Remote work is hardly a new concept. Multiple companies worldwide, with fully distributed teams, have been doing it for years. But with the recent lockdowns and travel bans happening because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many more businesses had to go remote, even if they had no experience or tools in place.
One of the more prominent examples of a 100% remote team is Buffer, whose research into remote work clearly shows the trends prior to the lockdowns.
Others have allowed their teams to work remotely from time to time and had already tools and workflows which they only needed to expand.
But a lot of businesses and educational institutions haven’t – and were forced to take work 100% online and not only get new tools, procedures, and workflows but also change their mindsets.
So, are we looking at a remote work revolution?
I’d be careful with generalizing, but we might be experiencing what I hope is a mindset shift (at least to some extent). Companies that were reluctant to let employees work remotely now were left with little choice. And some of them will likely see the benefits of remote work and continue this way of working, even after the pandemic is over.
Some might go back to business as usual, but with the tools and processes they had to create, they might be more inclined to allow employees to work remotely.
Let the number do the talking
According to stats available online, an average of 39% fewer people are now working in their physical workplaces, with numbers varying in different countries. But an impressive 88% percent of companies have encouraged their employees to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic. And even large companies like Twitter have gone 100% remote across their global locations.
But on the other hand, 44% of companies don’t allow remote work at all on an everyday basis (stats prior to the pandemic). This had to change now – even though it wasn’t easy.
What does it take for companies to go remote?
We have to remember that remote work is not just meeting online with your team. There are a lot of aspects and company operations that have to be taken online. But today, a lot of them – like managing teams, hiring new people, or making vital decisions – can be done remotely. Let’s look closer at how companies cope with it and what tools they have at their disposal.
That’s the most obvious – and perhaps the easiest – challenge to solve. There are multiple video conferencing tools like ClickMeeting that make a meeting with your team a breeze. Saying you need your laptop (or even a mobile phone) and an internet connection has just stopped being a clever marketing slogan but become a reality for many of us.
Online meeting tools are already used by agile teams that are usually used to working remotely, at least to some extent. All the daily and weekly agile rituals can happen online. Of course, the experience will be a little different. But with the right video conferencing platform that does have all the tools you need, it’s very similar to in-person meetings (one significant difference being your kids’ and partners’ on-camera appearances:)).
How to manage team get-togethers
Of course, it takes some planning. You need to create a meeting schedule with detailed instructions on how to conduct the meetings that should be made available to everyone. Even if you’re used to meeting online from time to time, taking all work online will be a little bit different. And until you get used to the process, some pointers will be helpful for the team.
The problem with meetings – but we know it from in-person meetings too – is making sure people stick to the subject and timings. We’ve all probably been in at least one meeting that ran on for too long.
So, it’s key to always create an online meeting agenda that will help people stick to the subjects and have a moderator who’s going to make sure people stay on track and the time is used productively.
If you’re working with international customers, you’re probably used to talking to them remotely or running product demos online. A lot of companies, though, rely on in-person meetings. And now, obviously, they’re impossible.
So a lot of salespeople have started using online meetings to have the in-person experience, without having to commute or travel (or meet people at their offices). And who knows how many of them will keep it that way after all of this is over.
People like consultants, coaches, or therapists also can’t meet their customers face to face, and for them, the lockdowns often mean losing their entire source of income. Online meeting solutions literally save them from unemployment. A lot of them are meeting their customers and patients online just as they would in their offices. And talking to your therapist online – although existent prior to the pandemic – now slowly becomes the norm.
Online meetings as a life-saving boat
Even people like personal trainers and fitness or yoga instructors are using online meeting platforms to host their classes and keep working. The advantage of doing this through a video conferencing app instead of just watching YouTube videos is that you can continue interacting with others, so the two-way communication is still there. It’s probably as close to the in-person experience as we can get in this situation.
Plus, platforms like ClickMeeting give you the chance to run paid webinars, so you can continue running your business and earning your income – although a little differently.
Remote hiring and employee onboarding
A lot of companies worldwide have stopped hiring for now, and some of them had to lay people off. But the ones that offer products and services that are in high demand right now continue the search for talent.
It’s pretty obvious that remote hiring is an essential part of the remote work process, and is a must today. For those companies that don’t have a lot of experience with online interviews, this might be a challenge. But again, online conferencing tools make it much more manageable.
Online interviews are the norm now, especially for international companies. Interactive whiteboards can help test the candidate’s problem-solving skills and use practical tasks in real-time. Plus – the whole process can happen 100% online, in combination with other tools like applicant tracking systems.
The same goes for employee onboarding once the recruitment process is over. Of course, it requires preparation and creating assets like presentations decks (which you might already have anyway) to present to the new hires. Still, with screen sharing options and videos, it becomes a practical, productive solution that will help prepare new team members to work.
Managers have experienced challenges of their own. Getting their team together, talking to team members, and tracking their progress has become a little more complicated these days. But if you think about successful teams like Buffer that have been doing this for years, it all becomes doable.
Combining online meeting solutions like ClickMeeting with time tracking software, project management solutions and instant messaging apps can go a long way and cover the entire workflow. The only gaps left are the daily commute and meeting the team members for coffee or lunch in the kitchen (although some keep doing it online).
