2020 is the year that remote work goes mainstream. Strategies to contain the coronavirus-borne disease COVID-19 mean working from home is mandatory for many. Across the world, employees are signing on to what Time calls 'The World's Largest Work From Home Experiment'.
On February 26th, US public health officials urged Americans to ask schools and workplaces about contingency plans. That same day, Sentieo, a financial research platform, saw a spike in the mention of the phrase ‘work from home’ in corporation transcripts. Google Trends saw the search term more than 10x in the US between December 2019 and March 2020.
Facebook and Amazon told all employees who can work from home to do so. Google and Twitter took their policies further, making home work mandatory for their entire workforces.
Some 41% of companies offer some form of remote work, but, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a mere 29% of Americans have the tools to work from home. The unpredictable nature of the virus means many companies lack fit-for-purpose contingency plans.
Cue drastic, frequent, and contradictory modifications to telecommuting policies.
Companies like Intel prepped themselves for crisis; they've got an entire pandemic leadership team as part of their business continuity and crisis management division. But many organizations caught on the back foot have had to produce prescriptive guidelines from thin air.
In this difficult climate, continuity and comms are paramount, as businesses lean on remote working tools and internal communication strategies to optimize productivity and keep employees engaged and connected.
Realising this morning what a big part our internal digital channels are going to play in keeping us connected and sane over the next few weeks. Yammer use has shot up and people are sharing their new ways of working... there's a real sense of community. We're going to need it! pic.twitter.com/XIeTpp1AUo— Lynsey 📌 (@Lynscomms) March 17, 2020
The State Of Remote Work
Remote work has increased an impressive 115% in the past decade. More companies than ever are embracing improved technology for a range of motivations, from reducing overheads to hiring for 'hard to fill' positions.
The impact of COVID-19 has forced companies to think fast, and adapt faster. No mean feat for the 44% of businesses who don't allow remote work at all.
In this tricky environment, businesses are looking to replicate the strategies of the 16% of companies who exclusively hire remote workers; companies whose operations have thrived thanks to their telecommuting models, not in spite of them.
Our podcast network is an entirely remote team, and we'll wax lyrical about the benefits of remote work to anyone who'll listen. When it's done right, working from home with a diverse global team can boost employee satisfaction and productivity, all while reducing your carbon footprint.
Benefits Of Remote Work
Attract And Retain Talent
Location independent jobs allow companies to hire from a huge pool of candidates. With correct screening, this results in better talent and a more diverse team.
Moreover, when the top talent arrives they're more likely to stick around, as companies that allow remote work show a 25% lower employee turnover than those that don’t. They're also overwhelmingly happier, with 86% of people reporting that working remote reduces stress. Win win!
Many companies cite employee engagement as the biggest reason they're reluctant to allow telecommuting. This misconception has its roots in mistrust, rather than data.
In fact, remote workers report increased productivity for a plethora of reasons. Half-time telecommuters save 11 days a year by not traveling to work! Plus, the reduction of office-based micro-distractions provides the ideal environment for that nitty-gritty deep work.
Reduce Your Company Carbon Footprint
The very nature of remote working reduces both individual and company carbon footprints. On a larger scale, the environmental benefits of telecommuting policies are impressive.
Xerox encouraged 8,000 employees, 11% of its workforce at the time to work from home full time. As a result, they reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 40,894 metric tons, and their remote staff used 4.6 million fewer gallons of fuel by not commuting.
Great for the environment, and great for Xerox, who saved money on their electricity bill too!
Internal Communications Are Key
Extraordinary times call for radical approaches.
In Gallup's latest issues of 'The Real Future of Work', the message was clear. To ride out times of crisis, companies need to 'clearly and frequently communicate [their] core values and mission'.
Corporate constants must be easily accessible and happen in defined channels. Employees need know what the official line is and where they'll find it.
GitLab suggests writing things down with detail and precision in a low context manner. Another top tip is developing a handbook to act as a single source of truth.
