Arthur W. Page Society

Hot Topics: The Implications of Remote Work

Hot Topics: The Implications of Remote Work

The sudden and dramatic shift to remote work will and should have lasting implications on how we work in the future. We’ve crossed a threshold from which there’s no going back to the “old days,” creating a historic opportunity for CCOs to lead organizational transformation. 

Page and Page Up members convened to discuss this topic. Here are some takeaways: 

  1. It's not working “remotely,” but working from anywhere. This is the new behavior, not the new normal. This is certain, however uncertain the path to get there. The consensus from organizations is that it will be at least a year or perhaps more before companies can bring employees back to offices in the same density as before. One participant reported that a global pharmaceutical company is planning a pre-vaccine and post-vaccine environment – the latter of which they don’t expect for two years or more. Until then, they don’t expect to be more than 50% capacity at any of their facilities.
  2. The most significant change facing organizations is not logistical, but emotional. If the first half-year of this crisis has largely been about working out operating procedures for business continuity and staff safety in a near-term crisis management mode, the next year or two will be about dealing with deeper anxieties, traumas and dilemmas. Employees are not only having to work in new ways, but are facing frightening external environments – from societal unrest to the continuing unresolved pandemic. For leaders of businesses, this will be the year of living empathetically. Companies are already expanding their mental health benefits and support services. Going forward, emotional intelligence will be at a premium, and new communities are forming within companies, made up of people going through similar experiences. As we look ahead, comfort levels with open conversations on mental health and work-life balance will grow, which can be a new source of strength for companies.
  3. These new behaviors impact different employees, geographies and cultures in different ways. While more junior employees may be thriving in the less hierarchical structure of remote work, other employees may be taking advantage of not having to commute or be a "Road Warrior." These positives are contrasted with other employees that may be suffering the isolating effects of working from home or being stretched with the demands of child-care and blurring of work/life balance. In a virtual town hall with the CEO, a Page member consultant conducted an anonymous spot survey of employee feelings. The word that dominated was “anxiety” and the CEO was shocked.
  4. The crisis is affecting the boardroom, as well. Instead of quarterly meetings, boards are now meeting weekly. They are grappling with the health and wellbeing of staff, questions of liability concerning work from home, challenges of communication to and compensation for different employee groups, some of whom are being furloughed and others of whom are working double time. One member company is building these considerations into their management training. They are also focusing on succession planning, on shareholder activism for companies in trouble, on class-action suits, work disputes and remote working policies. Questions of risk management and business continuity are highly complex and uncertain. Many recognize that companies will fall into two categories in the future, either pre-COVID or post-COVID, with the latter being best positioned for success.
  5. The greatest risk will be in lost opportunity. If work returns as before, with a strong traveling culture and hierarchical structure, then we’ve failed to take the crisis as an opportunity. Many organizations will decide that they are not going back to the old ways of working, and though one size will not fit all,  more and more companies will find themselves adopting Agile work approaches and embracing digital tools in all aspects of their operations.

Special thanks to host Alan Marks, CMO of ServiceNow for moderating, also Aedhmar Hynes, former Page chair and Andrew Thomas, Managing Director, Ogilvy PR for helping lead a robust and honest discussion. 

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