While 2020 is the grand experiment of widespread remote work, the initial stage has been completed with varying degrees of success. During the evaluation stage we find ourselves in now, here are the challenges that must be addressed to make working from home a long-term success and what changes are already taking place to meet these challenges.
Outlining the Challenges of Remote Work
At Bay Leaf Digital, we conducted an 800-person survey in May to identify employees’ and employers’ real-life experiences in the “new normal” of working from home. These survey responses shed light on the complexities, disconnects and challenges of both remote work and the future of work, which companies are working to address today. Important findings included:
Technical challenges: 42 percent of respondents reported unstable access to work systems (shared connectivity, patchy connection to remote desktops, poor VPN, etc.); another 12 percent reported slow tech support.
Collaboration: 33 percent reported challenges in collaboration and communication; 23 percent felt they spent more time sending coworkers emails or messages than actually doing work. In addition, 64 percent reported working at least one additional hour each day in an effort to improve collaboration. This is not sustainable long-term as it will eventually lead to higher rates of employee burnout.
Staying connected: 47 percent reported feeling disconnected from team members.
Disconnect between employees and management: 33 percent reported their company didn’t provide anything new or extra to aid the transition to working from home. While 51 percent of managers said they were holding more frequent video meetings, less than 20 percent of managers recognized the need to be social virtually, and only 6 percent of managers realized the need to check in beyond just work-related matters.
In addition, there were indications that managers who recognized their employees’ WFH challenges were working longer days because of the need to both keep everyone on the same page and to support employee morale.
What Businesses Are Saying
Our survey made it clear that employees’ spoken and unspoken needs are not being met by management. This is likely because senior management, along with most others, thought working from home was a temporary situation that would be rectified once the pandemic was under control.
However, the survey found that about 20 percent of managers were aware of problems that they were committed to addressing in a variety of ways. We were curious what changes were happening, so we interviewed employees of other businesses across the country. Following are three of the overarching challenges our survey indicated, along with follow-up anecdotal information.
The survey noted how many companies were experiencing technical difficulties in working from home. One company in particular reported from the field on the type of improvements companies are trying to make.
Sean Nguyen, director of the search and referral service Internet Advisor, said they’ve seen a 20-percent increase in service requests as individuals and companies seek help finding better or more stable Internet service: “We’ve been busier than ever before because so many people are relying 100% on the Internet right now — they need it for work, they need it to communicate, for entertainment, etc. A lot of people have been upgrading.”
Improving and Sustaining Relationships
Our survey recognized the need to enhance personal connection between team members and suggested hosting video calls for non-work purposes such as morning coffee chat or playing online games as a team.
Michael Papay, co-founder and CEO of employee voice platform Waggl, said organizations are enlisting new channels to quickly engage with their employees, who seem to be recognizing the effort their employees are making. “Businesses are checking on how employees are doing, understand what questions they need answered, and what support they need to work more effectively in this rapidly changing environment,” he said.
Michael Alexis, CEO of TeamBuilding, which now provides facilitated online team-building events of around 90 minutes, said their entire business model has shifted for the better; they are booking roughly four times the number of events as companies seek to build and maintain remote team connections. “We had a medium-sized business running local teambuilding activities for companies in major U.S. cities. Now we have a much larger business running virtual teambuilding for clients across the U.S. and around the world.”
In our survey analysis, we challenged managers to brainstorm coping strategies with their teams and to get creative in their efforts to ease collaboration and increase employee engagement.
Jane Kovalkova, chief marketing officer at AI-powered productivity and communication platform Chanty, said they’re getting more sales in one month than they usually do in 4-6 months, driven by a discount that supported the initial work-from-home wave in the spring.
Natalya Bucuy, content marketer at live chat customer service company HelpSquad, said they’ve seen an increase not only in the number of live chats customers request, but in new clients who now need visual customer support. One of their largest client bases has become the higher education sector as colleges and universities switch to remote learning.
Other businesses reported meeting challenges in collaboration not between employees but with clients. Ying Ying Lim, marketing & sales operations manager at cloud-based contract management platform Outlaw, said that many organizations are having to transition their entire contracting process from in-person to digital. “From April through to July, we saw a 31-percent increase in the average number of inbound leads compared to the same period last year.”
The New Normal: How’s It Working for You?
The pandemic really has changed every paradigm in the business world, and many companies are still struggling to make the “new normal” work for them. If you find that your marketing efforts that worked before are not as effective now, get in contact with one of our marketing strategists. We will help transform your marketing strategy to reach prospects where they are and achieve better results in this new WFH world.