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The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed remote work issues to the forefront of the marketplace as organizations scramble to create a distributed workforce.

Today’s business leaders face a multitude of challenges adapting company policies to the emerging trend of remote work. A delicate balancing act exists between keeping workers happy, fostering positive company culture, and meeting performance goals.

Some business owners and executives choose to avoid the pitfalls of alternative work by refusing to entertain a distributed workplace. These companies may jeopardize their future talent prospects by losing out on attracting the best workers to their organization.

Not All Workers Like Being at Home

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In addition to the obvious issues of monitoring performance and productivity, there are other issues at play. When not in a shared office, employees may worry they will be left out or undervalued. Feelings of isolation can lead to a lack of interest or engagement.

In the past, prospective employees might unfairly judge the culture of the organization as disconnected or even apathetic. Telecommuters may have concerns about risking job advancement and career development. Management may view managing staff too difficult, especially those who require greater supervision, trainees, and new hires.

Feeling Left Out

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Even with a traditional office offered alongside telecommuting, accommodating the differences in work styles can create competing approaches. This may inadvertently give an advantage to self-starters who welcome a more autonomous environment over staff who need more attention.

Those who benefit from an alternative arrangement may be reluctant due to a fear of “missing out” on important decisions. Allegations of preferential treatment may dog management if all staff is not provided the same opportunity to telecommute.

In the current atmosphere, employees must choose between feeling safe or feeling included.

Instead of meeting these challenges directly, some employers are taking a wait and see approach. By doing so, they risk losing their best employees to more agile startups who already offer this option.

Even if COVID-19 Goes Away, Remote Work Won’t

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Although some major corporations pulled back on remote work prior to the COVID outbreak, their employees still wanted the option. The trend toward some work performed away from the office is likely to become the default arrangement in the future.

One survey found that about 76 percent of Millennials would take a pay cut in exchange for flexible hours. Millennials have become so choosy that most said they are willing to switch jobs to an employer who offers them. They may intuitively understand that remote work is a smart one which puts more money in their pocket.

According to Flexjobs, fulltime telecommuters can save over $4,000 annually. They also gain 11 days of time not wasted sitting in traffic.

It is becoming clear that the pressure for more flexible situations is not going away.

Even before the virus forced workers to self-quarantine, the demand for alternative work arrangements steadily grew. According to the Gallup’s annual Work and Education Poll, 37 percent of workers report having telecommuted from home prior to COVID-19. This is a 30 percent increase over the previous two decades. With the advent of quarantines, many more workers will experience this option. Likely, demand for work-at-home arrangements will increase.

The timing couldn’t be worse.

Coordinating Efforts in the Time of Coronavirus

Globalization pushes the labor market beyond America’s borders while companies adopt an intentional division of labor to enhance productivity. Specialization within an organization promotes concentrating on a narrow range of skills. This requires more individuals working in unison to meet targets. And all this means a greater emphasis on coordinating efforts.

As a result, this requires even greater communication among workers, one of the biggest challenges in the distributed workplace.

Providing greater opportunities to take advantage of this style of working will be crucial in the future. Companies seeking to attract top talent and retain their best employees will need to address these trends.

According to a report by the popular freelance website Upwork, 73 percent of all teams are projected to have remote workers by 2028.

Who Will Work at Home?

Flexible work situations are not only for low-level staff or those performing repetitive, routine tasks. It isn’t only for those forced to stay indoors because of contagious diseases.

Creatives relish the opportunity to work in an environment that fosters greater autonomy and leads to innovation. Management and executives are finding benefits in spending a portion of their week working remotely as well.

While telecommuting has been around since the 1970s, younger workers are more likely to embrace flexible work arrangements. It is tempting to frame this as a problem affecting the 20-somethings. We should keep in mind the leading edge of Generation Y is quickly approaching middle age. As these up-and-comers move into positions of authority, remote work is expected to become the default arrangement in the future.

As Millennials begin to lead more startups and head small businesses, competing companies with traditional office environments are going to have to entice workers with higher wages and costly benefits.

Once workers have tasted the freedom of a distributed workplace, few are going to opt to return to the traditional office environment. At least, not on a full-time basis.

The Remote Work Solution

Keeping employees connected and engaged throughout the workday is the key. As reported in Forbes, sense of working collectively results in greater performance and a higher rate of success.

As employers hire workers to perform specialized functions, teams will need greater collaboration to complete projects. What was once an impromptu meeting in the break room will have to take place in a virtual environment. The success of teams located in different time zones is wholly dependent on their ability to interact with their coworkers in real-time.

Chat programs and email are poor substitutes for face-to-face engagement where 93 percent of communication is estimated to be nonverbal.

Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, is most famous for the 7/38/55 rule. He found that in any communication scenario 7 percent of the information received is through the words spoken, 38 percent is through the tone of voice, and 55 percent is though bodily movements. This important information is lost in communication that is wholly text based.

A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that social cues were important to motivation, even when people work alone. Those who worked together on challenging tasks persisted in their efforts longer and performed better. This form of collaboration turned work into play.

Technology can be leveraged to address the “problem” of remote work, if companies are serious about adapting their organizations to the demands of the future.

COVID-19 may be the driving force behind a global shift to remote work.

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Shelly Fagan

Shelly Fagan is a freelance writer living in Arizona. She is passionate about American politics, business, universal basic income and worker rights. Follow her on Twitter @FaganWrites or on Medium at https://medium.com/@shellyfaganaz

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