Coronavirus spotlights critical gaps in remote work

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Blurring professional boundaries and lack of access to information as well as meetings are some of the main hurdles remote workers are facing, according to a new report from Igloo Software, a digital workplace solutions company.

The annual State of the Digital Workplace report shows minor improvements in the remote work experience, and reveals critical gaps ahead of the pandemic, as it was conducted in February.

“It gave us the last glimpse into the traditional work challenges, right prior to this global shift to remote work,” says Mike Hicks, CMO of Igloo Software.

When the world went remote, the shift gave everyone a better understanding of the challenges that remote workers have always faced, Hicks says. Almost 30% of remote workers are not receiving information about process or policy changes, and 43% said they have been excluded from meetings, the report found.

“It means that effective communication isn't happening,” he says. “People are being excluded, and information sharing and knowledge management isn't being optimized because people can't access what they need.”

Collaboration is another big challenge for remote workers. More than one third of remote employees report not being able to access the important documents or information needed to get their jobs done. Document sharing is becoming increasingly difficult, with 51% saying they’ve avoided sharing one with a colleague because they either couldn't find it or they felt it would take too long to find, compared to 42% in 2019 and 31% in 2018

“This is clearly going the wrong way,” Hicks says. “We’ve seen an explosion in the types and volume of technology that organizations are deploying, and they're making those decisions based on an assumption of some benefits that it’s going to give them, like efficiency. But the unintended consequences are that they're creating data silos and actually, in some cases, making it more difficult for people to be efficient and effective.”

Professional boundaries are blurring. Nearly half (49%) say they are overwhelmed by the amount of non-work related messages they receive. More than one-third of respondents have accidentally sent a message to a coworker that they regret — admitting that they’ve mistakenly shared personal or confidential company information.

“With the rise of social media and digital connectedness, communicating is too easy in some instances, and professional and personal lives are blurring,” Hicks says. “You have colleagues who are following each other on personal social media because there's this desire to connect with the people who you work with on a personal level. It's creating a lot of sensitive issues.”

See also: Best tools to support your remote workforce

But there are things companies can do to help facilitate the desire to connect employees on a more personal level.

“We're seeing it right now with things like social zones inside of intranet, as companies are setting up a virtual water cooler-like functionality where people can do more personal things,” Hicks says. “There's no expectation that work is happening there, but it's a much more structured and safe place for people to build those kinds of personal relationships with their colleagues.”

People being overwhelmed by the volume of non-work related messages can be traced back to multi-channel chat applications like Slack and Teams, Hicks says, and how easy it now is to send a message.

“It's just increased the volume, and there's a reduced ability to prioritize which messages are important and which can be dealt with later,” he says.

Supporting a 100% remote workforce has been a big challenge for employers, and many are now taking a closer look at what needs to be done to better support collaboration, communication and long-term productivity.

“A lot of spending on technology took place that maybe now some organizations are in a position to really reevaluate,” Hicks says, noting a reassessment of effective workflows and comprehensive tools. “Look at the impact of those tools, because one of the biggest issues is that it creates pockets of information that only pockets of people have access to. The problem with that becomes ‘what about all the people who don't know that that information exists?’ And this is why we're big proponents of centralized knowledge repositories that everybody has visibility and access to.”

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