding to our business goals?
Do we need to change our physical space?
How much will we need to adjust communications and coordination with partners, clients, or customers?
Hint: it’s time to dive deeper than annual reviews and standard employee satisfaction surveys.
Business decision-makers and stakeholders need to come together to answer these questions (and many more). While it is wise to appoint a lead to hold everyone accountable, addressing larger business goals and cultural shifts takes a village. Workshop it. Whiteboard it. Take polls and get feedback across the business. Chances are, remote work adoption is a gateway to understanding other employee challenges lying beneath the surface.
What to ask your people.
On the team and individual employee level, the discussion becomes granular and personal. This is where HR and people ops need to lead and innovate. Ideally, your people-focused teams are already working with employees on their career paths, goals, and regularly gathering feedback to improve employee satisfaction. If not, this is going to become even more important as more people transition to long term remote.
In discussing the future of work for individuals, employers need to consider:
Balance: Are your employees working from home or living at work?
Perception: Do your people feel more or less confident about their role/contribution?
Productivity: Are the necessary tools, technology available to them to promote effective communication?
Similarly, from the employee perspective, your people need to keep these questions in mind as the business evolves:
Is this how I want to work vs. how I need to work?
How am I most productive and effective?
Do I need to adjust my individual goals to better suit being remote?
Is my contribution to larger business goals going to remain the same?
Leaders often say the most valuable asset and largest point of differentiation from the competition is their people. With work and life changing at such a rapid pace, the best way to protect your assets is to listen, learn, act, repeat.
Putting Remote Solutions in Action
Now that you’ve dug in, done the research, how do you apply it tangibly and tie your learnings to business goals? There are obvious equipment and access needs for remote functionality, but if it wasn’t getting it done before, it certainly won’t move the needle now.
Core product/service benefits for remote productivity and effectiveness center around:
Collaboration - Connection, communication, and contribution
Access - User-friendly tools and processes
Security - Safe and secure channels
Inclusivity - Empathy and accommodation
With the focused feedback you receive from your teams, you can better prioritize the solutions for both short and long term remote needs. Additionally, reaching out to partners, customers, clients, and other businesses for product/service referrals is a no-brainer. Just make sure you ask the right people so you don’t end up comparing apples to peacocks (e.g. If you need a telepresence solution for a home office, don’t call your buddy at the large manufacturing warehouse to compare notes).
Video conferencing can’t always check all the boxes.
State the obvious: video conferencing is now a part of everyday life, during and outside of working hours. That’s not going to be changing any time soon. To have such easy access to video platforms is a major milestone along the collaboration tech timeline. But internal business and external market expectations are forcing longer, faster strides toward “what’s next” in response and anticipation of the future of work.
How many times have you heard the exasperated "I can’t just magically appear in X location to do Y” response? Now we’re having this experience during video chats. We’re confronting several situations where we want and need to “be there,” but, for reasons even beyond covid restrictions, we can’t. This is where on-demand practical teleportation crosses over from nice to need.
The ability for remote workers, customers, or providers to teleport into a space and experience it in an immersive, real-feel way can be the difference between participation and satisfaction, consideration and decision. The impact of a fully-autonomous physical presence--being able to move freely in a space and walk alongside other people is intangible. Ask any business that depends on the experience of their physical space for its livelihood. Telepresence robots deliver on the connection, collaboration, and facilitation that take us beyond the communication capabilities of video conferencing.
Workplace telepresence robots: Integration > Disruption
Robots seamlessly coexisting with people in the workplace is not a future promise--it's in practice. The future of work depends on people having safe, efficient, and meaningful experiences on and off-site, or what we at Ava Robotics perceive as impact on ‘both sides of the screen.’
Ava Telepresence Robots are designed and built to seamlessly and autonomously integrate with your workforce in your workspace. But this integration depends entirely upon the cultural and business needs previously discussed.
A few distinguishing points about telepresence robots:
Their purpose is not to replace humans. Quite the opposite, as the robots require humans to be effective, and the goal of sessions is to connect and enable collaboration.
They can be used by ANYONE the business wants to safely teleport into the workspace. You can easily add as many users as you see fit.
Telepresence robots are not toys or tech for the sake of tech. Human-centered design and full autonomy allow them to go with the grain and flow of your work to promote productivity and results.
The Future of Work Depends on Striking a Balance
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that boldness is required for constantly changing conditions. Take care and control of you can. The future of work depends on adoption and promotion of solutions that enable both people and processes in ways that may have previously seemed extreme and dubious for long term investment.
The sweetness and comfort around how we’ve approached workplace solutions for decades has been exposed as part of the problem. We cannot, however, be fearful and over-swing. Depriving ourselves completely of everything we know in response to change (for those of you who are fearful of robots replacing people on a massive scale). It’s time to recalibrate how our businesses measure success in a way that incorporates the remote workforce.
To strike a good balance: listen, learn, and apply solutions that connect the satisfaction and productivity of their people with larger business goals.