There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot about how we work. Businesses that used to require employees to commute to the office five days a week have since adjusted to allowing staff members to work from home in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. And even organizations that had already allowed for more flexible work arrangements have discovered that they can truly operate on a fully-remote basis.
Prior to the pandemic, approximately 17% of American employees worked from home five or more days a week. But after COVID-19 came to the U.S., around 44% of workers in the U.S. said they worked from home every day of the week. And while some employees have since returned to the traditional workplace, there’s evidence to suggest that many firms will continue with remote work arrangements for the foreseeable future.
This is especially true for many businesses working in the tech or digital spheres. As a digital marketing agency with over 10 years in the industry, Semify reviews its employee remote work policy to show how flexibility and a better work-life balance can benefit everyone involved.
But, of course, if you’re going to make remote work truly work for you, you need to properly prepare. Whether you’re continuing with remote work in 2021 or you want to be ready in the event of another shutdown, you’ll want to see how Semify reviews remote work essentials to improve productivity, communication, and engagement — and why you should consider extending work-from-home arrangements in the first place.
Even before the pandemic, remote work (sometimes called telecommuting) was becoming more popular. But it’s clear that the threat of COVID-19 accelerated the widespread adoption of a home-based workforce.
What’s more, many employees and employers alike want to build on this new style of working, rather than returning to a traditional office setup. A recent Gallup poll found that two-thirds of employees who have been working remotely during the pandemic want to continue to do so.
Additionally, data from global firm network PwC shows that 83% of employers feel the shift to remote work has been successful for their companies. Although it’s unlikely that most would want to completely give up the office environment for good, both workers and employers say that productivity has increased with the remote work transition. Not only does a work-from-home environment keep everyone safe, but it can actually keep employees around for the long haul due to improved job satisfaction and a better work-life balance.
According to the Harvard Business School, at least 16% of employees who were working at home due to the pandemic will continue to do so once our current health crisis has faded away. In addition to aiding in improved productivity and overall satisfaction, remote work arrangements can allow for employer cost savings, like the reduction of overhead and even turnover.
In other words, regardless of how long the pandemic continues, remote work is here to stay. While it might not be the right choice for every business, it’s evident that many organizations are more equipped to thrive through remote work than initially anticipated. And if you have the right tools — and the right culture — you’ll set yourself up for success.
So you’ve decided to continue with remote work in 2021. What exactly do workers and employers need to get the most out of this arrangement?
Although working from home might not be every employee’s top choice, it can allow for improved safety and efficiency. But remote work options will only be as successful as you make them. Below, Semify reviews some must-haves for employee achievement in a fully remote environment — many of which are used by Semifiers themselves.
If you want to maintain a remote workforce in 2021, you have to invest in video conferencing tools. While Zoom skyrocketed to fame last year, that doesn’t mean it’s the only platform available — nor may it provide the protection you actually need to safeguard your business.
If you were relying on a free option in a pinch, you’ll want to look into available programs for teleconferencing that make sense for your employees. Platforms that offer end-to-end encryption may offer a more substantial safeguard against infiltrating parties. Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx, and Google Hangouts are all popular choices.
No matter which platform you choose, you’ll want to make sure every employee is equipped with the ability to video conference (which requires access to both a webcam and a microphone). Headsets are a common accessory for remote workers, as they can be used for meetings and phone calls while filtering out some unwanted background noise.
You can’t rely on paper documents when everyone is working from home, so it’s time to embrace digital alternatives. Simply put, data storage and sharing are non-negotiables for remote workers. In 2021, relying on cloud-based applications tends to be the best option. This will allow you to edit and share the documents your team needs in real time while providing automatic data backup to prevent potential losses.
If you’re already using G Suite for your email and other essential responsibilities, it makes sense to rely on Google Drive to keep all of your necessary files on-hand. But you could also use Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, or Apple’s iCloud Drive if these make more sense for your workforce. But since you’ll probably need an option that provides consistency across all operating systems and devices, it’s best to take that into account when making your choice. You’ll also need to evaluate considerations like price and the amount of storage you might need.
For digital marketing agencies and other providers of digital services, having an easy-to-use dashboard can be ideal for maintaining both internal and external communications. While you’ll no doubt still use emails and instant messaging tools to get in touch with others, having a centralized location for communication tracking and other pertinent data can ensure your team never misses a thing.
When Semify reviews client campaign progress, outstanding work, and client communications, it’s always through their white label dashboard. Using this kind of innovative software platform, it’s easy to share knowledge, make adjustments, and send deliverables while maintaining consistent branding between clients. This ensures that customers receive what they expect on time and can obtain consistent communication — a must when everyone is working remotely.
A dashboard like this can act as a project management tool, a customer service portal, and an internal messaging system all at the same time. For the Semify team, their dashboard is their lifeline. Without it, working remotely (or even working in an office environment!) would be far more challenging. Being able to access this dashboard from anywhere at any time is key to a successful remote workforce.
Having email addresses for each team member isn’t enough. It’s also important to clearly define how information should be communicated to team members and to customers. This is especially true when coworkers are unable to simply walk over to a desk in order to ask a question.
Internal chat or instant messaging certainly has its place. Platforms like Slack and Google Hangouts are popular options for instant chats. These are ideal for quick or urgent communications that can easily be answered without an email or teleconference. If you manage a remote workforce, it’s important to establish protocols for instant messaging, such as expectations for answering pings or when other forms of communication should be used.
Generally speaking, it’s best to limit the communication channels you have. Remote workers often find it more difficult to separate their professional and personal lives. In order to foster a healthy remote work environment, appropriate communication behaviors need to be set from the top.
