Remote working at the current scale was never a choice, but a necessity, and for the most part it has worked. It’s desirable: people want it. It’s feasible: the crisis has shown it can work at scale. It is viable and commercially the numbers add up.

Willie Schoeman, MD of Accenture Technology in Africa

According to a recent Accenture global survey, over 72% of the global workforce would like to work remotely, mostly part of the time, and 94% of global office workers were working remotely more than 50% of the time during the pandemic. In commercial monetary terms, the study found that a typical employer can save around $11 000 per year for any person that works remotely for 50% of their time.

Remote working might not be for everyone (just yet) as organisations vary, roles vary, and individuals vary. There is a dual need for both a greater connection, and separation from work.

Seemingly overnight, all human-to-human connections were paused. The daily experiences that create a culture, from whiteboard sessions to coffee breaks and lunch table get-togethers, disappeared. Without the physical separation between the home and the office, workers no longer have natural mental breaks built into their workdays.

With limited guidelines on how to make it work and who to turn to, gaps in basic physical, mental and relational needs have emerged and employees are looking at employers for more support.

So how might employers enable a seamless remote working experience, one that’s omnichannel and supports employees to balance work and life? As we move forward, we have to ask: which roles are suited for remote working? It is clear that some levels may be impacted more than others, and data and analytics are key to understanding where the pain points lie. There may not be a one-size-fits-all answer.

Here are five focus areas to make remote working work for you:

Create a fact base of what is going on with your people

Here it is important to establish what has worked, what hasn’t and what your teams need. Determine whether your management team has hard facts about the effectiveness of your current remote working experiment, which job roles are more productive when remote versus office-based, and which employees are unhappy, have health issues, are at risk of “burn out” and/or looking for a new job.

If the answers to any of the above questions is negative, then take a few steps back to build a fact base of information that will inform your transformation to remote ways of working.

* Continuously collect and analyse data on individual needs and preferences – surveys, workplace analytics, digital and AI tools

* Create a platform from which you can make decisions

* Create options that fulfil people and organisational objectives – recognising that people are different

Define your remote working strategy and operating model

You can’t simply extend the emergency, be deliberate. Your remote working model has the potential to unlock value for your organisation, but that value needs to be defined upfront. Here you must determine what percentage of remote working is feasible, viable, and desirable for your organisation by answering these questions:

* What are you trying to achieve with your shift to remote working (increased productivity, cost reduction or a better value proposition & access to talent)?

* What do your employees want?

* What is feasible based on your current work from home learnings and technology infrastructure?

* How will you foster adoption of new ways of working?

Align key processes and policies to support your model

Most organisations have put immediate measures in place to get through the crisis. For some, this included enhancing healthcare benefits while for others it meant broadening their existing wellbeing programmes and reviewing changes to paid time off or leave programmes. Now is the time to think long term and optimise key processes and policies to enable your remote working model.

* How did changing behaviours impact your current policies?

* How will you create parity in benefits and pay?

* Consider additional risks to take into account from cyber security, health and wellbeing perspectives, and the employee, employer or insurer liabilities.

Make it easy for your people and protect your organisation

It’s time to fine-tune your employees’ home offices. Where remote working is viable, start with getting the basics right with a solution that enables remote working effectively and safely to ensure remote offices are risk-free when it comes to data and cyber security threats. Organisations need to take the time to inventory minimum work-from-home requirements such as:

* Essential equipment, training and support bundle

* Desk, chair, screens, printers

* Computer connectivity and tools for collaboration and fostering innovation – such as MS Teams, Zoom

* Cyber Security guidelines and enablement.

Evolve your culture and experience to make remote working thrive

While a hybrid remote working model might sound like the best option for many, lessons learnt from COVID-19 remote working experiments show us that a shift to remote or hybrid isn’t easy. Underpinning some of the successful and not so successful experiments in remote working are lessons in leadership and culture. Treat this like you would every other large change and improve over time.

* Understand the impact of your remote working model on culture

* Lead with data – don’t assume, listen to your people

* Rethink leadership imperatives for new ways of working

* Personalise your adoption approach, and overcommunicate with empathy at the heart of it

* Break, adapt and recreate processes, and evolve your employee experience.

We’ll leave you with this

Crises often lead to innovation by suspending and shifting boundaries. Organisations that prove themselves adaptable are thriving. Your people are looking to you for direction so seize the opportunity to do the previously unthinkable. Actively build your new-ways-of-working solution, grounded in data analytics and behavioural science, and executed in a truly human way. By creating a new employee value proposition and transforming your culture you will thrive in the new ways of working, not just in working remotely.