When Working from Home is the New Normal: How to Keep Business on Track During COVID-19

September 17, 2020  |  By Joseph Nappi  |  4 Minute Read

The sudden onset of COVID-19 has affected work all over the world. In the U.S., many workplaces are now remote, with nearly one-third of employees working from home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As cases counts continue to rise, leaders at top organizations are making the decision to extend work-from-home policies in order to protect employee health.

At the same time, employers are considering the effectiveness of their remote employees in attaining corporate objectives during challenging market conditions and refining approaches to remote operation to optimize performance. According to OWL labs, some of the top concerns reported by managers of remote teams include:

  • 82 percent are concerned about reduced employee focus.
  • 75 percent are concerned about reduced team cohesiveness.
  • 82 percent are concerned about reduced employee productivity.
  • 70 percent are concerned about maintaining company culture.

While transitioning unexpectedly to full-time remote operation understandably resulted in some obstacles and concerns, implementing the right corporate strategy and guidelines from the top down can help maximize employee effectiveness and productivity—whether working remote or in-person. As the working world has changed, here are a few areas to stay focused on:

The Changing Attitudes on the Role of the Office

Busy and collaborative offices used to be key to attracting talent—but flexible environments are now prized by potential and current employees. According to McKinsey, 80 percent of people surveyed say that they enjoy working from home—with 41 percent reporting that they are more productive at home, and 28 percent stating they are just as productive at home. Particularly when it comes to more established professionals, employees often desire the flexible schedules they are afforded by remote schedules that allow them to juggle outside responsibilities and family life.

Now during the COVID-19 crisis, many workers are conscious that the office is a “public space” where they can be exposed to the virus. To alleviate these worries, many companies are offering part-time or full-time work-from-home options for their employees; for necessary personnel who must come to the office, businesses are enacting clear policies for routine cleaning and social distancing and regularly communicating efforts they are taking to keep workers safe

The State of Work During COVID-19

While work-from-home is prevalent, it’s important to take a look at productivity and optimize where you can. To set their teams up for success, managers should provide employees with the tools they need to communicate, collaborate, and accomplish tasks.

Messaging and video chat platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom are essential for team communication. Instead of speaking over a cubicle wall, employees can video call colleagues for face-to-face discussion. In fact, research shows 62% of executives agree that, in comparison to audioconferencing, video conferencing improves quality of communication, and 50% believe it improves the degree of understanding. Project management tools like Trello, Asana, and Workfront also assist in remote communication by letting teams have real-time insight into project status and deliverables—keeping everyone on the same page even if they’re not in the same location.

What Remote Work Means for Office Spaces

COVID-19 has changed the current workplace. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that of those who were employed pre-COVID-19, about half of them are now working from home. With less people in the office—for now and possibly for a long time to come—leadership teams have to consider the costs of rent and utilities for office spaces not currently in use.

While closing office space may decrease costs in the near-term, it’s important to take into account long term impacts on team cohesion and communication, as well as employee preferences. For instance, younger talent tends to prefer working in cities and having more interactions with coworkers, while more established professionals often prefer working remotely as it allows better work-life balance. For many businesses, the future of physical workspaces likely will take a hybrid approach that allows for greater flexibility for employees and employers alike while still supporting collaboration and communication.

Beyond the physical office, many employees often participate in large networking events, as well as national and chapter events. Due to the pandemic, the majority of events scheduled for 2020 have transitioned to virtual events. This shift to remote gatherings has sparked a change in how people network as video conferencing takes the place of face-to-face meetings. Looking beyond the pandemic, a number of these changes are expected to continue in some capacity through a greater number of virtual and regional satellite events that allow for in-person gatherings on a smaller scale.

Getting Deals Done during the Pandemic

Nearly every business has been affected by COVID-19. According to McKinsey, about 50 percent of B2B buyers have held off on purchases because of the pandemic. But deals are still being made, despite the slowdown.

Limited ability to travel has had a major impact on closing deals. Today’s negotiations require a new mindset—one that tackles distance with technology, allowing businesses and clients to converse face-to-face via video chat. Organizations should be empathetic to client struggles and challenges and approach discussions by asking what the prospect needs in order to get the deal across the finish line.

Key Recommendations for Better Work During COVID and Beyond

While today’s volatile market conditions may increase the inclination to pause on major initiatives or expenditures, it’s critical to evaluate how holding or slow rolling plans will impact your company’s objectives and performance in the long term. Businesses must identify the right points to cut back and make modifications vs. areas of long-term revenue generation that are vital to move forward with.

To keep business on track, leadership should create a COVID-19 plan that focuses on organizational goals and details how to get there. By determining your needs, both present and future, businesses can make critical decisions about improving collaboration and optimizing performance in person and remote. For those returning to the office, focus on optimized scheduling and safety upgrades, so workers feel safe and secure at work. For those who work from home, provide them with all of the technology they need to stay connected and productive. Finally, ensure deals don’t dwindle by adopting a new mindset and brainstorming ways to work with clients with a sense of empathy in these uncertain times. Now, more than ever, is the time to embrace creative and innovative approaches to keep businesses on track.

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