The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching, profound effects on nearly every segment of the population. According to a new Pew Research Center survey, nearly nine in 10 U.S. adults say their life has changed at least a little as a result of the outbreak, including 44% who say their life has changed in a major way.

The same can be said for American business: the coronavirus pandemic has forced digital transformation and remote work on organizations whether they were ready or not. Businesses that were resistant to change no longer have the luxury due to stay-at-home orders and other restrictions. And even as those are being lifted, the need for a remote work strategy is here to stay.

Many job seekers value the ability to work from home and favor jobs that provide them flexibility to do so, enabling them to say goodbye to onerous commutes and packed offices. With the proliferation of remote work technologies from companies such as Microsoft, Zoom, Google and Slack, it’s no longer necessary to be in an office full-time to be a productive member on a team.

As we continue to learn to live with COVID-19, are employers embracing remote work? As appealing as remote work is to employees, it wouldn’t be such a growing trend if employers didn’t also recognize the benefits in the form of increased productivity. In fact, according to an Airtasker 2020 survey:

  • Remote employees work an additional 1.4 more days per month than in-office employees, or nearly 17 additional workdays a year.
  • Remote employees take longer breaks on average than office employees, but they work an additional 10 minutes a day.
  • Office workers are unproductive for an average 37 minutes a day, not including lunch or breaks, whereas remote employees are unproductive for only 27 minutes.

With the benefits so apparent, why haven’t companies moved to this model en masse? As Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” While almost everyone understands the concept of remote work, trying to figure out a productive remote work model that works best for your company and the path to get there can be difficult.

While there’s no singular prescriptive model for success, we have observed some consistency in terms of what remote work looks like for different companies, and have demonstrated those levels of success through a Remote Work Maturity Curve. Organizations can use this curve to self-assess where they are in their remote work ability, and what additional capabilities they should consider for optimizing their productivity.

’Success does not require complete implementation of all the capabilities and functions outlined in the Remote Work Maturity Curve, though organizations should strive to provide as much resources and support as possible. The first step in that process is to assess where the organization sits on that curve.

Even the most sophisticated organizations that operate at a high level of remote work—the “run” state—began at a “crawl” state. Crawl characteristics include having individuals operating independently, as knowledge workers who generally only have remote access to email and essential tools—perhaps over a VPN—with limited laptops and company-sponsored mobile computing devices. Many organizations started this way at the beginning of the pandemic, as workers were told to go home.

From there, as more employees move to a work-from-home model, organizations need to increase their VPN capabilities, provide access to an increasing number of critical systems, enhance their overall security posture with multifactor authentication, implement more sophisticated data access policies, and begin to operate in a distributed decision-making model. A culture of operating as a team begins to define the norm in order to fully transition to the “walk” state, and organizations have started both to realize how to support work from home, and to see the productivity benefits.

Finally, in the “run” state, the organization fully embraces remote work and goes above and beyond in providing resources and support for employees. This includes a functioning service desk to support remote workers, secure virtual desktops, and training for employees to operate seamlessly within the organization. In organizations that run, remote work is not just supported but embodied by leadership in the organization, defining what is largely a self-managed, autonomous, productive culture.

Once an organization has assessed where it is on the curve and has maintained that state for a while, it’s time to take a step back and think about how to move forward. What are the activities and investments that can be made to progress to the next level? What happens as employees start to transition back to the office environment (if they do at all)? How does it ensure it thrives in the future? Even if an organization is in a “run” state, investments need to continue to ensure progression and support for a strong remote work culture.

Just as babies have challenges taking those first steps, so do organizations looking to progress along the curve. The first step is always the hardest, and often it’s a cultural barrier that needs to be overcome to accept and support moving to that walk phase and beyond.

If your organization needs help developing and implementing a remote work strategy or progressing along the Remote Work Maturity Curve, we can help. Join our webinar “Where Are You on the Journey to Remote Work?” to learn more or contact us to speak to one of our remote work experts.