Remote working will be fast-tracked by COVID-19
Back in 2014, business leaders at the Global Leadership Summit in London were confident remote working would be the norm by 2020. A third of them believed that – by now – half of their full-time workforce would be staying at home, or at least based outside of a traditional office. A quarter thought more than three-quarters of their team members would work remotely.
And of course they were right – at least to some extent. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic businesses are enabling employees to stay at home where possible – to maintain social distancing and limit the spread of the virus – causing a huge increase in remote working. Half (51%) of UK workers say their company has instructed them to work from home or work remotely as a result of the outbreak. But before COVID-19 took hold the story was very different. Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that by the end of 2019 only 30% of employees ever worked from home and only 5% were doing so on a regular basis.
So what prevented remote working taking off in the way it was expected to, and will the current situation result in a more permanent shift towards working from home?
Remote working technology is in place
Of all the things that could stand in the way of remote working, tech should not be one of them, as technologies to enable homeworking – such as cloud computing – have been in place for some time.
Businesses can make use of video conferencing services and messaging apps to replicate both the formal and informal communications of an office environment. They can use file sharing services to collaborate on documents and automatically log updates, and can implement time tracking apps to ensure working hours are being spent productively. They can explore full enterprise mobility solutions that allow personal laptops and smartphone to be connected to the company workflow, and can use EdTech software to effectively deliver employee training and enable remote learning.
But availability of technology doesn’t always equate to adoption, and many businesses have so far been reluctant to embrace the tools needed for remote working. The COVID-19 pandemic is changing all that – compelling businesses to use the tech available – and uptake is soaring. Videoconferencing providers in particular are seeing spikes in usage, with Zoom reporting 300 million daily meeting participants, Google Meet reporting 100 million daily meeting participants, and Microsoft Teams reporting 75 million daily active users.
The remote working mindset
If technology isn’t blocking the remote working trend it must be a question of mindset. There are various pros and cons to working from home, both from an employee and employer perspective, which businesses need to understand.
For employees, remote working allows more flexible working arrangements. It allows them to be more accommodating of other commitments such as childcare or caring for older relatives. It reduces the time and money spent travelling to and from the workplace, helping to improve work-life balance. Working from home can also provide peace and quiet, allowing employees to concentrate on tasks that are difficult to execute in a noisy office environment.
On the other hand some employees struggle with home working, saying they get distracted by domestic tasks or find it hard to work without structure or routine. Some feel isolated and cut off from their team members, and find it difficult to separate work and home life.
For employers, remote working brings a variety of benefits. Assuming employees can hot desk when they are at work, it reduces overheads and the amount of office space required. The possibility to work from home generally results in happier, more productive employees who are loyal to the company, ultimately reducing churn rates. From an environmental perspective it reduces the business’ overall carbon footprint if employees aren’t commuting to the office every day.
But for remote working to be successful employers have to trust their workforce to get the job done, and so far this trust has largely been lacking. COVID-19 will inevitably be an eye opener for many business leaders, proving that even though employees are out of sight, work is still completed and objectives are being achieved.
Even with the COVID-19 situation, it’s unlikely businesses are going to move to 100% remote working any time soon; face-to-face interaction in the workplace is simply too valuable. But the pandemic will permanently increase the prevalence of working from home, encouraging employers who were previously sceptical to offer mutually beneficial, flexible arrangements where employees can combine part time home working with office time. COVID-19 has accelerated the remote working trend and the world of work will never be quite the same.
Tips on managing a remote workforce
At GingerMay we support a combination of remote working and office-based work, so here are some of our top tips on managing a remote workforce:
Keep it simple
To enable remote working businesses must provide employees with the right technology, whether that’s cloud storage, messaging apps or video conferencing services, but it needs to be simple and streamlined so all employees are using the same tools. Tech support needs to be in place for remote workers in the same way it is for office workers.
Be open on terms
Businesses must have clear agreements and fair criteria for homeworking. For instance, in the exceptional circumstances we are currently living through many employees are combining work with looking after children, but this is not sustainable in the long term. Home working promotes increased flexibility but should never be viewed as an alternative to paid dependent care.
Just because an employee is out of the office, they shouldn’t be out of the loop, and tech allows businesses to replicate formal and informal communications. This is particularly crucial now, when most employees are permanently at home, and at GingerMay we have regular check-in calls via Zoom as well as a daily tea and chat session hosted by one of our two mental health first aiders, to keep colleagues connected.
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