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Making remote work work for employers and employees

Working from home isn't part of the past or future, it's our present. Workplace specialist Leni Rivera explains how companies can make it work.

PORTLAND, Maine — Working from home started out of need when the COVID-19 pandemic first forced us apart, but many employees are saying they want it to stay, while employers are finding they're saving money on building space.

Leni Rivera is a workplace experience specialist, helping companies create better and more productive workspaces. She says remote work is here to stay, but both employers and employees need to set clear expectations. Here's Rivera's advice to employers and their employees:

"Everything about a “traditional” workplace – from being office-centric to how we onboard new hires, and from the ways we communicate with our teams to how we envision a culture – is evolving. This means everything we once knew about a Workplace Experience, is no longer what it used to be. And the key to keeping up with this evolution is to lean into it.

Workplace Experience is shifting its focus from where people work to how they work, and empowering workers to be productive, engaged, and happy—regardless of where it is they choose to work. Understanding how employees work, what tools and equipment they need, and what kinds of environments enable their success, will be key to delivering a renewed corporate culture that puts them at the center, and allows their voice to be a part of ensuring organizational productivity, culture-building, learning and development programs, and ways to build a community of belonging."

MANAGERS/BOSSES MANAGING REMOTELY

Rivera: "The sentiments of managers and team leaders largely depend on the work functions of the teams. Teams involved in lab work for example, (such as research, development, hardware tech) need to be in the physical work environment, and managing these teams remotely poses too great a challenge. Whereas teams whose workers largely engage in independent work (such as software engineering, accounting, some HR functions), can embrace remote or hybrid working environments.

For the most part, managers of teams whose activities can function in a remote work setting are themselves embracing the “new normal” because they also reap the benefits of working from home. 

It doesn’t take a lot of research to see that remote working is here to stay and that it tops most employees’ list of priorities. I have not yet come across a company survey result that showed all employees want to return to the office. Most leaders and managers are leaning into this new idea of a “workplace” and are finding ways to embrace it for the benefit of their teams—through the incorporation of new technology tools & software as well as creating new work policies. The concerns of leaders who are still resisting remote work, however, are more a reflection of their own personal mindsets (versus that of the consensus), whether because they themselves are facing difficulties working from home, or they have yet to expand their circle of influence to include those with opposing beliefs to their own."

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WHAT HR, MANAGERS, AND LEADERS CAN DO TO BUILD/PRESERVE COMPANY CULTURE MOVING FORWARD

Rivera: "First of all, they’ll need to look at their company culture with a renewed set of eyes. If at one point leaders believed that a culture can only be formed within a physical environment, they will need to re-consider this. Many workers joined companies at the start of the pandemic and decided to either stay or leave their employers because of their corporate culture—something that was experienced even while working from home.

Corporate culture is the ultimate expression of how a company values its employees, and this is something that is experienced through team interactions, leadership transparency, and whether employees feel they are heard. It is also felt through the level of support they receive working in this new environment—are they getting help with building a sustainable home office, stipends for stronger Wi-Fi, utilities, and coffee, and the tools and equipment they need for their jobs?

The culture gurus at Great Place to Work have proven that one aspect that is central to all great cultures is trust. Companies that have “trust” as a central component to their culture will become the most sustainably flexible as we transition into the new remote/hybrid workplace. And employees will feel that, regardless of where they work from."

CHALLENGES EMPLOYERS WILL FACE FROM EXTENDED REMOTE WORK

Rivera: "The biggest challenge facing leaders is arriving in a place where there can be full acceptance and acknowledgment that working remotely is not the future, it’s the present. And the Great Resignation, which is the collective voice of employees who want to be valued and allowed a better work-life balance, is the loudest signal of this fact.

The Workplace Experience is no longer about where people work, it’s about how they work, and the best way to inhabit a corporate culture anchored in trust is to empower employees to decide for themselves which environment best supports their ability to thrive.

The biggest attributes we find among all of history’s leaders in times of turbulence are humility, open-mindedness, and the courage to make decisions. Right now, amidst the unprecedented time of a pandemic, I will add to that a very strong sense of compassion."

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