At the recent DATIS Evolve3 Summit, a CEO Roundtable discussed trends related to COVID and whether they would remain as the pandemic resolved and we went back to “normal.” Several trends were discussed, including the use of technology in service delivery, the increased use of telecommuting, and the implications of that for strategic initiatives – particularly those related to facility acquisition, employee engagement, and management.
Since all human services organizations, regardless of their mission, have employees, I think the key trend to look at is telecommuting and its long-term implications for workforce engagement, management, and strategic planning. Recent surveys have shown that roughly 25% of work has been done remotely during the pandemic. Just recently, AP reported that Ford told 30,000 of its staff worldwide that their hours would include flexible in office/telecommuting, focusing office time on team meetings. Analysts view this as a signal that this is a trend that will outlast the pandemic. Indeed reports that job postings for remote work rose to 7% of postings (compared to 3% a year ago), and that these changes cut across a wide range of industries. In behavioral health, for example, Indeed told AP this week that new job postings for counselors went from 1% remote to 7% over the last year. Telecommuting, once viewed with skepticism by employers, became a lifesaver for many businesses and employees during the crisis and was bolstered by technology aids that helped the workers navigate online work and service delivery, and allowed for monitoring employee time and productivity by managers.
It’s well known that engagement is key to retention and that employees generally leave individuals – their supervisor – not the companies. That means that keeping communication, connection to mission, and promoting team cohesion all must shift as well. Organizations will have to develop creative ways to connect with staff, determine when in-person contact will be required, and how to monitor employee time and attendance, productivity, and performance. DATIS’ mobile app and soon to come desktop enhancements, for example, have been designed to support both the employee experience and management’s oversight of remote work. Nonetheless, the shift represents challenges for employers. While many companies have used technology to connect separate company sites and avoid costly travel time to meetings, individual teams have more typically met in person to build cohesion, ensure clarity around procedural matters, and to review team performance. Managers may need to adjust those practices as well.
For certain industries – like behavioral health counseling – home offices have rigorous standards to meet around privacy. Monitoring that as well as ensuring secure internet connections to patients and electronic reporting systems (like EMR’s) will require assisting remote staff with technology. Most organizations’ strategic plans have a section on facility. Organizations will have to rethink the kinds of facilities they need, and what functions will remain on-site while also addressing the need to support remote employee’s ability to create an appropriate remote environment. How to manage the hiring process when an employee cannot create such a space where they live will also need creative solutions.
In all, the data seems to show that remote work is here to stay, and organizations need to stay ahead of that curve, building in new policies and practices to support it, as well as looking at recruiting practices, technology, and facility issues within their strategic plans.