Remote Workplace Success - Survey Results
In early June, Harbinger and Alavetta came together to discuss the implications of Remote Working success and the impact of these changes on organizations and their people.
See our original article here.
Thank you for taking our survey! We’ve since compiled the results and presented them here, along with some guidance on how to address specific issues if you have weakness in a particular area.
Click the diagram to expand.
First, we want to recognize that this survey was developed as a “rough and ready” diagnostic tool. We understand that we engaged individual participants from various organizations instead of organizations in their entirety, so it does not fully represent the whole of organizations, but just what everyone is feeling during this time. We felt a collection of these impressions would give us the general insights we were looking for.
We’ve received a total of 48 completed surveys. We acknowledge that it’s a bit of a long survey, and appreciate the time spent by those who made it through to the end.
Here are some key demographic data on our participants:
About 42% of participants work in the public sector and 44% work in the private sector
The top 5 industries that participants work in are Educational Services, Professional, scientific and technical services, Finance and Insurance, Manufacturing, and Public Administration
Half of our participants work for organizations with more than 500 people across all locations where their employer operates, and only a small fraction of participants work for organizations with less than 5 total employees
An overwhelming majority of respondents felt that they were thriving in the Remote Working environment. All but 4 landed in our “Excelling” quadrant, and only one would be considered “Under Achieving” according to our Remote Workplace Success Map.
Click the diagram to expand.
While many of our respondents landed high on the Culture and Capabilities scale, there are a few factors to consider when analyzing the abundance of positive results. Looking back, it's pretty much a given the survey suffers from a massive selection bias, and not fully indicative of the general population:
We shared the survey through our industry connections and via LinkedIn. Between Harbinger and Alavetta, our own network of professionals are guaranteed to slant towards organizations that are more technologically mature. Users of LinkedIn inherently may also have this slant.
Half of the respondents are from companies of over 500+ employees, where one might expect more capability and cultural maturity.
In a voluntary survey, there is always the potential for self-selection bias (e.g. those who are not excelling in the remote workspace may not wish to respond or are too busy to complete the survey).
And the good ol’ Dunning-Kruger effect, when individuals overestimate their ability in a specific area, preventing them from accurately assessing their skills.
Despite the shortcomings of the survey, we felt there was great engagement and hope it made for a good opportunity for participants to reflect.
These results are based on an average of our respondent’s scores, which means that while some participants are “Excelling”, there are still a few areas where we saw repeated weaknesses.
Here are some suggestions on how to improve in a given area. While we can’t provide an exact answer in the context of your organization and role, below are some recommendations you can try:
Recommendations for Capabilities:
Click a Survey Question below to expand recommendation.
1. I have ready access to my organization's remote work policies / guidance (e.g. when allowed, working hours, being accessible, expenses etc.)
While having accessible remote working policies are important, organizations should also strive to increase employee awareness about them. Some steps organizations can take to increase the awareness of such policies include: posting about them on the company intranet, including this topic as a part of onboarding, or having managers talk through the policies in-person. Taking the time to walk through these policies with your employees will support their general understanding of them, ensure they are aware of where to access them, and most importantly, that you are there to answer any of their questions and follow the guidelines as well.
2. Remote technology tools (e.g. remote access, video conferencing , document management, collaboration etc) are readily available to me to do my job.
In today’s tech-savvy world, where virtual collaboration and communication is becoming the norm, choosing the right technology can be overwhelming. To help make the decision-making process easier, organizations should consider how the remote tools they choose can be used when the office is exclusively remote, or when only part of the workforce is remote. Investment in tools and technology for both in-office and remote that are easy to set-up and learn, increases the chances of them being used. A better user experience will enable your employees to do their job better no matter where they are.
3. I can readily access my organization's IT policies and standards including Data security and privacy, company hardware use out of the office etc.
With many employees moving to the remote space during the crisis, security risk and vulnerability of information increases. As people are now required to be personally responsible for their infrastructure at home, sharing networks or computers with others, it’s important to address how these behavioural changes can affect Information security. Often, corporate security training and best practices don’t cover all these common issues found within the remote working environment. Organizations should map out the most relevant and potential risks, and provide their employees with adequate training on how to minimize them. Taking the time to provide this information to your employees will also reinforce the importance of Information security and privacy, and their role within it.
