Is remote working our future?

During these first six months of 2020 we have all faced many challenges. In a matter of weeks coronavirus went from a distant issue heard on the news to completely changing our daily lives. It isn’t an understatement to say even the most basic parts of life have changed.

 

When lockdown began in March, we were faced with a new challenge – how to work from home.

 

In 2018 CIPD[1] reported that only 32% of UK employers offered working from home possibilities for their staff. Understandably, shifting the majority of the UK’s workforce to home working over a matter of days was a challenge for many. The majority of UK businesses will not have had the technology in place to ensure a simple, efficient, and seamless transition.

 

Some companies will now be wondering what the future holds. McKinsey[2] reports that if companies want to shift to incorporating remote working long term there are 3 employee segments to consider:

  • Fully remote
  • Hybrid Remote
  • Hybrid Remote by exception
 

McKinsey recommends that roles in the top two positions require “upskilling” employees so that they are more autonomous, thus more productive, when working at home. However, they also highlight the clear recruitment benefit associated with remote working solutions. As the geographical barriers are lifted, the pool of talent expands. Therefore, no longer will employers miss out on the best employee for them, and no longer will those seeking jobs face physical barriers when trying to pursue a career. Additionally, this allows employees to live in an area where they are close to loved ones, and potentially lower their cost of living. Ultimately, this means employees may be happier and likely to stay with a company for longer, especially as any unforeseen moves across the country will no longer disrupt their income.

 

The widespread introduction of remote working has also meant that the number of employees that have to be physically present in the office has dramatically reduced, with many office workers successfully working at home during lockdown. A clear benefit, of reducing the size of the workforce in the office, is the reduction of costs. Recent trends[3] show more businesses looking to downsize their physical spaces as they look to permanently incorporate home working.

 

The benefits to home working for employees are also becoming clear. McKinsey[2] have found that 80% of employees surveyed are enjoying working from home. Furthermore, 69% of employees say they are as or more productive than before. This data may suggest that the positive impacts for employee wellbeing influence their work ethic and morale. The idea of happy employees being more productive is not a new idea. A study conducted by Oxford University[4] found that happy employees are 13% more productive. Therefore, it may be important for businesses to begin actively looking at long term solutions for remote working.

However, according to a 2019 study conducted by Buffer[5], 19% of remote workers reported loneliness as their biggest struggle. We see on the news, and on social media regularly that this is many people’s concern as the months in lockdown have dragged on. When a vaccine is found for coronavirus, personal social bubbles will expand, however it is possible that the fear and rules set in lockdown will make people more wary when arranging to see their family and friends. So, businesses looking to continue with a remote working solution should certainly consider the impact of remote working on employees’ mental health. Negative mental health can take a toll on employees’ emotions and work ethic. Lim et al (2000)[6] found that mental health issues were predictive of work impairment and performance loss. Therefore, whilst office spaces may be becoming less of a priority, it is still important to maintain physical relationships within businesses. This will ensure employees are socialising and having real relationships with each other. Companies looking to invest in remote working solutions should also consider regular physical meetings, such as brunch, and also encourage employees to talk to their work friends as they would throughout the day. For example, during lockdown many teams within companies are hosting regular quizzes to boost morale, as remote working becomes more common place we should expect and encourage activities like this to continue too.

In conclusion, remote working needs to become a real and viable option for companies going forward. Now that we have been forced into working from home, it is unreasonable for businesses to assume that employees will not want the option to work from home when needed. It is expected that going forward the bare minimum that will be expected of any companies remote working capabilities, is to allow employees work from home days when they have genuine need to be at home, such as having young children to look after, or even when they know they have an important delivery coming. Realistically, not every business is going to be able to completely shut their physical premises, as not all employees will feel able to, or want to, work remotely all the time. However, it is expected that remote working options will become common place so the time is now to find the technology solution that suits them, and the right balance of in person contact with employees and clients alike.

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