Remote work is here to stay, and nimble firms that also focus on the human experience will be best positioned to succeed in the long run, according to a trio of Cal State Fullerton management professors.
Jay Barbuto, Gerard Beenen and Shaun Pichler agree that agility is the common thread among organizations that are surviving or thriving amid the COVID-19 health crisis, and agility will continue to be highly valued afterward. However, the ability to quickly pivot an organization’s strategy, operations or business model needs to be combined with a leadership style that values listening, inclusion and compassion to support the human elements involved in rapid change.
Remote Work: The New Normal
“A realization has emerged amid the pandemic that the traditional ‘work-at-the-office contract’ is not, in all cases, the best mode for productive employee engagement,” said Barbuto, director of the Center for Leadership and professor of management.
Pichler, professor of management, added, “The crisis has made clear that a lot of work can be done remotely. Alternative work arrangements were more of a luxury before the pandemic but are going to be the new normal.
“Research has shown that employees who telework are at least as productive as those in the office. However, in a unique and stressful situation like the pandemic, some workers have suffered psychologically and experienced burnout. The most recent research finds that people can protect their health by seeking support from loved ones and learning how to adapt to changes in work and family.”
Gerard Beenen, associate dean and professor of management
Elaborating further, Beenen, associate dean and professor of management, imagines hybrid working conditions as a new normal that involves telecommuting one or two days a week, but the driving factor will be meeting performance and achievement goals.
“Business leaders care about increasing productivity and reducing cost. Less time commuting and more freedom to work hours that you want to work can increase productivity. Lower cost is achievable as office spaces convert to hoteling models where employees don’t have a permanent office but reserve a virtual one when they need to come in. As long as outcomes are achieved, remote work can be both possible and desirable. In fact, a CEO friend of mine whose workforce is now telecommuting recently told me he plans to reduce his office space footprint, with no employee layoffs, once the pandemic is over. He used to be a skeptic of telecommuting but COVID-19 changed his perspective once he has seen how productive remote work can be.”
Shaun Pichler, professor of management
Leadership in a Remote Workplace
A distanced workplace will require changes to human resource management policies and procedures, Pichler added. “Organizations will need to assess employment candidates on their experience and skills with remote work, train employees to be high-performing in a virtual environment and reward those who are able to lead others from afar.”
Most important, though, is addressing the human need for interpersonal contact that is so greatly diminished by remote work.
“Leaders need to check in — even more frequently — with remote staff to ensure they feel supported and continue to feel like they’re part of the team,” Beenen emphasized. “It also seems like there’s more opportunity for harassment or even sidebar conversations in teleconferencing meetings than you may find face-to-face. There’s a possibility that a toxic culture can be amplified in a virtual environment, which means leaders and organizations can’t lose sight of the importance of constantly pushing for a more inclusive workplace.”
The Key to Success Post-COVID
While organizations that already had the technology and policies for off-site working in place before the pandemic might have been a step ahead in transitioning to the new normal, those that displayed the ability to quickly change course or reinvent themselves are most likely to succeed in the long run.
“The companies that will thrive are those that have the resiliency and the adaptability to pivot with the demands of the community. Organizational agility will soon become a barometer for organizational success. And leaders who listen will become the difference makers moving forward,” Barbuto stressed. “A good example is restaurants and service providers that have had to reinvent themselves. Lazy Dog reworked their menu and developed a pandemic friendly, affordable family meal package, and they’ve exponentially increased their takeout and delivery sales.”
The same applies to individuals in the new normal.
Barbuto noted, “A CEO recently told me the ideal employee is now ‘one who is agile, responds to changing demands and embraces change.'”
Contact: Karen Lindell, firstname.lastname@example.org