4. I believe my team has a good common understanding of how to work remotely, and does so consistently, and effectively.
When we think about remote working, our first thought tends to be about whether or not we know how to use virtual tools like Zoom, Teams, or WebEx. But, there’s more to effective remote working than knowing how to use these software applications. Organizations must also consider how to get the best quality of work output from their employees, especially if they’re part of a team. In the virtual space, the ability to quickly bounce something off your office neighbour or cubicle mate is lost. Sharing ideas or challenges over a coffee becomes more of a planned or deliberate action, rather than a spontaneous act, as it would be in the office. We believe that this is a skill that takes practice. Being conscious of when activities can or should happen, is something that employees can work on individually and as a group.
One example of how you can start working towards a more effective remote working environment with your team is building a Team Charter. Creating a document like this that is developed via a facilitated team discussion, roughly outlines the virtual office boundaries or best practices. This can help a team establish how they will hold themselves and others accountable, as well as, build a cohesive understanding of how your team will work together online. This can also be a great opportunity for your team to discuss the cadence to which you have virtual “get-togethers” or “socials” to maintain those team relationships.
5. I am able to access Training, support information, or help from a support team on how to best use my remote working tools
Using the basic functions of remote working tools are usually pretty straightforward or intuitive. However, there are still some functions many remote working applications have that could enhance the user experience even more. Even if there’s no designated support team for the applications your organization uses, many of these widely adopted tools have easy-to-follow guides or video tutorials accessible online. Compiling these resources into one place for your employees to access, or making them aware of where they can find them, can make the user experience that much more effective. Additionally, if there are specific functions you think are particularly beneficial for the rest of your team to know, you can learn how to use them first and then explain it to your colleagues after.
6. With my team members working both remotely and onsite, I feel we readily adapt and are as considerate and effective regardless of where everyone is located.
We’ve seen lots of discussion on this, particularly concerning the “equity” of individuals who are not able to come into the office. At a surprisingly rapid pace, teams and whole organizations have come together forming new ways of working with each other, creating new norms, culture, and team dynamics. However, some areas such as fostering relationships when shared experiences are not organic or cohort training events that encourage team building could now be suffering. Also, the onboarding of new team members could be a challenge especially when it comes to bonding with an already established team. Managing people in traditional ways will need to shift so that people managers are measuring output, instead of attendance.
7. I work with external parties (customers, vendors, partners, etc.) as part of my job, and I feel I have the virtual/remote tools and practices to "do business" with them effectively and efficiently.
When working with external parties such as your clients, partners, or vendors, it’s important to have the right tools in place to ensure a seamless experience. This is particularly important because it has the most direct impact on the organization’s bottom line, your brand and your organization’s brand. To help you find the right remote working tools for your role, it’s useful to know what is accessible and acceptable for your external parties. Is there an industry standard? Do some tools have more relevant functionalities than others? Or do you need more training on the current tools you have access to?
Recommendations for Culture:
Click a Survey Question below to expand recommendation.
1. I believe everyone on my team has the opportunity to be comfortable and safe communicating, across all channels.
Psychological safety at work is critical for high performing teams. Team members being able to communicate these challenges, risks, and failures openly without fear of negative repercussions is key to growth, learning, and the of a team. Having this team dynamic is also beneficial for immediately dealing with issues when they arise. The lack of opportunity for face-to-face communication can sometimes lead to unintended interpretations (i.e. tone in Email can easily be misinterpreted).
Take a look at our Communication Tips for Leaders infographic for some tips on how to keep your team informed, connected, and engaged in the remote workplace.
2. I believe my manager and team demonstrate valuing respect, care, and consideration for individual circumstances. This includes seeing the value in maintaining rituals for human connection.
This is especially important as we are constantly faced with new and different takes on personal constraints. Progressive employers and managers have already adopted policies and practices that address individual challenges like commute times, childcare or eldercare responsibilities, and more. These constraints create more challenges for some individuals and valuing fairness while valuing the individual requires balance. We believe that for the same reason we value people for their individual strengths, we should value and care for them as individuals. Otherwise, we will start to feel like we are all “crabs in a bucket”. Building a respectful and trusting culture is an essential part of remote working success.
