Save the Knowledge Worker – insights and strategies for remote-work success

Kolekti’s new Save the Knowledge Worker reportUndoubtedly, the remote work revolution is in full swing. But it’s messy. Kolekti’s new Save the Knowledge Worker report found a colossal 96 percent of workers desire some form of remote work, and one in three employees is willing to quit if forced to return to the office full-time. And yet, which business leader can say their organisation has perfected the strategy for remote work? Most are still experimenting, tinkering, and tweaking. Even the end destination may be unclear for some.

The urgency for strategic transformations to optimise remote work and drive long-term success has never been more pressing. To explore these challenges and opportunities, a group of industry leaders gathered in London for a roundtable discussion, also titled Save the Knowledge Worker.

The aim was to develop recommendations to help organisations create a remote-ready workforce, foster trust and wellbeing, and redesign work processes to enhance the remote work experience. According to Kolekti’s research, the number of remote workers is now four times higher than in pre-pandemic 2019 and ten times higher than in the mid-1990s, so getting this right is business-critical.

Moderator Oliver Pickup, a technology and business journalist focused on human-work evolution, set the scene by noting that recent research from Stanford professor Nick Bloom, indicated 29 percent of the global workforce were hybrid working, 59 percent were fully on-site, and only 12 percent were fully remote working.

Tim Sadler, Product Marketing Lead at Kolekti, observed that while the pandemic forced a sudden shift to working from home, the conversation has become one of choice. “It should be ‘choice-first’ rather than ‘remote first’,” he said. “Instead of being ‘work from home’, it becomes ‘work from anywhere’. And it becomes then a choice.”

Ben Askins, Co-Founder of Gaia, a green technology company, and future-of-work influencer, emphasised the importance of flexibility in this new era of work. “No one likes being told what to do as a general rule in any part of our lives,” he said. “In my experience, a company rarely goes wrong if they give people what they actually want.”

Askins also highlighted the potential for remote work to broaden an organisation’s recruitment pool, allowing it to attract talent that might otherwise be inaccessible. This opportunity to tap into a wider talent pool is a significant advantage for organisations willing to embrace remote work, enabling them to build more diverse and skilled teams.

Some industries, such as legal, insurance, and financial services, have been slower to adapt to remote work, though, often citing concerns around IT security and other issues, pointed out Askins.


Trust is a must

Trust emerged as a cornerstone of successful remote work. The roundtable participants agreed that organisations must foster a culture of trust, and the unanimous verdict was that monitoring staff is creepy and demotivating.

Notably, Kolekti’s research found that only 35 percent of employers trust their employees to work from home, despite high-trust organisations being 50 percent more productive than the alternative.

Petra Velzeboer, CEO of PVL Learning & Development and renowned mental health consultant, emphasised the need for transparency and openness in fostering trust. “We think collaborating on what flexible work looks like – is it a certain number of days in the office or at home? But we’re not necessarily addressing important questions like, ‘How lonely are you feeling?’ or ‘What would enable you to be your best self and do your best work?’”

Velzeboer stressed the importance of open communication and creating safe spaces – whether in-person or virtual – for employees to express their needs and concerns in a remote work environment.

Building trust in a remote work environment requires a multi-faceted approach. Sadler emphasised the importance of transparency in discussions about what’s expected in a working day, noting that a working day isn’t necessarily nine to five anymore in a remote context. He also stressed the need to focus on outcomes rather than outputs. “If we shift all of our thinking to outcomes, it doesn’t actually matter where or when you’re doing it, as long as the outcome is reached.”


Upskilling for remote success

The roundtable discussion meandered to upskilling employees for remote success and the need for managers to be able to have difficult conversations with their staff, particularly in a remote setting.

Velzeboer added that communication skills were paramount in a remote environment, noting that her fully remote team had worked hard to build trust and develop their communication style. “One of the challenges I’m seeing with the younger workforce is uncertainty around communication norms,” she said. “They’re asking questions like, ‘Is it OK for me to just pick up the phone and call someone?’ and ‘What are the best ways for us to communicate asynchronously?’” Organisations must provide clear guidelines and training on effective communication in a remote work setting and share clear operating rules, Velzeboer added.

Pickup stated that the World Economic Forum’s idea of the requisite attributes for jobs in the 21st century – the four Cs of collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and creativity – are the soft skills vital for remote work success, where employees must work independently while also collaborating effectively with their team members.

Askins underscored the importance of having structures in place for training and development in a remote work environment. He noted that managers often blame remote work for shortcomings in other areas, such as failing to train and develop junior employees properly. It’s a poor excuse, he argued. “Training is so doable.”


Prioritising wellbeing

As the Save the Knowledge Worker report points out, poor wellbeing costs the global economy an estimated $1 trillion in lost productivity. Velzeboer said that much more could – and should – be done for remote workers.

“Organisations must recognise that each employee has a life outside of work and consider how their work impacts their overall wellbeing,” she said. “Whether your organisation is hybrid, remote, or office-based, it’s essential to have methods in place to measure wellbeing and integrate healthier working practices. This is how you maintain a strong, positive culture.”

It was also suggested that the “external world” significantly impacts staff wellbeing, particularly in the current climate.

Velzeboer also raised the related issue of digital boundaries, noting that while the world may not be much worse than it has been in the past, we now have constant access to news and information in our pockets. “We need to examine our relationship with technology and consider how it’s enabling remote work and connection, but also reflect on what other impacts it might be having,” she said. “Discussing and establishing boundaries around technology use is a crucial conversation that needs to occur within the workforce.”


Redesigning work processes

Regarding working methods for a remote workforce, Sadler said organisations should continuously experiment with new ways of communicating and challenge existing processes. “Nothing should be set in stone.”

Askins noted that flexible working benefits companies with strong cultures and motivated workforces while exposing the weaknesses of poor companies by eliminating toxic management practices. “It doesn’t matter where they’re working,” he said, referring to companies with clear visions and goals.

The roundtable participants also tackled the thorny issue of the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on knowledge workers. It was noted that AI is likely to have “different impacts on different roles” but that organisations should not be ignorant or provide opaque communications.

Velzeboer added that we need experimentation and conversations to avoid being in a place of fear. “Yes, things are changing, but resilience is about learning to be adaptable and bounce through the changes,” she said. “We need to do that collectively, not just in isolation, in our bedroom offices.”

Askins offered a final piece of advice about achieving remote-work success: “You’ve got to embrace change and not be afraid of it. The moment you resist change, you’re setting yourself up for trouble and long-term damage.”

To read the full paper, please go here.