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Three important questions for the future of remote work

Several companies have already announced plans to shift to a hybrid or completely remote working model after the pandemic. Asking these three questions will support success when considering this alternative working model.

Builds digital businesses across China and Southeast Asia

Tom Welchman

Leads our OrgSolutions portfolio of assets and capabilities in EMEA, counselling executives in several sectors on the design and implementation of ‘future-proof’ organisations that achieve enhanced organisational health, significant performance improvement, and further growth

According to Gartner, 74% of surveyed CFOs plan to keep part of their workforce permanently remote after the COVID-19 crisis. Both organizations and employees see opportunities and benefits from remote working including flexibility, increased productivity and employee satisfaction. Several companies have already announced plans to shift to a hybrid or completely remote working model after the pandemic.

In this post, we explore three important questions to ask that will support success as companies consider a hybrid path.

Ask ‘what does this individual need?’

Every employee responds to circumstances differently. Some thrive in an office setting. Others are better able to focus in a remote environment. Additionally, employees have likely adjusted to their new ways of working; for example, many have embraced a new-found flexibility in working hours. Consider all employee needs and preferences – existing and new – when revising policies toward remote and onsite work.

Employers should anticipate a further socialization process as employees acclimate to further changes associated with the move to a hybrid model. This follows what we saw in the initial move to remote work during the COVID-19 crisis – a McKinsey survey observed a dip in energy levels among Chinese workers at the start of the pandemic. However, energy returned to normal levels once people adapted to remote working.

Lastly, consider new management skills that arise as some employees return onsite while others remain remote. Remote employees may fear disadvantages, such as a lack of visibility for promotions. Leaders will be required to manage remote-first and spend a significant share of time in remote work. It is important to devise solutions that eliminate any potential for exclusion.

Ask ‘what activities should be remote?’ rather than ‘what roles?’

Not every job can be equally performed in a remote setting. Remote work may not be sustainable for everyone, and the extent of remoteness will differ by role and team.

To better facilitate remote work, consider disaggregating activities traditionally bundled in a single role. Account for the necessity and level of human and physical interaction, as well as whether the organization has the proper infrastructure in place to facilitate remote working.

For example, a bank in South Korea introduced split operations for its call center employees to work from home on rotation. Those working from home handle new customers, or customers with general inquiries only, while onsite employees deal with enquiries requiring access to customer data.

Ask ‘how to enable this?’ not just ‘where people should be?’

In a soon-to-be-published study of 46 Global Capability Centers, the top three reasons attributed to a fall in productivity while working remotely during COVID-19 were related to a lack of operating model support: reduced collaboration among team members (34%), lack of performance management processes (17%), and lack of motivation in employees and teams (17%).

When devising a hybrid work policy, look at the whole picture, including “hidden” opportunities and risks of remote work. Remember that job functions and activities do not operate in silos as they are moved offsite; ensure employees have the right tools and skills for collaborating and the know-how to use them. Also, be sure to account for employees’ home ergonomics, internet bandwidth and private environments.

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Now is a key time for organizations to reflect on learnings and consider the role that remote working should play in their future operating model. For further information, please read “The future of work: reskilling and remote working to recover in the ‘next normal’.”

The authors would like to thank Indraneel Banerjee for his meaningful contributions to this post.

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Talent Exchange is a COVID-19 response initiative offered at no cost to companies hiring, furloughing, or laying off individuals. It is a digital talent marketplace that aims to address the mismatch of labor supply and demand, helping organizations and individuals. McKinsey & Company supports the platform as part of our commitment to safeguarding livelihoods. Learn more or visit the Talent Exchange website to sign up.

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