If you're rolling your eyes at the idea of another employee handbook, then buckle up. There's a new way to approach internal comms — the unsung hero that is the private podcast.
Internal comms advice re: COVID-19.— Rachel Miller, All Things IC (@AllthingsIC) March 12, 2020
✅ Bust jargon
✅ Answer/provide FAQ
✅ Provide source of truth
✅ Two-way channels
✅ Work with HR re: policies
✅ Commit to communicate
✅ Visible leaders (even if virtual)
❌ Inappropriate pictures
❌ Inflammatory language
❌ Info gaps.
Podcasting For Internal Communications
The most unsettling factor for employees right now is the speed and scale at which the coronavirus affects their professional lives. Frequent changes in corporate directives leaves teams feeling confused about core policies. What's worse is that they're physically and objectively distant from their coworkers.
Internal private podcasts are the ultimate secret weapon in employee communication, particularly during times of intense upheaval.
- Foster employee engagement from a distance
- Deliver the human side of the company
- Reach employees via a contemporary medium that they already use
- Involve your teams in company culture through storytelling
Here are are just a few of the ways that private podcasts can work for your business:
Team Culture And Employee Engagement
Internal podcasts are a powerful medium for encouraging employee engagement and maintaining team culture. When personnel are not physically able to be in the same place, a podcast can be used to:
- Share news
- Celebrate accomplishments
- Drive home objectives
- Incite collaboration and creativity
When embarking on a radical overhaul to its business model, BC Pensions wanted to transform overwhelmed employees into company advocates. They developed StaffCast, an innovative podcast that provided a platform for employees to voice concerns, and actively contribute to strategies at a pivotal moment.
Kind of like a virtual water cooler, team podcasts help employees who are not used to working from home to recreate the community ethos of their workplace.
Daily Updates For Key Information
With the majority of the workforce in different locations, it can be easy for employees to miss key information in the barrage of emails and bulletins. By creating an concise and accessible show, companies can deliver important messages in a concise format to ensure that nobody is left behind.
These types of podcasts can be as frequent as required and can be used for anything from internal updates to industry highlights and market reports. A regular short form show will allow employees to listen as part of their daily or weekly routine.
Learning And Development
Employees that spend a lot of time interacting with clients in person find remote working limiting, despite the technology available. These people will find their responsibilities altering, and may have to develop specialist skills or interact with new departments.
Shopify have a thriving internal podcast. 30% of their 5,000 strong workforce listened to the first episode, and the numbers keep climbing. Team members were curious to hear what CEO Tobias Lütke would have to say on his episode. He didn't opt for corporate updates, or company achievements, instead he took a deep dive into engineering history to share his personal expertise with his employees.
By using podcasts for corporate training, companies can promote learning and personal skill development to employees at any level: from orientation and how-to guides for new staff, to deep learning initiatives for long-standing employees.
Private podcasts within a business are the ideal medium for providing employees with a high-level overview of the progression of company-wide goals.
Executives, key stakeholders, and managers can use podcasts as an opportunity to reinforce core values and missions, provide the official line for vital updates, and be the reassuring and human voice in a time of rapid change.
Specialized Department Shows
Individual departments or sectors of a company can benefit from a highly specialized podcast relevant to their requirements. What's relevant to the marketing team may not be useful for finance, but businesses who carve out a space for each department can maximise the efficiency of their podcast offerings.
As an added bonus, participating and creating these shows becomes a department culture building exercise in its own right.
Many companies look to email or even video as their primary communication channel at scale, but podcasts have several inherent qualities that lend themselves to internal communication.
- They're not screen based — employees are inundated with emails and bulletins that require immediate action; video conferencing and virtual town halls come with the implicit pressure of participation. But podcasts allow listeners to immerse themselves in the information in a mode that is free of the regular stressors of work-related communications.
- They're portable — flexibility is consistently the top reason for remote work satisfaction. Employees can listen to podcasts while they're picking up children from school, walking the dog, or even at the gym, effectively catching up on work communications during their leisure time.