3. I have a clear expectation of my role and duties, which considers my remote working environment where applicable.
Having clear expectations should go beyond day to day task management, there should also be a broader understanding of organizational priorities. This includes empowering the individual to have a hand in deciding what they focus on and where they believe they can have the most impact. Having these conversations with your employees will also help you identify where you can support them as a leader within their development journeys.
4. I believe collaboration and inclusion is valued as the best way to produce good work as a team. My manager and leaders in the organization demonstrate this.
Remote working creates challenges and barriers to collaboration and inclusion within teams. Even if your organization’s leadership values include collaboration and inclusion, certain intentionality is required to ensure that these values are practiced. For instance, try paired work: coordinating tasks and expectations between a smaller group first, is significantly less taxing remotely than group work. This practice will be especially helpful if you are unfamiliar with remote working and best practices.
5. I feel my manager trusts me to be productive and efficient by measuring performance based on results, rather than being busy, or being online and “present”.
While we hope managers can manage their teams based on outcomes, we’ve seen recent examples where this is not the case for everyone. Many organizations have demonstrated reluctance to allow remote work, and even in some cases resort to monitoring their employees using technology. Creating boundaries and setting expectations from the start can help create trust and a sense of accountability. When you’re unable to physically see what your teammates or employees are working on, making them accountable for their roles and tasks ensures that they’re still getting things done efficiently and effectively.
6. I receive timely and regular feedback from my manager on my performance, including when I am working remotely.
For those who are experienced and comfortable giving feedback, the “best practice” was of course to do so in person. Doing so remotely on the phone or even over video calls creates some barriers in being able to read body language or a create comfortable environment, factors that are usually important in delivering feedback effectively.
Here are a few things you can try to help you stay connected a build a stronger remote feedback culture: Set up regular 1-on-1’s, these are great for sharing more personal feedback and are also opportunities to build stronger relationships between managers and employees. You can also increase the frequency in which you give feedback, it doesn’t always have to be a formal engagement. This is where leveraging the tools you already have such as instant messaging platforms like Teams or Skype are useful, it allows you to create a constant stream of communication where its comfortable to share snippets of both positive and constructive feedback.
7. I am engaged in Continuous Improvement and/ Innovation activities, regardless of where I am working.
A great way to engage people and maintain a sense of belonging is to create ownership by having people contribute to improving how things are done in the organization. Encourage them to ask questions and be comfortable with voicing their ideas when they think there’s a better way to be doing something. Continuous improvement happens in increments, enabling your employees to suggest or make small improvements as they learn promotes a creative work environment.
Many of our respondents shared their specific thoughts as well. A few themes arose:
Shifting to the remote workplace means more than having the technology in place to do so. Tools need to be aligned to a strong culture of communication and trust to combat resistance from organizations and their people.
"My employer has a very conservative and traditional culture and lacks digital documentation and communication collaboration tools. Unionized staff comprise a large percentage of all staff. Trust and alignment between departments is lacking. I believe transitioning in a careful and thoughtful manner to a blended remote / office workplace could be quite effective. Modern collaboration tools, policies, etc. would help support this along with stronger alignment across all organizational divisions."
"Clear boundaries/rules might be needed on hours/availability. I feel I start my days earlier (due to no commute) and stay on longer, and at times do some more hours at night. Difficult to set limits and avoid 'burn out' without a change of scenery for me personally."
It's important to find the right balance of boundaries in the virtual landscape to help you balance work and home life when they're both happening in the same space. This includes identifying personal boundaries (e.g. how you manage or structure your workday) and interpersonal boundaries (e.g. your colleagues know when they can expect to reach you).
"I think for large public organizations working from home would force institutions to adapt and become flexible. We have been bogged down by bureaucracy and red tape for so long that I truly believe a shift if work spaces would lead to a shift in work culture and productivity."
Although there’s no telling when the crisis will be over, we can make some reasonable predictions on what we think will happen next. Will some organizations choose to stay remote or will they develop a blended approach instead? What will employees prefer most?
When we asked our respondents to select a scenario that they think is the most likely to happen at the end of the Covid-19 crisis, a majority of respondents (68.75% or 33 participants) selected “the workplace environment will be a blend of ‘remote’ and in-person”. A smaller fraction of our respondents chose that the workplace will either remain exclusively remote or return to what it was before.
