During these two years of the pandemic, many offices have adopted a remote work model. By enabling employees to work from anywhere, businesses can be more productive while also creating a more inclusive environment and continuing to foster genuine connections.
Though some CEOs in the tech sector continue to delay return-to-office, it can be good for both businesses and employees. A remote-first culture can lead to more engaged employees, better retention, and improved productivity. Here's what the future of work could look like and why going back to office culture would be a step back.
Not limiting the success measures to working hours
For a very long time, offices and the work they do have been seen as an output. Companies measure employees based on how long they are at their desks and link productivity to the notion of "hard work."
In reality, remote offices help achieve company goals and remove the friction that comes with a physical workplace. Before COVID-19, several employees used to spend many hours a day commuting. Now that has been cut out, and as a result, friction in business is significantly reduced.
We should not focus on hours worked as a measure of productivity, but on achievable goals. If employees can meet their goals in fewer hours than the standard 40-hour work week, they should be praised and rewarded. Encouraging time off, by implementing company wide recharge days in addition to paid-time-off, ensures that employees feel refreshed and achieve more while working. After all, we are charged as business leaders to deliver great results for customers, employees and investors.
An OECD report found that both employees and managers believed that working from home had a positive impact on them in terms of performance and well-being. At DigitalOcean, after two years of working remotely and encouraging time off, we have seen over 30% improvement in productivity. We’ve been fostering happy employees, who are giving the flexibility to work in the environment that best suits them, enabling us to achieve our goals and grow our business.
Companies need to be deliberate about remote-first approaches
Companies need to adopt a measured approach about how they foster a culture, retain employees and collaborate. One of the main concerns we hear about remote work is that employees won't be able to connect virtually the same way they can when interacting in person, and that will result in damage to company culture.
The companies that create sustainable cultures are those that have a clear vision of why they exist and work actively to promote and live by a set of shared values. And they use those values as a social contract to drive consistent execution as a team. When companies set about working towards a shared mission, teams can build more lasting relationships by forming alliances with customers and each other, even when they're not physically together.
Using tools like Zoom, we can democratise meetings and enable teams to connect socially through shared activities. Remote and even hybrid cultures can work when companies take the time to create guidelines for engagement and think creatively about how to engage.
Benefits that encourage time off, allowing employees to focus on their physical and mental health and ensuring everyone has a comfortable at-home setup goes a long way in creating a successful remote environment. HR personnel should implement these benefits and regularly collect feedback on what is doing well and how it can be improved.
Considering COVID-19 as a catalyst of change, not a temporary switch
It is tempting to think of the current times as temporary and to believe that things will return to "normal" when COVID-19 is more manageable. After two or three years of dramatic lifestyle changes, for those who can work remotely, there is no going back to the old office environment.
Rather than trying to go back to our pre-COVID-19 work environment, I think in the future, we should look at this time as a catalyst for a change in the way we view the integration of our professional and personal lives. Leveraging the powerful development of technology tools has enabled productive engagement that eliminates the barrier of a physical office as the sole mechanism to drive business results.
By rethinking our approach to company culture and redefining the mission, values and convenience of achieving business goals, we can focus on great customer service, creating better products, generating stronger results and achieving better and lasting employee satisfaction.