- They're human — the best private company podcasters know that authenticity is the key to increasing listener numbers. This is the perfect opportunity to increase trust within a company, as well as building a strong foundation for employee engagement.
- They're measurable — you can see how many members of your team opened that email, but can you ever know who read the fine print? Podcasting allows a number of employee engagement analytics, anything from the number of listeners to how many completed the episode, at what point they stopped listening, or if they skipped certain segments.
How To Go Remote
Tips For Your Toolkit
More recent adopters of remote working can draw inspiration from the world's 14% of fully remote companies.
- GitLab, a SaaS company for DevOps, is the gold standard for all-remote workforces. The company rapidly expanded from 6 team members in 2014, to over 1,200 remote employees in 65 countries in 2020. GitLab's success is partly due to their investigative approach to the remote working environment. To share the good news, there's a regularly updated blog of their best practices available on their website.
Although every industry has niche-specific difficulties, the core principles of effective telecommuting can be applied to almost any business.
Here are some of our top tips for your remote company toolkit!
Establish Policies Regarding Availability And Expectations
The first goal for any remote working action plan is to establish clear, concise policies for availability and employee expectations.
Harvard Business Review suggests having structured, daily check ins. Managers should know what employees are working on, but bear in mind that the flexible working environment is a two-way street.
Although most home working guides will suggest keeping to regular office hours, companies should be mindful of shifts in working patterns as employees adapt to remote work. Scheduling regular check-ins and meetings encourages transparency and accountability, and will allow teams to synchronise their objectives.
Don’t Try To Replicate Your Office Environment
No remote worker is quite alike. Some employees prefer to share screens all day with an accountability partner, but trying to replicate the office environment may be more of a hinderance than a help.
Video conferencing platforms and internal social networking are on the rise. Zoom reported more users in the first two months of 2020 than in the whole of 2019.
Tools like Zoom are great for building community and communication, but workers should be incentivised to develop their personal accountability, and to complete tasks autonomously.
Embrace Synchronous And Asynchronous Communication
Internal communication is key. Knowing when to use synchronous and asynchronous communication can transform a precarious work from home experiment into veritable remote powerhouse.
Synchronous communication means getting everyone together for those complex and nuanced conversations. Like:
- Problem solving or critical feedback
- Rime sensitive or emergency situations
- 1:1 meetings between team members and mangers.
Most of these interactions will take place on video conferencing platforms.
Asynchronous communication solves the issues of different timezones in a global workforce, as well allowing for the inevitable flexibility that telecommuting needs. From email and text based comms apps such as Slack, to more contemporary solutions like internal podcasts, asynchronous communication is the way to keep everyone aligned and motivated.
Create A Virtual Water Cooler
Creating a space for employees to let off steam in a professional context is paramount to cultivating a healthy remote work environment.
- A 2013 study of remote workers from Chinese travel company Ctrip found that although productivity increased, employees reported feelings of isolation and deterioration of their mental health.
To combat this, fully remote companies choose to dedicate certain channels in their communications platforms to water cooler chat. This can take any form, from a 15 minutes every day to share gifs to a weekly family photo competition.
Optimize Project Management
Large scale projects can still be managed remotely, but should be broken down into their smallest possible components. Each part needs to be diligently tracked in order to ensure timely deliverables, and keep employees accountable.
In place of a visual board in the office, Strategy + Business Magazine suggests using virtual visual planners, whiteboards, and scheduling software, as well as increasing the number of personnel tasked with project management.
Connect With Us
There are myriad tools out there to make running a remote company easier. Often a little trial and error is enough to find out what will work best for your team. The key is making sure your methodology is driven by people, not technology:
- Cultivate a sense of community and transparency
- Ask your teams which tools work best for them
- Find out how your employees prefer to receive company communication
Find out more about our internal communications podcast services here and reach out any time if you have questions.