No matter the industry, strong, proactive communication is a key aspect of teamwork and employee engagement — no business can survive without proper collaboration and communication. However, in the unexpected era of remote work that most companies have found themselves in the past year, necessity does not always equate to reality. A year after the massive WFH shift, conversations, and the mediums we have them on, have changed. Many are experiencing digital communication in-full for the first time and are struggling to navigate it effectively.

To explore this change in communication, and how critical conversations around sensitive issues such as diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), are — or aren’t — happening in a virtual workforce, Mursion surveyed 400 employees and 250 managers. The findings are being released in a new report, OOO, Out of Mind: The Unintended Impact of Remote Work on Critical Communication, which makes it clear that remote work is a new staple in the professional world, and many are not equipped to handle it long term.

Ready or Not, Remote Work is Here to Stay

Our report found that only 9% of managers and 13% of employees plan to go back to the office full-time in the next six months, and close to half would prefer a mix of remote and in-office work going forward. With so few planning to return full-time, business leaders are struggling with how to proceed. Can businesses adjust to remote work culture beyond a temporary fix?

Despite the obvious signs of permanence, our report found that more than a third of companies don’t have a long-term plan to support remote work. And of the companies that do have a plan, very few are dedicating time and resources to training their staff for the new responsibilities of remote work. Less than half named training as a part of their plan — raising the question of how prepared companies that don’t train their employees for remote work really are for a significant and permanent shift in how and where they work.

Old Tools for New Conversations

When the sudden shift to remote work eliminated office-wide banter, new and old communication tools became commonplace. Boardroom meetings and running down the hall to ask a question were replaced with Zoom calls and pinging people on Slack. However, those reluctant to explore new ways to communicate are relying on bygone technologies to get them through the day.

The report found that more than half of managers and almost three-fourths of employees are relying on email for day-to-day communication. With new and important conversations needed almost daily, relying on email can hinder or prevent communication entirely. And when critical conversations fail to happen, the business at large can suffer.

Dodging Discussions

Without a static office setting, it is easier for employees and managers alike to avoid conversations and confrontations. When it comes to conversations about professional development, employee reviews are the first to go. The report found that since the start of the pandemic, only 35% of managers have conducted an employee review. With a year of dispersed work behind us, this statistic is significant.

Addressing interpersonal issues fairs no better. HR is left almost entirely out of the equation, and as a result, these issues go largely unchecked. Almost a third of employees say that when they experience person-to-person conflict, they reach no resolution and opt to just let it go, with only 6% of employees and 15% of managers opting to involve HR in these conflicts at all.

DE&I Takes a Backburner

DE&I has become one of the most sensitive and important subjects in the modern workplace. While it is important, many companies find these conversations difficult to have, and are thus relying on one-way declarations in place of open dialogue — or are just not addressing it at all. The report found that 1 in 4 large companies have not addressed DE&I at all.

Companies that are addressing DE&I in the workplace are relying on impersonal and one-sided ways to do so. Email was the most common medium for these “conversations,” and a majority of managers reported believing that this method was appropriate and that one-way dialogue is enough to address inequities.

Moving Forward in a Remote Future

After an arduous year that brought many changes, remote work is one that very few are looking to shake from, leaving the professional sector at a crossroads. It can either adapt and advance, or it can continue to treat remote work as a temporary situation. This diversified and distributed workforce brings new challenges and conversations front-and-center, challenges and discussions that require new and innovative solutions. With HR bypassed, important discussions are left to the wayside.

Band-aid solutions to the work-from-home issue will no longer suffice, and business leaders and HR directors need to stay ahead of the curve with solutions. Without proper training and preparation for this new frontier of remote work, businesses can — and will — become fragmented. Read the report in full here.

by Wendy

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