Covid-19 shows us we were never listening to our remote workers

Can you hear them now?
Can you hear them now?
Image: Reuters/Jonathan Alcorn
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In the scramble to get remote operations running during Covid-19’s social isolation, it’s likely you focused on the obstacles for employees who were used to working in an office—and overlooked the challenges for employees who were working remotely before the pandemic.

It’s understandable. These employees are used to working from home, and as far as you know, they don’t have too many complaints. Right?


Nearly four out of five remote employees say they face challenges their office-based coworkers do not, according to a snapshot of data taken just before quarantine orders began—and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Year after year, as part of our annual survey on the digital workplace, remote employees tell us about the disparities they encounter, as well as the specific challenges they face working remotely every day.

Covid-19 brought all of our people “together” as a remote workforce to create a sense of urgency around solving these challenges. And now, if we want to succeed in a new business reality, we have to start making the changes our remote workers have been demanding since long before the pandemic.

A new normal for remote workers

Covid-19’s disruption revealed the many cracks in our remote-work strategies, provided there was a strategy in the first place. Even as employees start to return to the office, we can’t turn a blind eye to these shortfalls.

Especially for those of us with large remote workforces, allowing these issues to persist can lead to attrition, low morale, and even feelings of abandonment. But if we drill deeper into the concerns of those four out of five remote workers who felt ill-equipped, we can see patterns that make their challenges easier to address. And if we listen a little closer to these employees, we can start to serve them better and future-proof our entire organization’s remote-work operations.

Here is what needs to be done to support our post-Covid remote workforces.

Get to know your remote workforce’s experience

In our past surveys, 44% of remote employees said they have missed out on important information because it was communicated in person, and 43% said they have been excluded from meetings and brainstorming sessions. This has a significant impact on knowledge sharing as well as the sense of inclusion.

A fundamental way to improve your remote workforce is to start with an assessment. Ask your employees: What is the remote experience we have, and what is the remote experience we want? The fact-finding you get from this exercise is priceless, and can inform your entire strategy going forward.

But remember—you also need to do the work to implement these changes. Part of the outcome from this assessment should be the creation of remote work resources in a centralized digital destination, so that every employee, whether they usually work on site or off, can easily access it. At the very least, it should include a manual on your organization’s remote work policies, including expectations for technology use and best practices to ensure inclusive collaboration.

Improve mobile effectiveness

Covid-19 has largely kept remote workers home-bound. But before the pandemic, remote workers were regularly bringing their meetings with them—to restaurants, to other people’s houses, to co-working spaces, and even cars. As lockdown restrictions ease, remote workers will be itching to get out again—and now is an opportunity to make sure they’re better equipped to do so.

Some adjustments are easier than others. Start by assessing whether your infrastructure allows employees to securely and reliably connect no matter where they are physically located, and don’t forget to assess the mobile apps that are being used. Most employees are now using a combination of mobile and desktop apps to get work done, with 21% indicating they spend more than half their time on a mobile app when they’re off site. These are big numbers, so it’s important to evaluate the effectiveness of those mobile app experiences, or it could be having a big impact on output and productivity.

Keep fostering culture

The pandemic has brought the importance of culture and employee engagement to the forefront like never before. As we start our shift back to the office for some employees, it’s important not to lose this momentum. Replicating your company culture online is one way to make remote workers feel connected. Having a digital workplace that looks and feels like your physical space is a great first step. Then create plenty of opportunities for connection and conversation through features such as microblogs, forums, and team spaces. Doing this helps satisfy the innate need that employees have for personal connections with their colleagues.

As office workers return to dusty cubicles and dry office plants, it will be important to focus on their comfort, too. But remember: There were flaws and challenges in the “normal” that remote workers will return to as well. Now is the time to focus on fixing them.