At some point, after the COVID-19 pandemic is under control, it will be safe for people to return to the office again full-time. However, it’s becoming increasingly likely that many of them won’t. Salesforce, the largest private employer in San Francisco, was the latest tech firm to announce that its 54,000 employees can continue to work remotely at least part of the time after the pandemic ends. A recent Pew Research Center survey cited 54 percent of nearly 6,000 U.S. adults of those whose jobs could be done mostly from home said they’d like to work remotely all or most of the time when the pandemic ends. That includes nearly half of people who never or rarely teleworked before the pandemic. Meanwhile, an increasing number of small cities in both the U.S. and abroad are offering special incentives and visas to lure digital nomads, hoping to boost their economies.
So how can companies make the permanent transition to remote work a success? We sat down with Holly Mickens, SitusAMC Managing Director and Head of Talent Solutions, to find out.
How do you see the trend toward remote playing out? Is this a permanent shift?
The desire among American workers to work remotely has remained high throughout the pandemic. However, we really don’t know how this is going to play out. Many companies have encountered more challenges with remote teams as business has picked up, so it has become less clear that remote work will be a long-term solution for every company. We may see a rubber band effect following the pandemic, and it may take a while before everything shakes out until there is some happy medium.
What has been the biggest factor behind a successful transition to remote work?
There are many factors, but one of the biggest is culture. We found that clients that already had a strong culture, where management builds alignment by investing in an effective governance operating model, have fared much better than other companies. Because the pandemic has affected everyone in some way, empathy has become increasingly important to corporate culture and individual well-being. While you don’t want to be invasive about it, it can be helpful to create a safe environment where people can take a breath if they need it. This can be as simple as asking, “how are you?” and giving people a chance to share what’s really going on before jumping into a work call. Research into teams by Google’s Project Aristotle has found that factors like sensitivity, “psychological safety” and allowing everyone an opportunity to speak in a meeting raise the cohesiveness and collective intelligence of a team.
How do you make sure your team remains productive while working remotely?
This can become an issue for some, especially as business activity is starting to rebound, and it’s forcing companies to rethink the whole paradigm on accountability. For example, in the residential real estate market, which tends to be more production-oriented, it’s much easier to measure someone’s performance. But on the commercial side, where deal complexity can be more unique in construct, and deal flow has wavered over the past year, it can be difficult to tell whether you’re getting the same level of productivity from your people. Generally speaking, we’ve seen better results with clients that have supported a hierarchal approach utilizing team leads or working in pods, because there’s greater accountability to each other, compared to companies where people work on their own. We’ve found it helpful for companies and team leaders to set clear, well-defined expectations, which a strong operating model can help accomplish.
What does that look like in practice?
Team meetings at the start of the week set the stage to get activities kicked off in the right direction. Having team members report on goals and accomplishments helps drive accountability and can highlight individuals who may not be completely engaged or are getting off track. At certain clients, for example, we have found that some employees have struggled with “managing-up.” Leaders and managers have to set clear expectations on when and how employees should communicate current happenings or escalate important issues. This can be much more easily done and at times, subconsciously done, when teams are sitting side-by-side. Other challenges that management is running into are when times are slow. What are team members doing to stay focused or relevant? Are they taking courses? Are they researching industry trends and sharing it with their teams? The onus is on everyone to be relevant and keep themselves focused and engaged. This is especially crucial at the junior levels, because management can’t visually observe idle time, or ask these professionals to jump on a project at a moment’s notice, the way they could in an office setting.
In a remote environment, how do you deal with the transfer of knowledge between senior and junior employees?
It’s a real challenge. Typically, the best training happens in person, sitting side-by-side, as well as absorbing everything that happens around you in an office setting. When onboarding junior employees working remotely, it’s important for management to communicate needs and expectations. This dialogue has to be both ways, as each employee learns and is motivated differently. It’s also valuable to provide new hires with a mentor, who can guide not only the work itself but the process of integrating into the culture and the team. For example, some of the things we’re doing is providing employee resources that make them feel more engaged, as well as creating mentorship programs for new hires that help them to be more productive members of the team.
How does SitusAMC help companies make the transition to a remote workforce?
SitusAMC is not a one-size-fits-all business. Not only do we have many different service offerings that our clients can leverage to support their teams’ efficiencies, productivity, and technology needs, but we also partner with our clients re-evaluate their operating model. This activity is growing as companies consider moving functions to lower-cost environments and offer flexibility to those who still want to work from home post-pandemic. The biggest thing we do for our clients is to understand what their pain points are today and anticipate what those challenges are going to be tomorrow, based on where the industry and economy are going. We embed ourselves in their business. Clients don’t view us as a vendor but an integral business partner.
To learn more about SitusAMC Talent Solutions, click here.