Three employee experience lessons from the extreme frontiers of remote work

Today’s remote work technology empowers us to work anywhere. For most of us, “anywhere” means our home offices. But for Sunniva Sorby and Hilde Falun Strom, working remotely means observing weather and wildlife from an Arctic Archipelago between Norway and the North Pole.

ARTICLE | 5m read
November 12, 2020

Using the latest remote work technology, these citizen scientists gather data to support global efforts to fight climate change. “It’s profoundly interesting for us to be involved in these projects because we flip the lid off our curiosity. We are continually learning, and it is very gratifying. Collecting data for nine months is a rarity for scientists and researchers.” Sorby said.

Listening to a recent podcast conversation with these two researchers, we can learn from their experiences on the extreme frontiers of remote work. As we adapt to distributed work models during the coronavirus pandemic, Sorby and Strøm show us three leadership imperatives to enable a great employee experience for remote workers.

1.   Embrace flexibility in your workspace

Living and working in a small uninsulated trappers cabin in the Arctic has made Sorby and Strøm masters of flexible space. As Sorby describes: "In a 20 square metre cabin, the room that is the quote unquote home office is also my bedroom. It's also the dining room. It's also our little training studio and it's also our spa. There's a lot that happens in that little space. So organization is absolutely critical.”

WE HAVE REINFORCED THE POWER AND VALUE OF LIVING SIMPLY. KNOW HOW TO USE YOUR TOOLS AND HOW TO PROBLEM SOLVE.  

While the average remote worker has more physical space than Sorby, the same value of embracing flexibility and organization is key to a great employee experience. Business leaders should encourage remote workers to make the most of their home offices, and adopt flexible technology that enables distributed employees to work on the devices and in the locations they want. It’s also helpful to adopt adaptive workplace tools that reduce distraction and clear employees’ mental space. With notifications popping up from multiple apps, it be tough to clear the needed space for employees to deeply focus on meaningful work.

40%

of an average knowledge worker’s day is spent switching between apps and productive work

2.  Prioritize digital dexterity in your remote workforce

According to Gartner, digital dexterity is the ability and desire to exploit existing and emerging technologies for better business outcomes. For Sorby and Strom, it’s just how they operate. Living 86 miles from their nearest “neighbor,” not to mention thousands of miles from their nearest team members or HR and IT departments, means that learning new technology is essential to their everyday work. As Sorby said, “We had to adopt expedition behavior. More than ever, we each need to learn how to use all the tools we need so we can be even more effective as a member of the team.”

Prioritizing digital dexterity is another great way to empower your remote workforce with a better employee experience. Many organizations have a tendency to prioritize the here and now, attaching less urgency for employees to adopt new technology and embrace a lifelong learning culture. However, the digital disconnect gap is widening right now. New future of work research tells us that 73 percent of business leaders believe that tech and AI will make workers at least twice as productive over the next 15 years, whereas only 39 percent of employees buy into the idea. Now is the time to build digital dexterity in your remote employees by training them to master new technology that will simplify and improve their daily work.

ORGANIZATIONS HAVE TO TRY AND DIGITIZE THEIR CULTURE...HOW DO YOU DESIGN A CULTURE THAT ISN’T BOUND BY AN OFFICE BUT EXTENDS FAR BEYOND IT? FROM A TECHNOLOGY STANDPOINT, HOW CAN YOU LEVERAGE THE TOOLS YOU HAVE TO DELIVER THAT CULTURE EFFECTIVELY AND BE CONSISTENT.

Alysia Eve
Director of Product Marketing
Citrix Workspace

3.  Encourage work/life balance and meaningful work

Many remote workers report improved work/life balance after they began working from home, but during the COVID-19 pandemic many remote workers have found themselves overworked and burnt out. This is often because social distancing rules have remote workers feeling trapped inside the homes, eliminating clear boundaries between work spaces and home spaces. Sorby described a similar experience during the Arctic winter: “Our work and personal life had no separation—especially when we had 3 months of complete darkness. This forces you to go deep inside, to be clear on what you value as a person, what you value around the work you do. Without this clarity around values, you will be out of balance like a wheel missing a spoke.”

Focusing on the values that make our work meaningful is how leaders can encourage balance during our shared work from home experience. We must promote a work culture that constantly points back to our own North Star, or mission, and remind one another of what we’re all driving toward. We must align on our shared purpose, and to rest and take care of each other to be able to pursue that purpose day in and day out. As Sorby said, “In this climate/Covid crisis, each of us has an important role to play. How we do that is individual, yet each behavior, action, and choice we make impacts the collective.”

Building a better employee experience wherever we work

No two employee experiences are alike, especially when we work remotely. However, we can always improve our shared experience of work by embracing flexibility, prioritizing a culture of digital dexterity, and focusing employees on finding meaning and balance in their day-to-day. As Sorby concludes: “When we are working remotely, we can work at a greater level of creativity and engagement if we identify what we stand for, what we believe in, and then make that your best work, regardless of what the work is.”

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