By: Dan Boram
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, more employers than ever are now offering flexible working arrangements, giving employees the option to work from home (WFH) as needed and come into the office as they choose.
Offering flexible working arrangements with the option to work from home is resulting in improved job satisfaction as staff enjoy better work/life balance. The latest CNBC|SurveyMonkey Workforce Survey found that remote employees are more likely to report being satisfied with their jobs than office-based workers (57% vs. 50%). These arrangements have become so prevalent after the pandemic that they have now become the new expectation from employees and job seekers.
But how are management teams and leadership holding up? Over the past few months, we’ve had many conversations with our clients to uncover shared challenges leaders are facing when it comes to managing teams in remote environments and hybrid arrangements.
These findings aren’t limited to our clients, but share many of the same challenges we’re seeing for organizations across industries globally. Let’s explore some of the biggest challenges leadership teams are facing as they learn how to manage remote teams on a long-term basis for the very first time.
Top 4 challenges managers are facing with flexible work
Delegation in virtual environments
Before the pandemic pushed organizations to re-evaluate their ways, employees were expected in the office every weekday. Law firms, for example, were more strict on this given the nature of the job roles that required a physical presence, but even the modern tech firm that was more open to the odd WFH day more or less expected to see their staff in the office regularly.
This is because face-to-face interactions have been key to managing productivity and collaboration between team members for the last 10-20 years. True, it may be simple enough to switch in-person meetings over to Zoom calls overnight, but relationships, trust, the way that work is assigned, delegated, supervised, and evaluated when staff are remote takes much more of a conscious effort from managers in a virtual environment.
Let’s take an example of a manager managing a team of admin assistants who now work from home a few days a week. The admin assistant might now enjoy a slower pace of work when working from home as opposed to the constant running around to perform administrative tasks in the physical office. The manager, on the other hand though, might end up doing more of this work themselves to ensure it gets done.
What clients were mentioning to us in our conversations is that productivity may be higher with flexible work arrangements, but this is coming at the cost of senior positions, who are now burning out trying to manage the workload.
Management teams also haven’t learned how to delegate assignments as well in a remote environment, and this comes from a fear of loss of control as they’re unable to supervise work from afar.
In order to avoid burnout from managers and those in senior positions picking up the work typically performed by admin assistants, managers need to learn how to evaluate their business processes and use technology to delegate effectively so that they can make remote arrangements work better for all levels of staff.
Corporate culture erosion
Linkedin research mentioned in HR magazine found that 39% of C-level executives said they believe that company culture has already been damaged or diluted due to remote working during the pandemic. Our clients are finding that without the watercooler chats, lunch and learns, and company events that would occur more frequently with everyone in the office, they face another fear of losing the unified corporate culture that makes them unique. Efforts have been made to keep corporate culture alive through tech solutions like Slack helping teams stay connected, express core company values, and recognize achievements. But management teams fear that over time, their organization may have a tougher time standing out among others when so much of it lives in the digital world.
Increased risk of employee turnover
Tying in with the challenge of culture erosion above, organizations are realizing that they now face higher risks to employee turnover than ever before. According to the Labor Department, nearly four million people quit their jobs in April 2021, the most on record, pushing the rate to 2.7% of those employed.
The pandemic pushed companies to think outside the box on new ways to support their employees. This has taken the form of offering flexible working arrangements for the long term, offering work from home stipends, and presenting stronger benefits packages with increased allowances for mental health. In fact, a Robert Half study proved just how important offering flexible working arrangements is when it found that 1 in 3 Canadians would quit their jobs if they were asked to return to the office without the option of remote work.
Employees and job seekers are now much more selective than they were before, and it’s only become easier for a competitor to draw in talent based on these perks. Organizations that aren’t keeping up with evaluating their benefits packages and perks are now facing more retention challenges than they have before. In this very competitive time, they must do what it takes to ensure all levels of staff are engaged enough to remain loyal to them.
Slowed speed of career advancement
Another common challenge that surfaced in our conversations with clients is the speed at which employees are able to advance their careers in a remote environment compared to in the office. Managers are worried that fewer opportunities for in-person cross-training might slow the speed of growth in staff’s careers.
This same concern surfaced in a recent Tenant Talk discussion Aura hosted interviewing leaders in the accounting space. Discussions were had around leadership’s role in ensuring equal growth opportunities for those working remotely and those in the office as they look to bridge the physical and the digital in the future office.
How management teams can overcome remote work challenges
As vaccines continue to roll out all over the world and the option to return to the office is in sight or already underway, organizations are excited to experience the positive effects in-person meetings and personal connection will have on collaboration, career development, and company culture.
But this is only one piece of the puzzle. To make flexible working work for the long term, leadership and management teams need to evaluate their remote work policy at a high level as well as make tactical moves to preserve their culture.
Here are a few ways leaders can get the most out of offering flexible work.
Determine workplace strategy first
Before launching into offering flexible arrangements, it’s crucial leadership teams must set their workplace strategy as a whole to figure out if flexible working makes sense to the company, and exactly what that would look like.
This involves going through the process of assessing how employees are currently working, how they want to work, and what tools, support, and resources are needed from the company to maximize their productivity. Developing a workplace strategy like this can be done with the help of experts as well as purpose-built tools like Pivvot.
Encourage visits to the office
Leadership teams fearing the loss of corporate culture due to staff being out of the office regularly can tackle the issue by making sure there are enough beneficial reasons for employees to come into the office. Adopting Experience-Based Working is one way to do this. This sets up the office as a place that provides an intentional experience to employees, in turn encouraging them to come in to experience the office more often.
Evaluate company processes to integrate technology solutions
Leadership can make massive strides in overcoming the challenges mentioned above by implementing the right technology solutions into key business processes.
To improve management’s ability to delegate in a virtual environment, this means moving tasks away from administrative paperwork as much as possible and instead into the digital world. This can mean exploring software like the Google Suite for collaboration, DocuSign for e-signatures, or project management software like Asana to assign tasks to remote team members and track progress on projects.
In an effort to build and maintain a strong corporate culture, this might mean looking at tools like Slack for messaging as well as having a place where employees can have those watercooler chats digitally. Platforms like Zoom or Google Meet can be used to organize social functions like team-building exercises, happy hours, virtual lunch and learns, and other community-building initiatives. And rewards and recognition software like Bucket List Rewards can play a big part in publicly recognizing and rewarding employees for a job well done or for exhibiting company values.
To make sure employees are actively developing their careers even when remote, companies can look at a number of online courses and job-specific learning resources they can subsidize for their employees and even re-evaluate what aspects of job performance their performance reviews evaluate.