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PHOTO: Paul Millerd on Unsplash.

What's the future of remote work? That's a question that's been on the minds of many employees and executives alike as economies worldwide begin the slow process of opening back up.

Last month, professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers undertook research to examine employee and employer perspectives on remote work.

Remote Working After COVID-19

PwC's Remote Work Survey showed that most office workers (83%) want to work from home at least one day a week, and half of employers (55%) anticipate that most of their workers will do so after COVID-19 is no longer a concern. The research was based on a survey of 120 executives and 1,200 office workers in the U.S. between May 29 and June 4, 2020.

While many workers wanted to spend some of their time working from home, it also showed that the office is not obsolete yet. “We’re in the midst of a transition that’s going to take more time than many may have expected, considering how quickly companies were able to switch to remote work during the crisis,” the report reads.

The figures show that:

  • 72% of employees say they’d like to continue to work remote more than once a week. However, they need employers' help to achieve better work-life balance.
  • While employees desire work-life balance, less than half (42%) of executives plan to establish clear rules of when people must be available.
  • While COVID-19 showed that staff can collaborate when apart, people still want to engage with colleagues in person. It’s why 50% go into the office.
  • 39% of employees cited difficulties in collaborating as the reason for being unproductive during mandated work from home, a concern shared by employers as well.
  • While 30% of executives foresee the need for less office space due to remote work, 50% are anticipating an increase due to requirements for social distancing or workforce growth.

Related Article: How to Build Company Culture with Remote Teams

Whatever the future holds, success in navigating this transition depends on developing an employee experience that enables remote working. So, what kind of employee experience will enable enterprises to build remote working strategies that support the different variations of remote working?We reached out to several organizations to find out what makes their strategy work.

Here are 10 key actions:

1. Embrace Video Conferencing

Get on top of video conferencing, said Mike Flannery, chief marketing officer of Little Rock, Ark.-based Windstream Enterprise. Seeing your colleagues’ faces is critical for energetic collaboration and team-building, he said, and thousands of companies have started using high definition video conferencing in response to work-from-home mandates.

"Many have told us they will never go back to regular voice conferencing because video conferencing is such a richer, more valuable way to connect with people," he said

2. Define Organizational Goals

The leadership of the organization needs to reduce friction that can occur when working from home and, wherever possible, make the transition as seamless as possible, said Matt Erickson, marketing director at Los Angeles-based National Positions. This may mean moving over to cloud-based processes, improving communication and perhaps even absorbing the costs surrounding creating a home office space such as hardware, software and associated costs that used to be rolled into your physical office space.

3. Focus on Mental Well-being

Don't ignore the mental health of team members. For many, breaking away to go to a physical workspace was actually part of a healthy mental routine. So, providing gym memberships to employees when this is a safe resource in your area or providing wellness resources in the form of webinars may be in order.

“If this requirement to work from home has taught us anything it's not just about having the right bodies in the right seats, but more importantly, making sure the mindset of our team also remains healthy,” Erickson says.

4. Maintain Water Cooler Conversations

The coronavirus has changed how we define a “normal” day in the office and prioritizing engagement across the workforce is key, said Jeff Kofman, CEO and founder of UK-based Trint. “It's imperative we keep the water cooler conversation going,” he said.

Even though employees are working remotely, there still need to be opportunities to interact outside of traditional meetings. This is particularly crucial with new employees. “Since the lockdown so many new team members would be a tall order if we worked in the same offices, it’s even harder now,” Kofman said. 

Kofman's company created a buddy system and organized virtual lunches and frequent check ins. They even have a Slack integration called Donut that randomly groups four people from across the company for virtual coffees each week.

5. Boost Internal Communications

Internal communications is the most important element of enterprise employee experience, said Sean McDade, founder and CEO of Philadelphia-based PeopleMetrics. It's the foundation of the experience employees have within the organization, whether they're working on-site or remotely.

Spending time making sure all employees understand what is going on at the company and what is expected of them will improve their experience, especially when everyone is online. “To ensure that they are conveying their intended messages, managers and executives should enter into every communication with an objective in mind, put emotions aside, consider their tone and be sure to clarify, clarify, clarify,” he said.

Related Article: The Corporate Intranet Is Key to the Digital Workplace. Really.

6. Prioritize Mentorship

Loneliness is one of the biggest challenges of remote work, according to Peter Jackson, CEO of San Carlos, Calif.-based Bluescape, a company that specializes in remote work collaboration software. This feeling will only be heightened for interns, many of whom are getting their first experience with real jobs. Interns need human interaction to ease their nerves and provide them with sense of validation for their work. It's up to managers to find which projects will make them feel most connected, valued and in the loop.

7. Investing in Online Training

There are many amazing technology tools that increase productivity and collaboration while working remotely, Jackson said. While these tools have the potential to unleash creativity, problem-solving and inspire new ideas, it can also be frustrating for workers to learn new technologies. A frustrated workforce stands to lose productivity and motivation. Training is key to setting people up for success and tapping into new ways to collaborate and get work done.

8. Foster Team Culture

Fostering culture with a remote workforce is a new challenge for most employers, Jackson said. People need human conversation and organizations should encourage social interaction amongst employees. Instead of going directly into work-related topics, use the start of each meeting to catch up and talk about personal matters. Another great option is to schedule virtual coffee breaks or remote happy hours with teams.

Related Article: 8 Employee Engagement Ideas for. Changing Workforce

9. Celebrate Milestones

Noah Dye, San Diego, Calif.-based senior vice president for client engagement at Lewis, a global marketing agency, said that ensuring employees don’t forget milestones both personal and professional is key to keeping morale and maintaining positive employee experiences.

Keep an eye on employees’ birthdays, anniversaries with the company and other personal milestones like new spouses or children, and ensure those are recognized by sending a personalized card, flowers or cake or giving shout-outs on companywide emails or all-hands meetings. "At Lewis, we’ve also had success hosting 'surprise parties' where everyone dresses in a theme and changes their backgrounds," he said.

10. Empower with Collaboration Technology

Empowering employees with a variety of collaboration platforms that help them stay connected enables a better employee experience. Slack can be used for quick chats, GoToMeeting for more personal or in-depth video meetings, and Microsoft SharePoint for file sharing and collaboration.