In March 2020, COVID-19 forced all companies to temporarily abandon their office spaces and work remotely, regardless of their digital maturity levels. Few welcomed the change, and even fewer saw working from home as a viable long-term solution.
Seven months on, perceptions have shifted. Eighty-five percent of businesses think they are more productive when working remotely. In the US, technology titans such as Twitter and Google are leading the remote working charge, with the former recently announcing that their employees can work from home “forever”.
Across the Atlantic, major companies such as Nestlé and AXA are also incorporating remote work into their long-term strategy. Working from home is rapidly becoming the new norm. What companies previously saw as an unsurpassable challenge, many now see as a strategic opportunity, and with good reason.
Making the transition: four key hurdles and how to overcome them
The benefits of remote work are immense and heavily documented, but before they can be realized, there are four major hurdles to overcome:
- Technological optimization: enterprises are not digitally ready and often do not have the required maturity in their IT processes and infrastructure
- Cybersecurity: cybersecurity threats increase as the rush to remote work left little time to put proper security protocols in place
- Organizational architecture: existing organizational structure must be redesigned to ensure a balance of work distribution, strengthen communications channels, and maintain agility
- Employee welfare: new issues relating to employee welfare are emerging due to the lack of social interaction and face-to-face supervision
- Establish digital workplace foundations
Effective teleworking is close to impossible without foundational collaborative tools such as O365, Zoom, Google Suite, and Slack. Furthermore, increased strain on network infrastructure can result in poor end-to-end performance on company video calls.
Solution: Wavestone’s digital workplace experts have identified numerous initiatives to ensure technical functionality when working remotely. These include best practices for accelerated deployment of communication and collaboration tools, supervision and reinforcement of IT infrastructures, and support for the transformation of teleworking methods.
For combating connectivity issues, scalable communications solutions can also be achieved through tactical configurations to give capacity, functionality, and flexibility to network infrastructures.
- Optimizing the effective use of existing digital tools
If the fundamentals are in place, the next challenge is utilization. Strong command over basic up-to-date applications, and next-generation digital tools, are essential to unlocking the full benefits of remote working.
Solution: Increase focus on developing an employee’s digital skillset to maximize the impact of a company’s digital workplace foundations. (e.g., workshops, training courses, one-on-one coaching, team coaching, etc.). Be prepared to dedicate resources because technology is constantly evolving. Additionally, emphasis should be placed on empowering organizations with next-generation tools to supercharge remote working capabilities (Microsoft SSPR, Power BI, ServiceNow).
- Management of remote access
Many companies struggle with security when it comes to remote access, particularly on issues related to secure authentication, third-party access, and varying clearance levels within an organizational structure. Large financial institutions are most at risk.
Solution: Strengthening infrastructure by leveraging tools such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) is essential. Wavestone’s Digital Trust team has also analyzed the cybersecurity maturity of 290 businesses to create tailored recommendations for financial institutions around the world.
- Data Leakage and theft
When working remotely, there are fewer controls on the transfer of data as the entire working environment, by design, is less secure. For example, it is easier to exfiltrate information, there is less control of printed material, and more threats related to data leakage and loss.
Solution: In addition to increasing employee awareness, Wavestone cyber experts have identified multiple impactful solutions for limiting deviations, counteracting remote access cyber threats, and fortifying the security of critical activities.
- The disintegration of vertical and horizontal communication channels
Key issues here include the loss of contact with management, lack of clarity regarding task ownership, and a decrease in teamwork due to reduced interpersonal contact.
Solution: Leveraging existing digital tools, such as Klaxoon and Beekast, to facilitate improved communications within and between teams. At Wavestone, some employees have created their own solutions, leveraging the O365 Power App tool to launch an app dedicated to e-coffee, an innovative way to take a 10-minute coffee break with a colleague when you can’t do so in person.
- Faltering organizational drive
Remote working makes it harder for team members and other employees to elevate an individual’s drive. Added pressure consequently falls on managers to motivate their teams through strategic leadership in a virtual setting.
Solution: Management must emphasize virtual team building. Some strategies include blocking off time during meetings to talk about non-work-related topics or team e-coffee. Wavestone has helped managers to galvanize their teams from afar by implementing various agile best practices such as the use of Jira (by Atlassian) to document completed work, or the adoption of sprint-style work iterations to ensure constant stimulus.
- Erosion of employee morale
This is predominantly caused by isolation and loneliness. These factors stem from decreased social interaction and a feeling of disconnection from both other team members and management.
Solution: Champion the voice of the employee. Wavestone has strengthened employee solidarity by creating groups such as a “culture committee” for planning morale-boosting events, a “knowledge committee” for ensuring employees are continuously broadening their social horizons, and a “sounding board” to facilitate and open dialogue between employees and management. These initiatives can help to create an office-like environment outside the office.
- Work-life imbalance
Working from home can make people feel like they are always “logged on”. Furthermore, the blurring of work and leisure environments makes it hard to focus on either one at any given time.
Solution: “The Right to Disconnect”. It is up to management to actively encourage, or even mandate, that employees must disconnect during certain hours. Additionally, Wavestone’s clients have benefitted from implementing these five best practices to ensure employee welfare is maintained while working remotely.
Looking at the bigger picture
The upside of successfully implementing remote working solutions, at least in some hybrid form, takes on added significance in today’s pandemic-ravaged economy. Work-from-home strategies that cut costs and boost productivity can go a long way in cementing a company’s long-term competitive advantage.
The challenges of remote working are surmountable, and the rewards are simply too great to ignore.
Edward is our guest blogger who was recently a summer business analyst at Wavestone, as part of our internship program. He is currently completing his Bachelor of Arts degree at Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University. Our interns and work-study students benefit from regular monitoring, hands-on experience with operational assignments, and are involved in all of the events that punctuate corporate life within the firm.
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