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The silent remote work (r)evolution

By Tracey Malcolm | November 18, 2022

As remote work gains ground, it offers employers new sources of talent and skills, but there are hidden risks to address.
Employee Engagement |Future of Work|Total Rewards|Wellbeing
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When the COVID-19 pandemic began, reimagining how, when and where work gets done went from strategic to reactionary. Many organizations with little history or experience with widescale remote work adopted it to protect employees and maintain operations to the extent they could. But with the worst of the pandemic behind us, it is time for organizations to return to strategic thinking.

As organizations begin to reassess the future of work, many recognize the transformative opportunity of remote work especially for new sources of talent and labor markets with a new supply of skills. Organizations shifting to remote work should realize that this talent innovation has both excellent value creation opportunities as well as risk.

Are you connecting the dots?

Our research shows a silent remote revolution quietly gaining steam over the last year. For example, consider job postings:

  • Almost 6.5% of all U.S. job postings over the last year were dedicated to remote work, a formal shift recasting temporarily hybrid and remote roles that were once on-site to permanently remote.
  • Wyoming, the least populous state in the country, had the highest remote job postings at over 21% of all jobs, or about 14,000 of 68,000, as remote.
  • Also, Rhode Island, the physically smallest state, had 11% or about 19,000 of 181,000 job postings as fully remote.

Key job examples going remote are:

  • Software developer listings, which increased 38% over last year
  • Business and finance occupation listings, which increased by 26%

Evaluate remote work benefits/potential risks

Our Future of work and risk analysis revealed that with jobs going remote, there is a substantial opportunity to tap into new sources of talent, but may require changes to total rewards and how organizational culture is developed.

Diversified talent sourcing

How can flexibility and technology expand the sources of talent/skills?

Organizations can diversify their talent sourcing by identifying their top skills and jobs and move the work to a labor market with greater supply. For example, in financial services, WTW recent research found that customer service ranked in the top skills in demand, and software engineering as the top job in demand. At first glance, these may not appear to be related. However, when you consider the strategic financial services goal of improving the customer experience, we can see how technology and key jobs like engineering, are helping meet these goals and changing the work done.

For one global financial institution, establishing remote jobs in a new market with more customer service and technology skills meant new opportunities to close skills gaps. And an additional benefit was based on the labor supply, providing the opportunity for the financial institution to increase their gender diversity, especially in key leadership roles.

Alignment of total rewards offering and spending

How should you reallocate total rewards budgets? How should you redesign rewards, career frameworks and benefit programs to reflect the flexibility of remote work and be more relevant to employee needs and values?

For a global pharmaceutical company, this meant updating wellbeing offerings to support workers in a more agile and flexible workplace, with:

  • New mental health first aid training
  • Virtual ergonomic assessments
  • Subsidized digital mindfulness apps

Organizations can get started in a simple way by redistributing current spending from old norms to new ways of working. For example, reducing commuter and parking stipends while increasing home workspace perks. For a utility company, this meant redistributing spend across work segments, by reducing the parking perk for office employees now fully hybrid and creating a new on-site allowance for production employees. Explore with your current employees and leaders how a new combination of total rewards can better align to your diverse mix of work styles and address talent attraction, engagement and retention risks. Govern your flexible work approach through ongoing measurement of engagement, and tracking equitable progress across career growth and total rewards between remote, hybrid and on-site talent.

Organizational culture

On the risk side, combining remote and hybrid work can bring about significant people risk around organizational culture.

Are there altered work policies, processes/tools, and values that could result in a gradual decline in cultural cohesion?

A manufacturing company addressed cultural risk by developing channels for employees to form meaningful connections. The goals of the program were to:

  • Sustain existing culture
  • Increase collaboration and connections
  • Break company siloes

To achieve the goals, the company hosted events like randomly assigned virtual coffees and a new onboarding buddy program.

Another priority was establishing unified messaging across the company that supports the new way of working and promotes flexible work behaviors as part of the company culture, e.g., celebrating “making room for the new.”

Leading remote talent requires new leadership skills. Leaders need to stay connected by establishing rapport in virtual interactions and being enthusiastic with others even while online. Leaders themselves need to think positively and convey self-confidence across digital platforms. They need to enable new ways of working by managing tasks with different connection points and maintain drive by directing and empowering individuals. Organization cultures with remote work rely on both resilience and agility. Resilient agility shows up through behavior and motivations that value staying connected, enabling new ways of working and dealing with change.

Harness the benefits of remote work

Transforming work creates an opportunity to combine people and business risk management, especially around the goal of sustaining organizational culture and cohesion. Being resilient, no matter where work gets done, is an important capability in work transformation. A key action here is to test business continuity capabilities (both on-site and remote) to make sure the organization can effectively address disruption with flexible work arrangements.

As we’ve seen from the surge in job postings, remote work continues to gain ground. Leading organizations move past the single job and talent innovation opportunity to govern and lead around the full potential of transformed work. This requires a systematic approach to:

  • Engage leaders and managers around the transformed work.
  • Prioritize actions to take for higher work output, differentiated employee experience and lower cost of work.
  • Model the most significant risks given your organization’s combination of remote and on-site workers.
    • Redesign risk management
    • Audit HR programs for people readiness
    • Set up early warning systems and key measures to oversee the people and business risks
  • Recalibrate total rewards, benefits and wellbeing solutions as values and workforce preferences, technology and innovation continue to evolve.

Most notably, the shift to remote work will require a partnership between your business and functional leaders to identify and monitor the opportunities and vulnerabilities. In its best form, this partnership will move from general dialogue to a collaborative governance and oversight approach. So, while remote work may be quietly gaining ground, ensure your organization is creating visibility and the necessary oversight as work continues to transform.

Author

Global Leader, Future of Work and Risk

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