What some experts also emphasize is the fact that going remote helps employees focus on productivity (contrary to the fears of many business owners and team managers), and build trust in the team, rather than focusing on tracking the time that might not correspond to the productivity at all.
This is a big one. Schools and universities, preschools, and private education institutions, trainers, and coaches, all were faced with not being able to run their classes and complete their curriculums.
Luckily, the tech was already there, so that part was done. But a lot of educational institutions had to put in a lot of effort into going remote. Getting the right equipment and dedicated webinar rooms, turning their materials into digital assets, and training their staff to teach classes and do activities online.
I know that for a lot of teachers and instructors, this wasn’t a smooth transition. Especially for those that are not very technical in the first place. That’s why selecting tools that are easy to use, with intuitive interfaces and no additional software to install, was so essential.
Even my son’s preschool teachers started doing daily 45-minute online meetings to engage the kids, sing songs and do some arts and crafts together. Which I think is so much more engaging and beneficial than simply sending parents stuff to print out.
Higher education was already there
Obviously, running university lectures is easier in this mode – students can listen to the presenter and watch slides, videos, whiteboard or the shared screen to follow and take notes, with a moderated chat to ask questions. And at ClickMeeting, there has been a surge in schools teaching remotely. We’re talking about higher education institutions, but also, for example, coding schools and others.
Online teaching in primary or secondary school is a little bit more demanding, with practical assignments and homework. But again, combining a video conferencing solution with an LMS platform like Moodle or other tools available for teachers can make the process easier.
From huge conferences and trade shows to smaller training programs and meetups, all physical events had to be canceled or postponed. Usually until 2021, as none of us can be sure what the rest of this year will bring.
But some of the biggest industry conferences decided to go online, presenting their attendees with a mix of pre-recorded and live sessions, and even networking events happening online. It’s the only alternative in this reality, and it helps event organizers minimize their losses, or maybe also get some of the expected profits.
Teach and train online
The shift has also been tough for coaches and instructors who earn their living with live training sessions. But working on a smaller scale usually means a smoother transition to online courses and training.
A lot will depend on the target audience and its tech-savviness. Although, these days, most people simply had to brush up their tech skills, at least some.
Webinar platforms are an excellent solution for online courses. They give people all the tools and the possibility to run paid meetings and webinars and integrate them with other marketing tools like emails and social media.
The challenges are real – but so are the benefits
Of course, adapting to this situation has its drawbacks. But the benefits can be compelling enough for some companies to stick to the remote work style, at least to some degree.
It’s hard to talk about the usual work from home-related benefits – like working from any location or spending more time with your family, as these are a little different now. We can’t just work from anywhere and, well, let’s face it, some of us have spent more time with their families lately, 24/7, than they’d have liked. 😉
It’s also hard to talk about work-life balance when some of us are not even allowed to leave our homes. (Although, according to Buffer, 84% of remote workers from before the pandemic chose to work from home rather than other locations. And having worked remotely for the past year, I tend to agree).
Teams that work 100% remotely now save on office space and some employee perks. But of course, during the pandemic, companies have to keep maintaining their physical locations even if they don’t work in them (although they might still save some money on the monthly bills).
But there are universal benefits that are the same and will remain valid after the pandemic is over – both for employers and employees.
The benefits of work from home
Saving time is an obvious one. People don’t have to commute or travel, which also brings down costs, and the savings will probably outweigh the costs of a monthly video conferencing platform subscription.
What’s more, research shows employee performance gets a boost (rather than decreasing, which is a popular myth). Employees also tend to engage more in what they’re doing. And remote work has been linked to a 41% decrease in absenteeism.
There are multiple benefits from the employee perspective. Remote work is usually (although not always) tied to a more flexible schedule. It allows companies to focus on productivity and completing tasks rather than relying on the timesheet. Although, of course, there are remote time tracking and project management apps that can help keep this as close to working on-site as possible.
A huge benefit I see is the mindset shift I talked about earlier. Leading a distributed team requires a great deal of trust on both sides. But with the right tools and processes in place, this can be a refreshing change that also does improve work results (one Stanford University experiment showed a 22% increase in productivity, directly translated into company gains).
Of course, we’re yet to see the long-term consequences and changes, so it’s too soon to predict anything for sure.
So, what happens next with remote work?
We’re probably looking at many months of restrictions. And the sooner we adapt to the so-called “new normal,” the better for our business profitability, and our employee well-being.
The tools that companies have at their disposal make it so much easier to switch and adapt. And although the change does include a learning curve (more for some than others), the effort we put in now will be directly translated into the state of our economy and education after the recession related to the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
Will we go back to where we left?
The companies and institutions that will thrive will be the ones that were prepared and had the right tech to keep doing what they’re doing online. (provided they were able to in the first place, as I know it’s impossible in some industries).
It’ll be interesting to see where this all goes, and most of all, what happens after both the pandemic and the recession that follows are over. Will we go back to our old ways? How many businesses and schools will allow more remote work and learning?
I’m sure we’ll see the results when the time comes. And in the meantime, if you have an interesting story to share about how your company is coping with lockdowns and remote work, let us know in the comments.