The future of remote working
Thursday 25th June 2020 is National Work from Home Day in the United States. You might have missed the UK iteration last month because, well, even school teachers were working from home in May. Social media has been awash with the multifarious experiences of remote working. The mundane, the boredom, the ease, the happiness, the surveillance.
If they haven’t done so already, businesses and organisations are now plotting the effective and safe return to the office so that they can run as (or more) efficiently than they were prior to the big remote working experiment. Employees are keen to compare their experience of remote working with the return to the commute, the office small talk, the face-to-face collaboration and mentorship. There has never been a more suitable time to assess the impact of working from home on people, companies and working life. Here is Revive’s analysis.
Remote working can be more productive. Research has revealed that knowledge workers, software developers, and IT professionals are all more productive when they work from home. This is based on a report carried out at the start of the virus outbreak, based on data harvested by time tracking software Rescue Time https://blog.rescuetime.com/work-from-home-productivity-data/. But beware. Most research on remote working has been based on experienced home workers, rather than those new to the dynamic. In May, instant messaging tool Slack reported that “Nearly half of newly remote workers say that working from home has negatively affected their sense of belonging. But experienced remote workers show us that connectedness can improve over time.” https://slackhq.com/report-remote-work-during-coronavirus With experience, as with anything else, we can become more productive home workers, even in positions not typically associated with remote working. It’s worth pursuing.
Secondly, the offer of remote working is likely to encourage an employee to stay put - remote workers are 13% more likely to stay in their current job for more than five years compared to those working on site or in the office. That’s better for everyone.
Remote working is also good for wellbeing. No commuting means more time working, seeing friends and family, relaxing or pursuing hobbies, and less time spending money on an often tardy and always overpriced transport system. A study on the effects of remote working carried out by Nuffield Health agrees that working from home, a local cafe or co-working space generally improves employee wellbeing.
Finally, remote working can be good for business. Overheads are reduced (though we believe it is important that a portion of the money saved is rechanneled to ensuring remote workers have the right technology, connectivity and training to do their job as well). This frees up money for other things, such as hiring new staff, professional development, equipment or improving wages. Just because someone works remotely, they are no less worthy of promotion.
The less good
Management may start to monitor its staff through increasingly draconian measures. Employees can start to feel surveilled, and that breakdown of trust is no positive thing. Businesses must resist the temptation, or it is a slippery slope towards an unhappy and unproductive workforce. An app for timekeeping is good, keeping two eyes on staff is bad.
Meeting after meeting, Zoom after Zoom. Research carried out during the lockdown has shown that more meetings are recurring, and it is more likely that other, one-off meetings are organised with fewer than 24 hours notice. This makes remote working more, not less distracting, particularly when meeting sizes aren’t restricted by the size of the meeting room or other practical considerations. Large meetings can be useful for sharing information and planning quickly, but I’ve heard way too many stories of people in long-winded, irrelevant meetings surreptitiously getting on with other work, or even catching up on sleep. This is remote working done badly.
The offer of remote work is becoming an important benefit for attracting new people to a company, and with many people tasting it for the first time in 2020, it is going to be very interesting to see how expectations and routines evolve. Done well, remote working can benefit everyone; done badly, and it will alienate and down-skill staff. We say embrace the change.