Q24: Of the following, select the scenario you think is the MOST likely to happen to your workplace environment at the end of the Covid-19 crisis:
Additionally, 83.33% or 40 respondents selected that they would prefer to work in a blended workspace, with the option to work remotely sometimes. Only a small fraction of participants would prefer to either work exclusively in the workplace or have the option to choose where their permanent workspace or location would be.
Q25: What would you LIKE to see happen to your workplace environment, at the end of the Covid-19 crisis?
When it comes to making the permanent transition to a full or blended remote workforce, there are many elements needed to support a successful transformation. According to the data we collected, respondents felt most strongly about two specific components.
Q26: On a scale of one to five, rate your agreement with each of the following statements, given your place of work decides to go fully remote or adopt a blended model after the Covid-19 crisis.
What do you think is needed to support a “permanent” transition to a full or blended remote workforce?
They frequently agreed with:
“Employees would need additional ways to feel connected to the workplace”
“New employees would need different tools and methods to get to the know the workplace and its people”.
Thus, reinforcing one of the common themes that arose throughout the survey, the need for organizations to align their remote working technology, tools, and best practices, to a strong culture of communication and trust.
A full return to business-as-usual and fully staffed physical offices is unlikely. The future of the workplace is a blended or hybrid environment, as 69% of our survey respondents believe it to be and 84% would prefer it to be.
As employees begin returning to work, many limitations are put in place. Offices are limiting capacities typically to 20-30% of their pre-COVID 19 capacities, or employees only come into the office on specific days or shifts. This results in a hybrid team structure, where some employees work remotely, and others work from the home. Organizations will continue to evaluate permanent remote working arrangements as a way to meet expectations, but fully remote teams where all staff are exclusively working at home, where there is no office to meet your teammates in person, will be rare. Merely replicating the physical environment into a remote environment will invite the worst aspects of the workplaces left behind and lose the opportunity to improve the way you work; to cut back on length and number of meetings, to cut back on the number of people that need to be involved in any decision, or giving staff more flexible work hours and autonomy.
There are numerous new opportunities to pilot approaches like deep work, the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task, improved productivity, work satisfaction and personal life balance.
“If you threw a guitar at me, and I’ve never played a guitar before, everyone would understand that I’m going to suck. It’s the same thing for remote work. If people haven’t practiced before, they’re going to suck for a little bit. My hope is that people look back at this time and see that they ended up getting a lot done and people enjoyed it. It will spur companies to revisit the way they work.”
Josh Fried, CEO, Basecamp.
Hybrid creates two fundamentally different working experiences to manage. Smaller organizations that have one physical office location will have relatively simple transition challenges. In contrast, large organizations with multiple locations and divisions of operations will find the complexity and nuances of the transition, significantly more difficult to design and manage. Maintaining and improving the corporate culture and the employee experience is essential to ensure organizations achieve the outcome to thrive. A culture built on physical office interaction that acts as a glue for culture and as a stopgap for inefficiencies in communication systems will need to be fully re-examined.
Also, creating parity between the remote and in-office experience will be a concern. New compensation and expense policies will take time to develop and implement. Remote work expenses traditionally have not been reimbursable as optional work-from-home programs are at the employees' convenience, and such employees continue to have the option to work in their employer's office and use company equipment and supplies if they desire. However, we would expect proactive employers to consider the business case of redirecting real estate costs to reimbursing expenses for a more remote-enabled employee, for efficiency reasons (e.g. home office expenses, which may include a portion of the expenses associated with internet, mobile devices, personal computers or tablets, office furniture and other associated software or hardware). Furthermore, the employment landscape will also evolve, creating more opportunities for job-seekers geographically. Employers can now search from a larger pool of candidates for the best fit but may need to compete for talent on how robustly they enable these prospective employees to work remotely. (We’ll refrain from going down the rabbit hole of remote employee experience and retention here.)
We are still in the middle of a massive transition. Over 85% of our respondents believe that they still need more ways to connect to their workplace and teammates, and that better methods and tools are still required to feel connected to their workplace. Remote working will continue to evolve and organizations will further define their best practices, but the learning curve for many is still very steep.