ATD Blog

Sudden Remote Work Is Taking Its Toll. What Can You Do?

Thursday, May 21, 2020

As the world’s biggest work-from-home experiment marches on, it’s clear that the current sudden remote working situation has taken its toll. We’re experiencing stress from incremental working hours and rapidly adapting to entirely new ways of working, exhaustion from the mental and emotional strain of a pandemic, and anxiety caused by economic instability.

So, what can talent development professionals do to ensure the continuity of their development initiatives, develop their capabilities, and support others adapting to this evolving situation? Here are five tips that talent development professionals can use to mitigate some of the most damaging effects of sudden remote work while keeping an eye on long-term business success.

Incorporate Learning Into Your Business Continuity Strategy

In addition to layoffs, furloughs, and eliminating projects, one of the most popular strategies for cutting costs is to reduce spending on initiatives that are not directly revenue-generating. Unfortunately, people development initiatives are often pooled into this category.

Now is not the time to cut spending on developing the capabilities that will drive people’s—and by extension, the organization’s—success. Investments in workforce and leadership development will prove critical for businesses to survive the current situation and in the post-COVID-19 era. Organizations that integrate learning into their business continuity strategy will be better positioned to achieve business objectives and adapt to a new world of work.

Prepare for a Remote Future

Remote work is not likely to be just a temporary experiment. According to a recent Gartner chief financial officer survey, 74 percent of CFOs intend to shift some, if not all, employees to remote work permanently. For remote work to be sustainable, organizations need to implement a comprehensive remote work policy that clearly outlines employee eligibility requirements, structure, processes, and resources. Any change management team that will own this transition should have representation from talent development to ensure that the workforce will be adequately prepared and supported.


Build Remote Work Competencies

Talent development professionals should prepare for the likelihood of an expanded remote work policy by developing a comprehensive strategy to build your workforce’s capacity to succeed in remote work. That means providing learning experiences designed specifically to develop remote work competencies.

As talent development professionals are already overburdened with converting existing learning initiatives to remote-compatible modalities, when possible, seek experienced external support in delivering remote work training to upskill your workforce versus creating in-house.


Reduce Noise

In the current circumstances, there is more noise than ever—overwhelming at best, contradictory at worst. Talent development professionals can help team members focus on this environment by streamlining communication channels and curating content. There’s a delicate balance between not providing enough resources and providing too many that you’re increasing the cognitive load of your learners. Instead of sharing every article about remote work with your employees or simply providing access to an exhaustive learning library, curate the content that will most effectively address the problems that your teammates are encountering at this moment.

To streamline your communication, create a charter that clearly outlines the type of messages and expectations for each communication channel.

Prevent Isolation and Burnout

Conducting our professional and personal lives from the confines of our homes means the pandemic workday is much longer and more exhausting than the workdays of a couple of months ago. Isolation and burnout are even more of a risk than ever before. The toll of isolation and burnout at an individual level is multiplied at a team level and can affect morale, productivity, and the general health of an organization. When people are burned out or isolated, they’re not in positions to learn or adapt to new situations, threatening the business continuity that remote work was meant to enable.

Despite isolation and burnout being collective problems, it’s often left to individuals to find solutions. Instead of leaving it up to individuals, talent development professionals can bring team members together to create a boundaries agreement in which they set and agree on expectations and collaborate on strategies to overcome challenges.

These sudden and forced remote work situations introduce new challenges and are not equivalent to sustainable remote work. Organizations must take action now to prepare for the inevitable long-term shifts in working to ensure their operations and workforces will survive and thrive beyond this crisis.

About the Author

Tammy Bjelland is the founder and CEO of Workplaceless, a training company that teaches remote workers, leaders, and companies how to work, lead, grow, and thrive in distributed environments. With her background in higher education, publishing, edtech, e-learning, and corporate training, she is committed to driving and supporting the future of learning and the future of work. She holds a BA and MA from the University of Virginia and is a Certified Master Trainer by the Association for Talent Development, and lives in Winchester, Virginia.

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