Employers see their biggest challenges in remote work strategies
The shift to remote work has been a major transition for employers during the coronavirus crisis, and the challenge of supporting their workforce through it has posed a learning curve for many companies.
Arizent, the parent company of Employee Benefit News and Employee Benefit Adviser, released a new survey this week to learn how employers are addressing the challenges posed by coronavirus. This research is a follow-up to a previous survey conducted in March, when shelter-in-place orders first took effect.
Thirty-six percent of employers agree the shift to remote work is the biggest change imposed by COVID-19. For the most part, employers appear to be embracing the transition to remote work. The vast majority of employers reported that their organization’s “digital preparedness” for the transition to remote was positive (43% rated “excellent” and 40% “good”). Only a small minority of employers reported negative experiences (4% “poor” and 2% “terrible”).
“I realize how dependent upon a solid internet solution and dependent upon my employees having internet in their homes in order to use remote access,” said a respondent in professional services. “We have shifted the bulk of the workload to a virtual environment, but had the infrastructure in place to do so. Having to implement the systems used time resources to set up but once it was established and new protocols were in place things moved along smoothly.”
Many employers are hosting training sessions to help their workforce (four out of 10 employers) and their customers (three out of 10 employers) adapt to digital communication. Employers count these trainings as part of their workforce retention efforts. When asked if they agree with the statement, “My company is providing me with the resources and support needed to succeed in my role during this crisis,” 77% of respondents agreed.
But the transition to remote work hasn’t been seamless for every employer. A common concern among employers across industries is “the speed and reliability of the internet in rural areas.” Those employers suggested the problem would be solved if the federal government took steps to make the internet more reliable and accessible throughout the country.
“Our area does not have the necessary level of high speed broadband internet. Even though we have the second highest level of speed available in our area, many times the internet is running very slow,” an accounting firm respondent said. “Relying on the internet has not been a good experience. To get the necessary speeds we would have to move our offices 50 to 60 miles, which is not practical for our tax clients.”
Others felt their business was suffering because employees are unable to staff brick-and-mortar locations and build relationships with clients.
“Our business is a relationship driven business, so the lack of face-to-face interactions has prohibited our ability to build new relationships with the brokerage community in the employer benefit world,” said a respondent from an insurance company.
Employers should anticipate needing to adapt to remote work for the foreseeable future: four out of 10 respondents expect working conditions to return to normal within three months, while three out of 10 expect the time frame will be between four to six months. Employers, and their brokers, have the opportunity to get creative with their next steps.
“But on the positive side, lots of future business opportunities arise having to come up with solutions to new problems in the new normal that are likely to be ongoing,” a professional services respondent said.