Steve Marsh is the Founder and Chairman of Smarsh, a leader in the enterprise information archiving industry.
Although Covid-19 vaccines could become widely available to the public as soon as the second quarter of this year, business leaders must understand that remote work is here to stay.
Indeed, not only will some Americans continue to feel uneasy about returning to the tight confines of an office, but many have adjusted well to, and prefer, the telecommuting model — which was already taking hold well before the pandemic gripped the global economy. Rather than view this shift as a challenge, firms should look at these unprecedented events as an opportunity to remake their businesses.
Consider, for instance, that initial studies are showing that remote work leads to greater productivity. Just as promising is how many firms are investing in programs and policies that boost employee wellness and engagement — a key to conquering some of the challenges associated with having a dispersed workforce.
The most obvious upside is being able to slash real estate-related expenses. Free from that burden, firms can deploy more capital on initiatives that drive growth, whether it’s retaining top talent and upgrading aging tech systems.
How Companies Are Ramping Up Remote Work
According to news reports, a wide array of prominent businesses have agreed to allow staff to permanently work from home, including tech giants Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Square and Shopify. Even Deutsche Bank is considering allowing remote work two days a week.
Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman said in April that his company has “proven we can operate with no footprint” and that it will have “much less real estate” eventually. His statements echo findings by Moody’s Analytics, which recently revealed that commercial real estate was under pressure well ahead of the Covid-19 crisis.
Communication and collaboration tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack have been crucial to the remote work boom. Usage of these platforms has exploded, leading to an uptick in the number of workers using personal smartphones or tablets for business. Microsoft Teams alone added approximately 40 million users over the span of six months last year.
Staying On Top Of Remote Work Communications Data
One of the downsides of a distributed workforce is that people are typically more comfortable taking risks online and at home than in an office. That can create an environment ripe for fraud and nefarious conduct, which, in turn, increases the number of cybersecurity or compliance risks businesses are forced to confront. This problem will only become more acute as the number of workplace conversations via mobile phones, instant messaging, email, social media and productivity apps rise.
None of this is a reason for anyone to shy away from providing remote work options. However, it does suggest companies should adopt policies, procedures and tools that can address the new workplace realities head-on. One example is investing in a communications intelligence platform capable of thoroughly scanning reams of data and quickly escalating problems to gatekeepers.
Interestingly, many of the newest offerings don’t just help companies protect themselves. In leveraging rapid advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, they also support their ability to analyze remote-work communications to gain useful insights into everything from customer demographics to the most effective sales techniques.
There are a few things firms should keep in mind when it comes to choosing the right retention and oversight platform for your business. It should be custom-built to meet any regulatory or risk requirements for your sector. Make sure it can capture and retain all the communication channels (e.g., email, Microsoft Teams, text messaging) that your organization uses to conduct business.
Additionally, consider where data will be stored and whether your infrastructure can scale effectively with the proliferating volume and variety of communications that accompany your remote workforce. And because new remote-work communication tools will likely give rise to additional regulations, make sure your platform provider has a good track record of developing timely improvements in response to, or in anticipation of, new guidelines.
Time To Prepare For Post-Pandemic Solutions
Although the future remains uncertain, it would be misguided to assume that coronavirus vaccines will usher in a complete return to a pre-pandemic world. Indeed, now is the time to embrace — and prepare for — a more permanent remote-work landscape.
Firms can accomplish this by incorporating technology that promotes safe digital collaboration among employees and teams, making their businesses more attractive to top talent while also supporting broader strategic growth goals.