Adapting to the Future of Work in a remote environment

By Paul Churchill, vice president of Southeast Asia, Vertiv

As governments around the world, including Southeast Asia, mandated employees quarantine at home, companies launched the largest remote workforce enablement experiment in the world. The move was driven by the desire to maintain business continuity, protect workers during a pandemic, proactively address ever-changing regional requirements, and remain committed to meeting customers’ evolving business needs.

For some companies, the move was relatively seamless, due to their existing dispersed, digital workforce, but for others it was a series of trials, as they sought to rapidly enable remote workers while protecting staff, whose roles demand a continued physical presence.

All indications are that remote working, or a hybrid model that combines different forms of remote work with traditional on-site presence, is here to stay. Here are some shared insights, best practices, and tips that will help organizations adjust to the "new normal" way of working.

For instance, Vertiv began the remote workforce enablement journey in 2018 and accelerated it dramatically this year, due to the global pandemic. In our Vertiv offices across the region, including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines, we triggered our business-continuity process and implemented split teams, starting in late January, as a pre-emptive measure to keep our employees safe while ensuring that we could still maintain customer deliverables. Through using video conferencing and other digital collaboration tools, published guidelines for employees working at home, it provided guidance for managers to help maintain morale and productivity.

Here are some tips to help your company better adapt to a new remote workforce environment.

Get business inputs on remote working. To make remote working your new standard, it is wise to get cross-functional input from various departments such as human resources (HR) and other business units. This can be in the form of HR business partners conducting workshops, surveys, and business needs reviews.

Some key factors to consider:

Business and customer requirements

Nature of work to be performed and key roles

Regional cultures and processes

Required digital tools

Business continuity and security

Move swiftly amidst changing conditions. You may have piloted working from home in one of your offices but now you need to scale across your network, fast. Your HR team is best placed to roll out the new procedures, ensuring they comply with governmental mandates, making sure the employees are comfortable and have the necessary technology, and determining if the new procedures are clearly understood. As the new measures kick in, companies should set up a business continuity team to meet daily, discuss progress, address issues, and plan mission-critical work.

Communicate to employees with empathy. This change to working practices is momentous. Workers need time to adapt to new circumstances and processes, and they need reassurance that managers understand their challenges and will be patient as they adapt. The leadership team must communicate early and often, while being empathetic and transparent about process changes.

Develop an employee value proposition. Remote workforce enablement may have initially been driven by the health crisis, but it is now a valuable tool to help attract, develop, and retain employees for the long term. Working from home can definitely be used as an important recruitment and retention tool.

Create a remote workforce enablement toolkit. Standardizing enablement processes, such as onboarding, technology packages, and services can help speed up enablement. Virtualized desktops enable one-to-many deployment that saves IT teams’ time and effort. To move fast, Vertiv let staff take their equipment home and accelerated our collaborative software deployment plan to equip everyone with the same productivity tools.

Ensure Business Continuity. Many companies have adopted cloud services, such as online backup, disaster recovery, and desktop as a service (DaaS) to create business continuity. Take the same approach with your staff.

Consider change management. Any major change to work practices will have its share of resisters. That may include your management team, that is accustomed to face-to-face contact with staff and customers. Develop a full-fledged change management and communications plan that considers the why, what, and how of remote work. Share new processes, controls, and desired outcomes, and report back on how incidents are resolved or how processes are being improved.

Plan for disruption. As workers adopt new tools and practices, there will be challenges. Managers, IT staff, and savvy team members can help solve technological issues. Creating new tip sheets, sharing best security practices, increasing service desk staff and hours, and communicating when issues such as connectivity challenges arise are some ways technology issues will be resolved.

Treat workers equally. Most companies have staff who have presence-based roles, such as manufacturing line workers and managers, physical security teams, and delivery staff that cannot be virtualized. Create a one-company value proposition that expresses your concern about employee well-being and communicates what you are doing to include and value all workers equally.

Consider the whole person. Employees will have a challenging time balancing work and family. Conference calls with children’s voices and dogs barking are a part of the new normal. Show grace as the staff is adjusting. Managers should check in through one-on-one meetings with team members and drop corporate formality on video conferences to help ease the tension. Some companies have even set up virtual coffee and cocktail hours to build camaraderie.

While working from home, one of our basic needs as human beings is to be socially connected to others for a sense of belonging. When organizations reimagine the future of work, they will need to balance between achieving business results through a remote workforce and maintaining a culture of connectivity and inclusion.

Provide flexibility. Companies will need to be ready to revisit remote workforce enablement. During preliminary stages of remote working implementation, it would be counter-productive to make assumptions. Employees will typically have a variety of needs, which will have to be aligned against business needs.

The last critical point is that when we teach people to work from home, it is about the work activity and not the location. Internal and external customers require interaction, and they deserve timely response and service. Organizations should help employees adapt to the concept that “work is what I do, not where I am.”