How Businesses Are Handling the Sudden Shift to Remote Work
It’s hard to overstate the role of remote work in 2020. An estimated 16 million US knowledge workers began working remotely in March due to COVID-19. Nine months into this shift to remote work, how are businesses faring?
Transforming the workforce from co-located to distributed teams is a massive undertaking. There are implications across the business. This includes sharpening communication and collaboration skills, equipping the workforce for success and safety, ensuring the well-being of employees, and transforming training for the online setting. Let’s look at each of these trends in more detail.
1. Sharpening communication and collaboration skills
Remote work transforms workplace communication and collaboration. Employees can no longer rely on chance hallway encounters to catch up on projects or riff on ideas. They must now rely on technology and adjust to asynchronous communication.
How are companies coping with these challenges? Here are a few tactics.
- Developing employees’ communication skills: The new world of work requires new communication skills. On Udemy for Business, consumption of Listening Skills, Business Communication, and Business Writing all increased by more than 1,300% in 2020.
- Investing in communication tools and technology: Companies are relying on tools to meet the challenges of remote work. Popular choices include virtual whiteboards, project management software, webcams, and microphones.
- Making intentional changes to workplace norms: Harvard Business Review recommends rethinking workplace norms. More frequent and shorter meetings, for example, may be more effective.
The need to communicate with distributed teams might have felt sudden, but it isn’t temporary. It represents the “future of work” many of us have been talking about for some time now. “COVID-19 has really accelerated the shift from ‘remote-accessible’ to ‘remote-first’ thinking in collaboration design,” says Sprintkick founder and Udemy instructor Evan Kimbrell.
2. Equipping the workforce for success and safety
Company infrastructure was largely unprepared for the rapid shift to remote work. As a result, IT teams are taking on responsibilities like overseeing cybersecurity and rolling out new tools.
How are employers equipping their teams for safe and secure long-term remote work? These are some of the top trends.
- Implementing single sign-on and multi-factor authentication: A single sign-on (SSO) service allows employees to easily and securely access business apps and services. Part of strong SSO use includes multi-factor authentication (MFA) at login. MFA asks users to input a secondary credential along with their username and password.
- Providing recommendations on home network security: Home network security may not be as advanced as the corporate office. Internet of Things (IoT) devices and outdated network equipment can expose employees to threats on home networks. IT teams are ensuring company workstations and software are up-to-date.
- Offering employee guidance on new security scams: Building awareness of phishing attempts should already be part of a company’s cybersecurity policy. Companies are also revisiting how employees can defend themselves against scammers.
Business and technology executives recognize the impact of remote work on safety and security. Ninety-six percent of those surveyed by PwC say they’ll adjust their cybersecurity strategy due to COVID-19. And half of them now consider cybersecurity in every business decision.
3. Ensuring the well-being of employees
Working from home during a pandemic came with a long list of challenges for employees. Living at work means blurred boundaries between the personal and professional. Employees are working longer hours, feeling less connected to coworkers, and struggling to take care of children and other family members.
How are employers helping their teams adapt to these challenges? Here are a few common approaches.
- Adopting more flexible schedules: SHRM reports increasing flexibility for working parents. 60% of employers, for example, let parents adjust their schedules to accommodate caregiving.
- Providing wellness training and resources: Employees are developing skills like anxiety management, resilience, and mindfulness. Courses on these topics all saw massive consumption growth on Udemy for Business in 2020.
- Making changes at the leadership level: Managers’ behavior can positively influence employee well-being. “Managers can play a huge role in mitigating workplace stress with simple habits like starting a meeting with a mindful moment or encouraging employees to block out white space on their calendars,” says Udemy instructor and workplace well-being consultant Ritu Riyat.
Why invest in well-being? For every dollar spent on workplace wellness, company medical costs decrease by approximately $3.27. Harvard Business Review estimates sustained stress and burnout cost companies $125 billion to $190 billion a year.
4. In-person training goes online
The pandemic disrupted the traditional practices for onboarding new hires and training employees. “Employers have to rethink people programs like talent acquisition and onboarding, which in most organizations were not designed around a remote workforce,” Lauren Mason, a principal and senior consultant at Mercer, told SHRM.
Here are a few of the tactics that are helping L&D teams transition their training to the online setting.
- Asking employees to create learning goals: This sends a message that learning is a priority and not ancillary to their role.
- Setting aside dedicated time for learning: Block off an hour each month for employees to spend learning. This will make it clear that learning at work is not only accepted, it’s encouraged.
- Providing access to online learning platforms and other learning experiences: An online course catalog like Udemy for Business can give learners the freedom to discover and set up their own learning pathways.
Why invest in online learning and training? Good onboarding and training is much more cost-effective than hiring new employees. Gallup estimates that the cost of replacing an individual employee can range from one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary. When it comes to L&D, companies spend an average of $1,286 per learner.
Looking toward a remote-friendly future
The challenges of 2020 have given organizations the opportunity to rethink their processes and accelerate a digital-first workplace. And while there have been plenty of challenges along the way, many organizations are seeing this transformation drive business outcomes. We were already beginning to make many of these shifts — 2020 just accelerated our pace.
What does this all mean for you and your organization’s approach to training? For more context on these trends and how they might impact your L&D plans for the future, check out the 2021 Workplace Learning Trends Report.