Nearly one year after the onslaught of COVID-19 forced the global shift to remote work, IT leaders are experimenting with technology-enabled initiatives aimed at boosting employee productivity. At the same time, they are creating new rules of engagement for a labor force that is unlikely to return to the work patterns of pre-pandemic days.\nA recent #IDGTECHtalk Twitter discussion found employees still at fully remote work or in a hybrid model. Most were grappling with an array of challenges, from spotty bandwidth and intermittent communications to the necessity of maintaining relationships with fellow employees and customers. The inability to read body language over video, the ever-present back-channel communications, and the on-going struggle to maintain work\/life balance while collaborating with colleagues in different time zones were among the many pain points voiced by chat participants.\n\u201cRemote work just can\u2019t do everything,\u201d said Wayne Anderson, a security and compliance architect with Microsoft\u2019s M365 Center of Excellence. \u201cYou lose nuance and presence. There is no substitute for body language and non-verbal cues.\u201d\nThe transition to remote work has also caused a huge mental shift for many leaders who had a more traditional view of what effective working looked like. \u201cMy biggest challenge as a manager was building trust with my staff and peers,\u201d said Amelie Koran.\u00a0 \u201cWhile the work output [of remote staff] was no different than that of on-site employees, [managing workers] did prove challenging for organizations that were `butts in seats\u2019 oriented.\u201d\nMitigating Remote Work Challenges\nWhile there are technical challenges, many related to security and continuity of workflow, the current emphasis is on building relationships and trust among a team. A focus on virtual group events such as book clubs, game nights, and Zoom happy hours has proven to be effective for connecting people and forging bonds.\nLeadership also needs to be more deliberate and engaged with employees. \u201cManaging by walking around is over\u2014managing by engaging is needed,\u201d noted Jason James, CIO at software maker Net Health. \u201cLeaders must be more aware of the needs of their team, including how personal commitments could interrupt work hours.\u201d\nProcess automation can streamline business practices, simplify routine workflows, and drive digital transformation to empower more effective remote work. Process automation can be trained on removing friction and making mundane tasks more efficient, but it can also encompass machine learning to extract insights from complex data and augment human brainpower by delivering additional intelligence.\nOptimizing Process Automation in the Era of Remote Work\nAutomation has been sold as a time saver or simplifier, and that is still the case during the COVID era. However, as in the past, there needs to be planning and prioritization of processes to be automated\u2014not everything is a candidate. Employee onboarding, security patch and vulnerability management, and user deprovisioning could all benefit from process automation. In addition, expense audits, supply chain ordering and execution, and financial and operational reporting could gain automation efficiency.\nExperts in the Twitter chat advised companies to start small with process automation, keying on pain points, capturing lessons learned, and communicating success stories to the enterprise audience. Creating reusable building blocks to make subsequent process automation efforts easier is an important best practice. And fostering alignment between the business and IT to identify processes that are good automation candidates is critical to success.\nLike most journeys, it\u2019s important to understand the starting point and the goals and to be realistic about what\u2019s possible. \u201cMany tasks can be automated, but not all should be,\u201d said Arsalan Khan, a speaker, advisor, and blogger focused on business and digital transformation. \u201cAutomation without prioritization and optimization is a recipe for disaster.\u201d\nLearn more:\nRicoh has Cloud, Security and a wide range of remote work solutions to meet your digital transformation needs.\nPlease join the #IDGTeckTALK Twitter chat that occurs every other Thursday on Twitter at 12pm ET.