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10 Trends for the Future of Remote Work for Small Businesses
October 21, 2021
Reading time: 7 minutes
The Census Bureau reports that 36.9% of surveyed adults in the United States switched to remote work in some form, for at least part of their employment hours, during the pandemic. This shift to remote work affected so many and kicked off a number of changes to how we approach work and our daily lives. Some of these changes are here to stay and may even inspire trends for years to come.
Here are the top work from home trends to keep an eye on now and into the future.
1. Permanence and acceptance
While many offices treated the initial shift to work-at-home during the pandemic as temporary, a majority of employees want to maintain flexible work arrangements. To help avoid becoming a statistic in the Great Resignation, proactive employers are adapting and changing their plans to make at least part-time remote work permanent.
Those who don't offer at least a day or two out of the office may change their tune soon. A remote-friendly work environment is fast becoming the sign of a forward-thinking employer and is a significant part of the company workplace culture.
Younger workers and those with families will seek out remote work when they make a career change. Industries that embrace this trend will get their pick of top talent.
2. Shifting responsibility to IT teams
IT has never been more important. Between the growing infrastructure needs of supporting ecommerce, customer apps, and massive amounts of data, IT teams work hard to keep all of your network systems secure. If IT leaders aren’t looking for the most up-to-date solution for managing teams and handling customer requests, they’re busy watching for new threats such as ransomware and DDoS attacks.
All of this doesn't include equipment management and replacement. And to meet these needs, leading companies are turning to externally managed solutions. Subscription-based plans for top software and gear help to ease some of the pressure. They may also be more budget-friendly than scaling up staffing levels and continuously training in best practices.
Two options that create opportunities for businesses include software as a service (SaaS) and device as a service (DaaS). These approaches provide IT teams with a full range of equipment and support so they can focus on more company-centric matters.
3. Digital experience monitoring (DEM)
“Digital experience monitoring” describes how leaders measure their remote team’s engagement. It often includes productivity metrics, but it may also reveal an employee’s happiness with their work. Employees with positive remote work experiences may stay longer at their job and even embrace future changes at work with the same enthusiasm.
If you don’t consider remote work trends like DEM in your company benchmarks, you may be missing out on a new way to keep your finger on the pulse of your remote team.
4. Organization development with an eye for remote management
It’s no longer enough for managers to be a “people person,” they must be a “remote people person,” too. If top leaders are uncomfortable with the tech and culture in at-home work arrangements, now is the time for change. Companies need to emphasize the internal professional development of leaders while hiring those who can navigate remote management duties.
As the professional workforce becomes better equipped to handle a hybrid model (remote and in-person work), management and C-level leaders need to do the same. They also need to serve as a model for how to achieve more in this new normal.
5. Clearly communicated visions and missions
Will remote work be temporary and standalone? Or will you integrate it into your workplace on a full-time basis? Whichever route you choose, make sure to update your employees now so they feel included in your company’s vision moving forward. Make sure both your at-home and in-person work teams know what they contribute to the goals and that one group isn’t valued more than the other.
6. Focus on health
Remote work comes with its own stressors, some of which may be new to your employees. Companies should embrace and prepare for a focus on wellness, especially mental health, to keep remote teams healthy, happy, and productive.
There are some steps you can begin to take now with your remote team, including:
Provide access to healthy meals and snacks, which may be challenging for employees living away from urban business centers and your in-office break room.
Encourage the use of existing health perks, such as gym memberships, preventative screenings, and telehealth sessions.
Add extras to the mix, such as an allowance for ergonomic chairs or keyboards for their home office spaces.
7. Acceptance of family-friendly policies
It's not surprising that people working from home also have caregiving duties. However, at-home hours are a big perk for keeping your top talent who care for children or older parents. Remote work will continue to be part of a flexible benefits package that prioritizes this type of support and robust health coverage, but it won't be seen as just another tangible perk.
The more accepting a workplace is to the needs of families, the better. If you want to keep employees in the “sandwich generation” on your team, you need to prioritize this work-family balance and plan for ways to support those workers.
8. More employee ownership over the workday
What does it mean to work remotely? For most, it’s intrusive to think someone is watching or monitoring while expecting you to work every second of the workday in the place you call “home.” As employees continue to work remotely, they’ll want to know which hours are “on” and which they can use in a more casual fashion. Allowing early birds and night owls to work asynchronous hours can increase their productivity and job satisfaction.
Block off any team meetings, collaborative streams, and other "on-call" events in advance so employees can plan around them. Employers should expect more sporadic breaks and lean into the trust they have with their top employees to manage their days in a way that works best for them.
9. Flexible reimbursement policies
Those starting a new job may receive an allowance to purchase workplace equipment like a laptop and ergonomic chair. For existing employees, consider revisiting your reimbursement process to ensure they’re working safely and supplied with everything they need for maximum productivity.
Employees need proper guidelines for how to make work-related purchases and receive reimbursement. Either review your existing internal documents or create a new policy to address every foreseeable expense. From meal delivery to internet service, cover everything within reason.
Also consider that some employees may not have in their budget to pay for items now and receive reimbursement later. For those who need to make larger purchases now, look into how you can use gift cards or digital vendor credits to get the job done without worry or embarrassment.
10. Small team and “cohort” social events
Social distancing’s impact on in-person interaction is difficult to measure. For some, it’s difficult to enjoy the noisy, busy corporate events that were the trademark of the past few decades. But remote events also lack that special connection, leaving some to feel like they’re attending a long work meeting where no one is actually engaged.
Instead of another large-scale, cross-company virtual event, employees may prefer small groups for socializing outside (or even inside) of work hours. You can make this cross-departmental, but it requires proper planning and facilitation to ensure everyone has a group to join.
As some of us move back into the office (at least part of the time), these small cohorts can continue, but with face-to-face interaction instead. Your team members may prefer to collaborate offsite in more intimate settings, like coworking spaces or a coffee shop, so make sure to encourage this, too.
The bottom line on remote work
According to the Census’s reporting during the pandemic, telework households typically earn more, have a higher level of education, and enjoy better overall health than their in-person work peers. However, it’s yet to be seen if remote work is the cause of or related to these outcomes.
Some of these work from home trends resulted from specific needs associated with the pandemic. But for the majority, they were bubbling beneath the surface for some time. If we can learn anything from the 2020-2021 workforce, it's that employees are incredibly nimble, provided they receive the support and technology to do their best work – even in uncertain times.
About the Author: Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP Tech@Work. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.
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