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Shifting priorities and budget for long-term remote work

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Even before the pandemic, businesses around the world were experimenting with the idea of remote work as an incentive for their employees. Since some staff cannot work form home 100 percent of the time, many organizations employed a flexible remote work model that allowed them to work at the office for part of the week and at home for the rest of it. 

Now though as a result of the pandemic, businesses have had to transition to full-time remote work and it looks like many employees will be working from home for the foreseeable future.

To learn more about the challenges of managing remote teams on a global scale and why businesses may want to consider investing less in their office space and more in digital resources for their employees, TechRadar Pro spoke with Lenovo’s vice president of commercial marketing David Rabin.

Can you tell us a little about your role at Lenovo?

As vice president of global commercial marketing at Lenovo, my focus is on the commercial marketing and enablement of Lenovo’s PC and Smart Device group. This includes product stewardship for the legendary Think family portfolio, including the ThinkPad laptop. Prior to my current role, I directed Lenovo’s branding, marketing, strategy, and alliance partner activities across North America. I’ve been with Lenovo for over a decade and haven’t looked back since! 

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Did your organization have a remote work or flexible work policy in place before the pandemic and if so has it been successful?

Lenovo is a global company that conducts business in 180 markets, and while we have always operated with a flexible work environment to collaborate remotely with colleagues worldwide, never to this scale or duration. Prior to the pandemic, some employees were entirely remote, others in the office full-time, and some doing a hybrid of both for years.  

The current work-from-home environment reaffirms that the investment employers are making in the right technology tools will not be wasted as most employees feel just as productive at home as they do in an office.

What advice would you give when it comes to managing remote teams on a global scale?

As a manager, it’s important to offer flexibility to your teams. Today’s environment is like no other, and some employees have competing priorities with work, such as managing a child’s remote learning. Of course, we expect our people to get their jobs done, but it is crucial that we recognize that the previous idea of the traditional workday might not exist today.  

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What technologies does Lenovo rely on to facilitate a flexible working environment?

According to our recent Technology and the Evolving World of Work study, 70% of employees have purchased new technology to navigate this remote work environment, 39% of which either partially or fully funded on their own, with American employees spending an average of around $350.

Now more than ever before, it’s important to provide employees with the required technology to successfully work from home, which will ensure they continue to feel productive and collaborative. Throughout the pandemic, Lenovo has been investing in a variety of IT tools, including laptops with longer battery life and additional productivity features. We’re also utilizing collaboration tools such as the Lenovo ThinkSmart View, which allows our employees to participate in a voice or video call while freeing up their laptop or PC to access documents and presentations. Leveraging video calls through this device allows them to have conversations and collaborative brainstorms like they did in the office.

From a security perspective, Lenovo’s ThinkShield solution has been crucial during this time as it provides an extra layer of protection, and Microsoft’s Autopilot allows us to ship a device without it ever having to go in the hands of an IT professional.

Do you think organizations should focus on how to return to the office safely or how to allow their employees to work from home for the foreseeable future?

The concept of a hybrid or distributed workforce isn’t going away even after the pandemic. Companies must prepare for both… a return to the office and an ongoing model of remote work. One thing we’ve learned is that the employee experience will continue to change. IT departments must enable their company’s biggest asset with the right technology tools, security, and support, to help them succeed and be as productive and efficient as possible, no matter where they’re working from. According to our research, nearly two-thirds (63%) of employees feel they are more productive working from home than an office, despite distractions. 

It's critical employers continue thinking about how they can deploy technology that supports a workforce that may continue to be remote, especially as employees have grown to enjoy the working from home lifestyle. Companies should listen to their employees and nurture a working environment that reflects their needs and wants.

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Now that office real estate is no longer the necessity it once was, where should businesses be investing the funds they would normally set aside for office space?

The pandemic has made it clear that the distributed workforce is not going anywhere, making technology more important than ever before. As we continue to navigate different phases of this pandemic, it’s important that IT departments are able to support their remote workforce and the ‘work from anywhere’ trend that will continue long into the future.

The office space as we know it will change and technology will take center-stage. Some companies will shift their investments in real estate to technology, which will allow for accelerated adoption of emerging technologies. For example, instead of sending employees to travel for training, the training sessions can be completed via an immersive virtual experience.  Additionally, augmented reality solutions such as ThinkReality allow for real-time collaboration and problem solving in manufacturing and many other industries. While emerging technologies such as AR/VR, IoT, and 5G were already helping us with remote collaboration, they will now have a greater adoption rate.

What lessons have you learned from the pandemic so far and are there any things you wish you had done differently?

The current remote work environment has highlighted how organizations need to continue to treat their employees as their most important asset. As a leader, this environment has reinforced the importance of an open dialogue with our team members. Establishing a line of two-way communication allows team members to make their voices heard. Not only can these conversations lead to improving the remote work from home policies and create changes that benefit employees, they also can be a great way to check in with a colleague and decompress during the day. 

Providing feedback is also valuable and crucial in maintaining a healthy work environment. If you show up motivated your team will follow your example. A positive attitude, even when remote, can help to create an environment people are both excited and looking forward to signing on for.

One area where we struggled early on but fixed was ‘work collisions.’ In the office, you bump into people all day long and can have quick project updates or personal discussions. Those went away, and it took time to realize the importance of them. Now we encourage our teams to use our IM tools more effectively, and some teams are doing daily 5-10 minute huddles. I also wish I had installed a lock on my refrigerator door!  It’s very tempting to open it up many times a day working from home.