Remote work appears to be here to stay — and business leaders know it. As CEOs plan for 2021, they’re embracing telecommuting as part of their long-term strategy.
But strategizing is different than executing, and for many companies, working well while remote is still incredibly difficult.
According to The Predictive Index’s 2021 CEO Benchmarking Report, which surveyed 160 CEOs about their top concerns in a post-COVID world, 97% of CEOs will allow remote work to some degree moving forward. It’s a powerful finding and a win for those who enjoy skipping the commute for the kitchen table.
Yet despite their commitment to a remote-friendly future, many CEOs admit their teams are struggling to work well in this environment. As companies optimize their talent and teams for the coming months, here are four problems CEOs face due to remote work:
1. Lack of autonomy
Many employees associate remote work with a sense of freedom. You have the ability to choose where you work, how you dress, and possibly even when you put in hours. But when it comes to team collaboration, remote work can be surprisingly restrictive.
The report asked CEOs what percentage of their workforce is currently remote. Of companies that are nearly fully remote (90% of workers or more), 64% of CEOs admit their teams struggle with autonomy. Of companies that aren’t fully remote, only 28% of CEOs experience the same problem.
A remote environment can feel isolating. In the absence of in-person interactions, employees can build up walls. Communication may falter, causing work to fall through the cracks. At worst, this can erode team trust, further compounding the issue. It’s important, then, that employees collaborate frequently and candidly with one another.
2. Poor management
Remote work is also having a negative impact on team management. According to the report, 63% of CEOs with nearly fully remote organizations say team leaders are struggling to manage their people. That percentage drops to 38% among companies that aren’t fully remote.
Leaders can’t approach remote teams the same way they would an in-office team. A team of highly extroverted employees may have thrived in person. Throw in the curveball of a Zoom screen, though, and these individuals may struggle to collaborate like they used to.
People managers should take into account the behavioral needs of their remote employees. If an employee feels intimidated by virtual meetings, their manager can provide them with other avenues — like 1:1 meetings, phone calls, or email threads — to share their thoughts.
3. Stifled innovation
As companies turn the page in 2020, CEOs are looking to tackle the new year with renewed energy and fresh ideas. But evidence suggests that teams responsible for innovating are struggling to give it their all — and understandably so.
The 2021 CEO Benchmarking Report asked CEOs whether they believe their team produces high-quality ideas to advance the business’s goals. For less-remote organizations, 87% of CEOs agreed. However, the number dips to 77% for fully remote organizations.
When teams are struggling to collaborate freely, it’s no wonder innovation may suffer. If CEOs wish to advance their products and services in the months to come, they must first solve the people issues that are stifling creativity.
4. Decreased confidence
Amid these team struggles, executives are feeling less confident about the work ahead. Of organizations that aren’t fully remote, 94% of CEOs said they’re confident in their team’s ability to hit long-term goals. Yet only 81% of CEOs with fully remote teams said the same.
Confidence breeds trust — one of the pillars of a high-performing team. When employees trust their peers, their managers, and themselves, things like engagement and innovation tend to fall into place. Conversely, a lack of trust tends to be contagious.
If the leaders atop the organization don’t trust their people to see strategy through, odds are employees won’t either. For the sake of trust and cohesion, leaders must approach their remote teams with thought and care.
This starts with understanding your people. Take the time to observe how your employees behave in a remote environment. Learn where their natural strengths lie, and note any caution areas they’ll need to navigate. Only with a people-first, talent-optimization mindset can you build remote teams to last.
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