At the end of 2018, only 8% of the workforce in the EU said they were working from home. Now, it is strange to think remote working was never the norm. Organisations have rapidly escalated their plans for digital transformation or drafted plans from scratch to cope with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve all come a long way in a very short timeframe.

About the author

David Mills, CEO of Ricoh Europe.

But remote working is no longer about trying to achieve business continuity in the short term. It will be a key battleground between companies. It will also dictate the long-term success or failure of an organisation. Ultimately, it is a battle for people.

Even when social distancing measures are relaxed, workplaces won’t just go back to normal. The toothpaste is out of the tube – many people will want to continue working remotely. Simply put, organisations that aren’t set up to enable people to choose how and where they work will lose the battle for the best talent and ultimately fail in the long term.

It’s clear lockdown has whet the appetite for more remote working. So, how can employers truly embrace remote working and win the war to attract and retain the best people?

1. Put people first

People are the most important asset of any organisation, so they should be front and center of the remote working strategy.

The most overlooked element of this is actually engaging with teams and consulting with them on their experience. This helps to identify pain points and develop solutions to keep your people happy and engaged. This process can be streamlined, making it easier for all to feedback. AI-enabled tools such as sentiment analysis and even biometrics, can help determine employee performance or engagement levels, and automate the process of providing feedback.

A remote working strategy should also promote work-life balance to protect wellbeing. This could include simple guidance on establishing a daily routine and strategies for switching off at the end of each day. It could also include analysis of software usage to identify those who may be at risk of burning out and need more help achieving that crucial balance.

2. Amplify with automation

There is a misconception that automation can’t be introduced in the age of remote work. This is entirely untrue. Embracing automation for burdensome and admin-heavy tasks can help elevate your program, freeing up your people for more rewarding and value-added work.

While most areas of an organisation would welcome efforts to simplify tedious tasks, automation is particularly useful to remotely maintain business-critical processes within departments such as HR, finance, procurement, and the mail room. For example, accounts payable and receivable benefit greatly from automation by streamlining processes and keeping cash flows steady. 

Automation tools can help capture invoices as they arrive; recognizing and analyzing key information from documents, and then automatically transporting them to secure and searchable cloud storage. This enables real-time electronic access and status reporting, which helps teams deliver payments in a timely manner and enhance relationships with their suppliers.

Communication is key for adopting automation, as it can still come with some stigma attached. But engaging your teams, assuring them of their roles and explaining how automation is designed to make their lives easier will ultimately help drive this process shift and improve morale.

3. Enable people to work together, even when apart

Thinking about the remote working experience is vital. There are a host of technology solutions now available that enable people to seamlessly collaborate with colleagues and do their job regardless of location. If your experience is patchy or inconsistent, morale will suffer and good people will simply go elsewhere.

Collaborative tools such as Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex have demonstrated their value since social distancing measures were introduced, thanks largely to being part of scalable software systems. Whilst many enterprises had access to these programs for some time, for those unsure of which tool to opt for, there are an abundance of free trials available. These allow smaller businesses, in particular, to plug and play different technologies, helping to create a consistent experience and maintain engagement across teams.

Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) and cloud-based systems centralize key software and applications into one platform. This enables collaboration through video conferencing and instant messaging, screen sharing and real-time document editing. Quickly and securely deployed, these collaboration tools create a positive experience and allow those working across many teams and locations to deliver key projects and customer services as efficiently as ever.

People make organisations successful

Attitudes towards remote working were shifting well before the COVID-19 pandemic. Ricoh Europe research from summer 2019 found that almost two thirds (64%) of European workers expected to be able to work flexibly and three quarters (74%) thought remote work would be written into contracts in the near future.

What the pandemic has shown us is that entire organisations can work effectively when in disparate locations. The workplace has changed forever. Those who adopt a people-first approach and use technology to enable teams to choose how and where they work will be the ones who ultimately thrive.

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