When emails are sent to the whole company, make sure that there’s a good reason for them. The same can be said for virtual meetings that are scheduled on the calendar. Unless there’s a true emergency, calling or texting remote workers — especially outside of normal business hours — should be avoided. While there will undoubtedly be urgent matters to attend to, there’s rarely going to be a true life-or-death situation that could be solved by texting, pinging, and calling an employee in rapid succession. Do yourself and other employees a favor by establishing how and when to communicate with one another (and what is and isn’t acceptable).
Some remote employees will gladly work from the couch, while others need desks to focus and get their work done. This is really an individual decision that shouldn’t be mandated by the employer — but it’s a good idea to encourage organized work habits for the benefit of all.
Since many organizations began remote work offerings rather unexpectedly, it’s no surprise that some employees simply don’t have space (or the financial resources) for a large work desk at home. But that doesn’t mean they’re destined to be disorganized. A lap desk and wall organizer won’t take up much space or require a large investment. And, of course, digital upgrades like cloud storage and data backups will take the burden off of individual employees to file paperwork or keep every work notebook within immediate reach.
Many Semify employees decided to bring their work computers home with them for now, which has allowed them to benefit from dual screens. But others depend only on their laptops or single monitor. Having a coffee table or bookshelf can provide many remote workers with what they need to stay organized and productive, but it varies from person to person. As employees spend more time working from home, they’ll discover what helps them stay on the ball.
You can’t expect to work from home with any real regularity without high-quality hardware. From laptops and desktops to internet connections, these are certainly considered to be essentials.
Of course, you also need top-notch security — both from cybercriminals and from potential damage. Many employers require workers to use anti-virus software or VPNs to protect valuable data. Using a password locker is also recommended by many experts for the same reason.
It’s also not a bad idea, depending on your business, to have employees use laptop safes or to otherwise ensure their hardware can’t be accessed by other members of the household. You may also want to consider a business owners’ insurance policy that specifically covers remote workers, as certain work-related losses simply won’t be covered by the employee’s homeowners’ or renters’ insurance policy. While it isn’t fun to imagine the worst-case scenario, it’s far better to plan for the worst and hope for the best.
No one wants to work in a dark room all day long. Not only will employees be unable to produce their best work, but they may experience both emotional and physical effects as a result. To prevent everything from depression to eyestrain and back pain, all remote employees should ensure their work area is equipped with adequate lighting.
It’s best to have a combination of natural light from windows and supplemental lighting from floor and tabletop fixtures. Standard lightbulbs may produce a harsher light, but there are other bulbs that are softer and easier to control. Remote workers should aim to position their workstations in areas that receive as much natural light as possible, as long as it can be controlled to some degree in order to minimize glare and other adverse effects.
Many remote workers find that the added exposure to natural light is one of the things they love about working from home. In traditional office settings, skylights and windows may be sparse. But at home, workers are available to experience the sunlight in ways that help their productivity and boost their overall moods.
Caring for one’s body is an important part of working remotely — but it’s easy to neglect this responsibility if you’re not careful. Many employees will choose to invest in sit-stand desks or ergonomically designed office chairs to ensure they can be physically active and supported while working from home.
Of course, not every remote worker will want to invest in these home office essentials. But if you decide to establish an actual workstation, remember that your comfort is key. When your job is rather sedentary, you’ll need to prioritize proper posture. An ergonomic chair can make sure your body is supported, though some workers prefer ball-shaped seats instead. Others will invest in under-desk ellipticals, which can allow them to move their bodies a bit while they work.
Even if you have only a basic desk and chair, you’ll want to take care of your body throughout the workday. Setting aside time to stretch every 30 to 60 minutes — and to rest your eyes every 20 minutes or so — can help you stay productive, focused, and healthy while working from home.
While it’s not a tool in the sense of hardware, a collaborative culture is a major asset for any successful remote workforce. In order to make meetings productive and enjoyable, every member of the team needs to be committed to clear communication and a collaborative spirit.
When Semify reviews its cultural accomplishments every quarter, the team’s collaborative nature really stands out. It’s a big reason why companies like Semify and others have been able to actually grow throughout the pandemic. Without this emphasis on working together, it’s nearly impossible to maintain operations while you’re apart.
This means you’ll need to do more than invest in equipment or software. You’ll also need to invest the time and effort into creating a company culture that is based on trust, mutual growth, and compassion. If you want remote work to truly work for your business, it’s not enough to supply employees with software upgrades; you’ll have to upgrade your culture, as well.
When working remotely, it’s easy to lose sight of your “why.” During the pandemic, many businesses went into survival mode. That makes it hard to be aspirational or to see beyond your organization’s immediate needs.
But now that we’re approaching the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 in America, we need to focus on the big picture. It’s no longer about short-term cost cuts. Now, we need to look ahead to growing our businesses in 2021 and beyond.
One way to solidify this mission is by having aspirational reminders in your remote workspace. This doesn’t mean you need to pick up cheesy motivational posters to display. But small mementos that bring your mission to mind — like quotes from your customers or something that’s symbolic of a goal that inspires you to do your personal best — can be highly effective. That could include anything from photos of your team to awards that show your company’s growth.
No matter what you choose, you can also use these reminders to separate your work life from your personal life. Boundaries are especially crucial for remote workers, so displaying these work-related reminders in a designated workspace can often improve focus while helping employees create healthy separation when they’re off the clock. Most of all, they’ll help everyone stay connected to your brand and to why you do what you do — and that can be highly beneficial when you can’t be at the office together.
When Semify reviews its commitment to creating a healthy and productive environment for employees, it’s clear why remote work simply makes sense. Pandemic or not, being able to work from home can help us grow together to create the freedom to do more, have more, and be more.