We've all faced the facts by now -- many office workers will be working from home for the foreseeable future thanks to COVID-19. Even as states begin to reopen, many workers may feel more comfortable continuing with remote work. Forrester Research offers its thoughts on how companies can address the challenges of employees working from home. This podcast episode features Forrester Research analyst Andrew Hewitt discussing how to ensure remote work doesn't hinder productivity or add undue stress on the shoulders of employees.
What are some aspects that make it more likely a company has a work-from-home during the pandemic?
Andrew Hewitt: I published a report back in 2018, called the "Four Imperatives of Remote Work." And under normal circumstances, those four imperatives are super important for organizations to be successful with remote work. And those four imperatives are technology, culture, structure and compliance. [Right now] the real challenges are around technology readiness and culture. If you're rolling out remote work very quickly, those are the two things that really differentiate whether someone can be successful in a remote working program or completely fails. So, the emphasis has really been on those technological and cultural elements to success.
So, culture is important. How can companies handle the remote working adjustment?
Hewitt: Obviously, culture change does not happen overnight. And trying to really change your culture in the span of two weeks to roll out remote working has been extremely difficult. And frankly, most organizations that don't have a mature enough culture to support remote working are really, really struggling to make this happen.
But there's really four things that I think about in terms of overall culture for success in a remote working environment. The number-one, most Important thing above all else is trust. And specifically, it's trust between the managers and their employees. What I'm hearing about a lot from our clients is, if they haven't done the hard work of embedding trust in the working relationships between the employees and the employers, it's very difficult for that manager to feel like they can trust that employee in a remote working environment. The flip side is a very, you know, scary thing for a remote worker is to always feel like I'm being questioned whether I'm being productive or not, that's a very stressful and anxious way to go about your working life.
So, it's that trust component that is really, really important. So, what we've been talking to clients about a lot is think about what you're judging productivity on. We've had a lot of questions on what is actual productivity. It's not around activities. It's not how many emails you're answering a day, how many meetings you're showing up to. It's really about what outcomes are you driving for the business. So, I've been having a lot of conversations with clients on what are you doing to help support an outcome-driven culture versus an activity-based culture, where, basically, my productivity is just sitting in front of my computer, as opposed to focusing on those things that are most important for my work, which, by the way, are the biggest drivers of employee engagement as well, focusing on those things that are most important to my progress at work.
Security is one issue that comes up with more employees working from home. What kind of tools did companies immediately start using?
Hewitt: One is the VPN, of course, and that has surged in importance. It's kind of interesting when you think about this pandemic, how much of the nuts-and-bolts technology like VPN have come back, have really come back to the attention of a lot of IT decision makers. So, VPN has been the centerpiece of what's enabling remote workforces to access those resources securely. The other thing is multi-factor authentication. So, being able to have an additional prompt on your phone that would say, verify that you are who you are. So, you can access your cloud-based resources and get what you need to get done. So that multi-factor authentication combined with VPN, those are the two most important security pieces of this.
There's also been new types of technologies -- if you're evaluating a new video conferencing solution, or perhaps you're going to go and invest in a bunch of new devices. You know, the ability to fully test those and do a full POC like you would normally isn't something that organizations are really spending a lot of time on. So that's one of the significant challenges with rolling this out quickly. As I'm finding a lot of our clients are coming back to me and saying, "Am I going to have to revisit these choices in three-to-four months from now to make sure that I've made the right decision?" I had to move fast right now. And I had to think less about security. But how can I make sure that I'm filling my gaps down the long term of remote work?
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For more perspectives from Forrester Research, visit its "What It Means" podcast for additional coverage around managing employees during the pandemic as well as preparing for business recovery.