How innovative organizations have responded to remote working: 5 lessons for HR and People teams from companies across the world

Charlotte Nicol
Last updated on 22nd September 2020
4 min read

The question on many people’s minds: will we ever go back to how we used to work?

According to Global Workplace Analytics, 77% of the US workforce wants to continue working remotely when offices return to normal. By 2021, it’s expected 25–35% of people will be working from home several days a week.

The global pandemic has forced many businesses around the world to adopt remote working. The process in many notable organizations had appeared seamless, all thanks to HR and People teams who worked tirelessly to make sure it had a minimal effect on ways of working.

Organizations that had already implemented flexible working policies and technologies were the best-placed to manage this transition. Now, many organizations have decided to move to remote working permanently, accelerating a change that was expected to happen gradually over the next decade.

So, what can we as HR and People leaders learn from the way companies worldwide have adapted to the crisis? We’ve identified five examples of organizations that adapted well to the situation and what made them so efficient.

1. Twitter

As one of the first to make a move to permanent home-based working in the wake of the pandemic, Twitter provides an excellent case study for how businesses can adapt to meet changing employee preferences.

Part of Twitter’s success is that they were quick to adapt. As early as May 2020, a blog post by Jennifer Christie, Vice President of People, announced that the company’s 5,000 employees will be allowed to work from home “forever,” if a home setup works better for them.

What was the secret to their quick transition? As the company later wrote: “We emphasized decentralization and supporting a distributed workforce even before the pandemic started.”

Since then, Twitter has added to its company policies and re-aligned its company culture to facilitate a remote workforce.

Among other actions taken, the company has re-evaluated its global benefits offerings, offered to reimburse employees working from home for their expenses and invested in mental and physical health support.

2. Lloyds of London

Arguably some of the most exciting and surprising changes have occurred within those companies rooted in tradition.

When the lockdown in Britain came into effect, Lloyd’s of London was forced to close its underwriting room – the world’s largest insurance market hub – for the first time in 330 years.

PPL, their electronic trading system, played an industry-saving role by allowing Lloyd’s of London’s 45,000 employees to continue handling their accounts from home with minimal disruption.

Sue Jakobek, Managing Director of PPL, reported a 15% increase in the number of users, with 150 people learning to use the system every day.

Jennifer Rigby, Chief Operations Officer at Lloyd’s said the company is planning to test a balance of physical and virtual aspects of the traditional underwriting room for the future.

3. Lego

It’s no small wonder this leading toy company has an average 4.4 rating on Glassdoor for its company culture and values. The Danish manufacturer had already introduced remote working across its global workforce as far back as 2015.

Rory Unwin, Brand Manager at Lego, told Liberty Mind that they still have regular project check-ins, but “now more emphasis is placed on [the managers] to check in on how people are.”

Employees use Microsoft Teams and are encouraged to put on their webcams to stay connected, as well as sharing LinkedIn learning courses.

Lego managers are even able to gamify their work conferences by hosting mini awards for fun categories like “best workspace” and are empowered to prioritize their employee’s health and wellbeing while they are at home – a clear example of how to effectively manage a remote workforce in a fun and positive way.

4. Shopify

Tobi Lutke, CEO and founder of the Canadian-based e-commerce company, announced to his team that “office centricity is over.”

The move quickly proved successful, as Shopify’s shares went up 3.5% in May.

In a tweet, Lutke explained that Shopify is now a “digital by default company” and that “the future of the office is to act as an on-ramp to the same digital workplace that you can access from your #WFH setup.”

Shopify’s 5,000 employees will work from home permanently until at least 2021, with Lutke promising to close the majority of Shopify’s physical locations.

While Shopify’s move is not quite as dramatic as Twitter’s, it provides a clear example of how a company can prioritize digital ways of working without completely writing off their office spaces – a good case study for companies wishing to take a hybrid approach to remote working.

5. Upwork

Even before the pandemic, 35% of the American workforce freelanced in some capacity. This number has since exploded since many more employees are looking to have more flexibility.  

As the largest global freelancing platform connecting professionals with projects, it’s only natural therefore that Upwork would practice what they preach when it comes to remote working.

In response to the global pandemic, they decided to lead by example, with CEO Hayden Brown announcing in a tweet that the company is “now permanently embracing a ‘remote-first’ model.”

She explained: “Going forward, working remotely will be the default for everyone, while teams will also be able to come together – once it’s safe – for intentional collaboration and socialization.”

Remote working in the new world of work

The pandemic has certainly accelerated a step-change that was already predicted to happen organically. In 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that by 2028, 73% of all departments would have remote workers so it’s possible we’ll exceed that target much sooner this decade.

Employees want choice. Even before the pandemic, over 80% of employees value flexible working highly. Therefore, offering the ability to remote work isn’t just going to be valuable, but fundamental in driving great experiences for your people.

However, the most crucial piece of this puzzle is to ask your people what they want: is it to work remotely forever, or is it to be offered the flexibility to work from an office? Once you know, you can create a working environment that works for your people – wherever they are in the world.

Remote working is just one of many ways HR is set to transform in the coming years. Discover the future of HR and People teams by downloading our research report, The changing face of HR.

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