Brand Story - Comcast & Deloitte reveal how remote work—driven by an explosion of digital technologies and collaboration tools—fuels business
Amidst the COVID-19 crisis remote work, or teleworking, has proven a critical enabler of business and economic continuity. Remote work was already gaining in stature as a recruitment and retention tool, plus productivity and growth driver. Then COVID-19 hastened the rapid adoption of remote work. Now, remote work is fast becoming an integral part of the “new normal” business model emerging from the pandemic.
Gallup released a study in January 2020 indicating that 54% of office workers would leave their jobs for one that offered flexible work time. As a result of growing employee demand and new digital technology, U.S remote working grew by 115% over the past 10 years, according to the Census Bureau.
Many business leaders are now rethinking operational and workforce strategies due largely to COVID-19, including how much office space is needed. A survey recently conducted by Gartner revealed nearly three in four CFOs plan to shift some portion of their workforce to operate remotely following the pandemic. About 20% indicated they plan to reduce brick and mortar holdings.
Often associated with agile tech startups, remote work has found its way into the business strategies of small and large organizations alike—among them one of the Big Four global business consultancy giants.
“Deloitte began implementing flexible work programs decades ago with an eye toward talent retention and recruitment. We were looking to provide our people with better work-life balance and bring top talent to our clients. We were not thinking about potential pandemics,” explains Michele Parmelee, global chief people and purpose officer at Deloitte.
Parmelee added, “Our extensive experience with remote work did help us respond rapidly to the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies that embrace flexible work—the entire ecosystem of technology and behavioral norms that define work as what we do, not where we go—are better positioned to sustain operations and react quickly to the demands of navigating disruption like the COVID-19 crisis.”
U.S. media and entertainment industry leader Comcast also leveraged its digital business know-how in rapidly responding to the COVID-19 crisis. Just like many other businesses, Comcast had to navigate the uncharted territory of quickly transitioning many of its customer service agents (totaling in the thousands) to work from home. The company’s past investments in building up its digital operations paid off at a critical time.
Comcast had already launched remote working options at many of its call centers across the U.S. When COVID-19 hit, its Oregon location was able to get more than 550 call center agents working from home in under two weeks.
Management moved quickly to ensure that its agents had the same equipment at their home workstations as in the office, launching an internal helpdesk to aid in the transition. But, the key to a successful transition went far beyond technology and equipment.
“At Comcast, we invest in leadership development all the time, so we already had a workforce comfortable with change management and leading through change. I can’t imagine being able to do everything we have without the investments we’d already made to prepare our leaders,” says Vicki Flowers, division vice president, sales COE at Comcast.
“We didn’t know we were preparing for a pandemic. We were preparing for changes in market conditions and leading through challenging times.”
Deloitte agrees: “Fostering a workplace culture that embraces change and innovation can put businesses ahead in delivering on far more than just the bottom line,” Parmelee notes. “Prioritizing flexible work and recognizing output, not presenteeism, supports greater productivity and employee engagement.”
Accountability and productivity can be sticking points for companies skeptical about remote work. Statistics compiled by Global Workplace Analytics show that remote workers at JD Edwards were 20 to 25% more productive, and that American Express employees who work remotely were 43% more productive.
Comcast’s service and performance metrics have been maintained since their move to operate virtually thanks to a robust system of digital tools and internal processes: a call quality program, internal online chat tools, customer surveys, Kronos time-keeping tool, employee status tracker, predetermined daily schedules and regular Microsoft Teams check-ins.
Its management was concerned about preserving the enthusiasm of its tight-knit sales team. However, leaders and agents report a higher level of internal connectedness due to more frequent coaching and check-ins. On the other hand, with everyone constantly connected, leadership has acknowledged a new issue (no, not underproductivity): overworking.
“Nearly 5 million U.S. employees were working from home at least half the time prior to COVID-19,” says Stephanie Millar, Oregon Department of Transportation senior planner and Get There transportation options program manager. “Post COVID-19, we expect to see a greater shift toward remote work now that there’s greater familiarity with the technology and added confidence that productivity and delivery can be ensured.”
For Flowers and her team at Comcast, that shift has already begun. “We’ve decided that we’ll continue with virtual remote work arrangements as we move forward,” she concludes. “I definitely think we will land in a hybrid model. The benefits we are already seeing from the virtual workforce are quite remarkable.”
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