The five workplace disruptors: Working from home is no longer a perk

By Lars Hyland
An illustration of a woman working from home with a child trying to get her attention

Find part 1 of our five workplace disruptors series

Until relatively recently, many organizations have been skeptical about remote working. Managers don’t always trust their people to have the self-discipline or motivation to be productive at home or away from an office, so many have insisted on having people come to the office every day.

Now, accelerated by the pandemic, working from home is no longer a perk - it’s essential for today’s businesses to support it. 

Remote working is already a popular option in Europe, with 23% of Danes, 21% of Dutch workers and 18% of Swedes working from home at least several times a month. But the US and UK have lagged behind - before the pandemic forced millions of workers to work from home, just 7% of Americans regularly worked from home as recently as 2019.

80% of US employees want to work from home at least some of the time, and 37% of employees would change jobs for more remote working (with this figure rising to 50% of millennial workers). “Agile working policies,” such as that introduced at law firm Linklaters, are increasingly becoming the norm, giving employees the freedom to choose when and where they work around mutually agreed core hours.

Remote working has a significant impact on employees. Gallup research has found that working remotely 60-80% of the time leads to the highest employee engagement, and they are the most likely of all employees to strongly agree that their engagement needs, relating to development and work relationships, are being met.

Benefits of working from home

An infographic showing the benefits of working from home


  • 65% of workers said they would be more productive in a home office than a normal office
  • 75% of workers say they will be more productive due to reduced distractions
  • 83% of employees feel they do not need an office to be productive
  • Two-thirds of employers report increased productivity for remote workers compared to in-office workers
  • 89% of workers believe that working from home is decreasing their expenditure

It’s clear that working from home really is working, and your people are fully on board with continuing to work remotely. Sounds good, right? Well, not necessarily.

Remote working is having a huge positive impact in the majority of organizations and it may become the only option - as some organizations are already giving up on the large office completely and offering local shared work spaces. 

But it comes with its own set of challenges. Learning and HR teams are now left scratching their heads when it comes to maintaining the company culture and providing employees with everything they need to work, learn and perform well at home. So what’s your next move?

The remote working disruptor

One day, your people were in the office, sharing ideas around the coffee maker and collaborating with colleagues in a meeting room. The next, they were firing up their laptop at the kitchen table and screen sharing over Zoom. 

As much as people like working from home (for the most part), there is an adjustment to make as your people adapt to doing it long term. How can your learning and HR teams ensure that your managers have the ability to manage from a distance, maintaining employee engagement and high performance, as well as supporting a great talent experience?

Find out more about the remote working disruptor

Join Chief Learning Officer Lars Hyland's webinar on December 3rd to learn more about how you can adapt to remote working, along with the four other workplace disruptors.

Solution #1: Moving from face-to-face training to e-learning and virtual learning

While the majority of us have some degree of experience with e-learning and other forms of online learning, few organizations have a fully virtual learning and development program. While you may have e-learning programs and some resources uploaded to your learning management system (LMS), there is much more to be done if you want to move your entire program online.

Firstly, your in-person formal learning will need to be converted into online learning programs and resources. Options include live webinars, recorded video and audio resources. 

If you hold in-person workshops, think about how you can maintain interactivity - for instance, can you host an online discussion, move the conversation onto a forum or add “breakout rooms” into your remote classroom? Will you work with a partner to create your e-learning content, or do it yourself with an e-learning authoring tool or is it just a case of uploading materials to your LMS?

The other key thing to consider, and the part that is often overlooked, is your informal and collaborative learning. This is where a learning experience platform (LXP), such as Totara Engage, comes in. Choosing an LXP that integrates with your LMS means that workers can move seamlessly between formal and informal learning, and can collaborate on projects, curate “playlists” of content and discuss ideas. Doing so supports continuous learning and skills development in the normal day-to-day flow of work and through informal means.

Solution #2: Open up communication channels

Microsoft analyzed data collected over several months early on in the pandemic, after its people had started working from home, with some interesting findings. Firstly, the rise of the 30-minute meeting. When working remotely, Microsoft saw a 22% increase in meetings scheduled for 30 minutes, coupled with an 11% decrease in hour-long meetings. This bucked the trend for increasingly lengthy meetings, which were notorious for draining productivity.

What this tells us is that people are adept at finding ways to stay in touch. Contrary to the typical fear that workers won’t keep each other in the loop, we can see that people are replacing their impromptu, in-person conversations with scheduled times to talk and shorter meetings. And it’s clear that this needs to happen: with everyone working from home, we should over communicate rather than under communicate. Talk less, but more often!

Now is a prime time to evaluate your workplace culture. You should ask yourself questions such as:

  • Which communication tools would help your teams the most?
  • How do communication requirements differ by and between teams?
  • What is the right mix between synchronous communication (such as instant messaging) and asynchronous communication (such as a forum)? 
  • How will you replace the social side of work online? 
  • Would your people like a channel for socializing on your chat program, or informal weekly remote get-togethers?

Solution #3: Prioritize wellbeing in addition to performance

All HR teams will be aware of the impact of remote working on mental health and wellbeing. While most people enjoy working from home, 22% of workers report struggling to “unplug” from work, 19% of workers report feelings of loneliness and 8% struggle to stay motivated. 

Cases of managers and employees reporting feeling stressed and anxious are on the rise, and the blurred lines between work and leisure, working through breaks and feelings of isolation can quickly turn into burnout.

It’s crucial that you provide your managers the right training and performance management system when it comes to spotting signs that employees may be struggling. Make sure managers set up regular times to talk with their employees to give them the opportunity to discuss their wellbeing. One way to do this is to set aside time in weekly or monthly performance check-ins, which can be managed through the performance management tools in Totara Perform. Simply asking “How are you feeling?” before diving straight into work discussions invites the employee to open up about any challenges they’re facing, and makes them feel like a valued member of the team. If employees seem reluctant to discuss their wellbeing with their managers, think about setting up an employee wellbeing program, or directing them to useful support services and resources.

Some key signs that an employee may be struggling include:

  • A decrease in productivity
  • Less interaction in meetings
  • Irritation or anger
  • Constantly feeling tired
  • Being quiet or unresponsive
  • Less engagement in social conversations
  • Having trouble focusing
  • Missing deadlines or meetings
  • A decrease in work quality
  • Increased anxiety
  • Asking for constant reassurance
  • Negative language
  • Taking lots of time off

While HR teams should ensure that managers receive training to help them manage remotely, the number one thing managers can do to support their employees is to create an open dialogue and invite employees to share their concerns with them. While managers may want to monitor their employees, they shouldn’t let this tip over into surveillance or micromanagement, which can quickly become demoralizing and create a culture of distrust. 

You can catch up on our introduction to the five disruptors here, or skip ahead to our second workplace disruptor - new technology.

16% of employers are using technologies more frequently to monitor their employees through methods such as virtual clocking in and out, tracking work computer usage and monitoring employee emails or internal communications/chat. 
-Gartner, 2020

An infographic showing the challenges facing organizations managing remote workforces







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Wondering about the other workplace disruptors?

Explore the other four workplace disruptors, including new technology, blended workforces, rapid change and reskilling, by downloading our free ebook today.