Main content

How to succeed with remote work and adapt as the pandemic shifts

Barbry McGann Profile picture for user Barbry McGann June 15, 2020
Remote work is being tested at a scale never before imagined. Workday's Barbry McGann sets out how companies are succeeding and can realize new benefits as offices slowly reopen

Remote working - woman at home with laptop, phone, business reports and cat © Creative Lab - shutterstock
(© Creative Lab - shutterstock)

Navigating the shift to remote work and remote employee management during the pandemic has been a test of our collective agility. By and large, according to thought leader Josh Bersin, research shows that we are succeeding:

Remote work has been a massive effort and major success for most companies, and has also pushed the topic of trust, transparency, and leadership support to impressive new levels.

Many companies all over the world had to make an abrupt shift to remote work as shelter-in-place orders spread in March and April. Offices closed worldwide amidst the pandemic. Companies faced a lot of uncertainty, including how to ensure employee safety and make sure employees had needed tools and information to work from home, as well as the ability to connect and collaborate easily.

Now that remote work's larger footprint is likely to remain — even as companies and organizations begin to return to offices — different challenges will come to the forefront. Based on our own experience and what our customers have told us, here are four of the most important priorities we believe companies must address:

Maintain business continuity

Shifting as painlessly as possible to remote work was a key part of maintaining business continuity. Having critical data such as contact information, remote work locations, and emergency contacts in a single unified HCM system meant that our company was able to get the right information to the right people at the right time to keep everyone as safe, productive, and informed as possible.

That attention to detail will need to continue as offices slowly reopen. Businesses will benefit by employing technology to make data-driven decisions about workplace safety, and communicate with the affected workforce about any changes to remote work. For employees, self-service capabilities will enable them to update their own information if they have relocated, so the company is aware of where they are as mandates change in various locations. In the midst of uncertainty, timely information isn't just appreciated, it's essential.

Readapt process to a mix of remote/office

Companies adjusted to a new normal by ensuring remote solutions were in place for critical processes, such as payroll and sick leave. We saw a company in the energy sector, for example, create a new time category to track COVID-19-related payroll costs, and send new work-from-home guidelines to all affected employees. A health care company implemented several programs and processes in a matter of days to ensure the well-being of its associates and frontline workers, including new paid time off plans, caregiver leave plans, hazard pay, and child care supplemental pay. A retailer quickly implemented a safer time entry solution for warehouse employees. Now, frontline employees sign in for work on their mobile devices and avoid congregating in the area where they usually clock in.

Maintaining these new programs and processes — and implementing new ones — will be critical as companies shift to a combination of remote and in-office employees and continued physical distancing guidelines.

Maintain a positive company culture

This is more important than ever as we support each other through challenges created by the pandemic. As the months go by, fatigue is likely to become a bigger factor than in the first weeks and months as the crisis unfolded. This means continual employee outreach will be more critical than ever to ensure workplaces and workers are collaborating, connecting, and supporting each other.

For continual employee outreach, tools such as automated campaigns, notifications, and alerts can enable quick sharing of information and safety measures.

Beyond sharing safety information, workplaces will do well to share feedback that's encouraging and supportive. Teams need to pay special attention to giving praise to colleagues who are doing great work. This is especially important because many people will continue to juggle work with extra caregiving responsibilities at home as schools, camps, and other child-related activities slowly reopen.

A report from Mercer encourages companies to get timely feedback from their workforce on the operational effectiveness of the organization:

Employees and front line managers often have the clearest insights about the tools, technology, policies, and procedures that aren't helpful. Now is a good time to streamline processes and remove hassles. Doing so will increase efficiency and probably boost employee engagement as well.

Maintain learning and development

More traditional uses of online learning, such as educational courses and compliance training, are more important than ever during this challenging time. Business leaders will continue to have to adapt and expand virtual learning as a way to deliver personalized and relevant digital experiences to an entire workforce, more of whom will likely be remote for some time longer.

These are challenging times, but we have an opportunity to support the values that make our workplaces — whether remote or in the office — better for all.

A grey colored placeholder image