Many of us have had to adjust to 100% remote working due to the impact of Covid-19. But what does its future of remote working hold post-pandemic world? Will companies go back to ‘business as usual’ and require employees to return to the workplace full-time? Or has the pandemic instilled trust in their employees and so flexible working is the way forward?
John Potamianos, Director of Acceler8 Consultancy, takes us through his pros and cons of remote working and where he believes the future lies.
PRO: Increased Productivity
Who is guilty of getting easily distracted in the workplace? Whether it is off to make a coffee that should simply mean a 2-minute break from your desk, actually results in 20 minutes due to the three different work colleagues you bumped into on the way to the kitchen. Another example is when somebody stops by your desk and asks, ‘Have you got 2 mins?’. Suddenly you are pulled into an hour-long meeting that wasn’t scheduled into your working day.
Working remotely erases these distractions of the office workplace.
CON: Less Collaboration
The con to this pro of increased productivity could result in less collaboration with work colleagues. This could have a negative impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of outputs and deliverables. Zoom/Teams (or the equivalent) can prohibit creativity and communication as it may prevent people from speaking up and sharing ideas.
When you put people together in a room, from my experience, greater collaboration can take place which can lead to more effective and efficient outcomes, especially when participants spontaneously get up and draw diagrams and thoughts on a flipchart or whiteboard which today’s remote working technology has not managed to replicate.
PRO: Flexible Hours
The balance between increased productivity and less collaboration is to introduce flexible hours that can be split between days in the office and days remote working. Employers have found this to be a great way to boost productivity and collaboration while limiting operational expenses.
People are now used to a more flexible work-life balance. Certainly with the recent addition of home-schooling, many are currently facing, a rigid 9-5 would make it challenging to re-enforce.
Having time to take care of life’s responsibilities results in less stress on yourself, and more contentment with your career. And employers, by allowing employees to work under flexible hours, can increase employee retention rate, which also increases the company’s productivity.
CON: Always On
The problem with flexible remote working is the counter pressure that can be created to be always on. No matter what time of day and what is going on. It can become difficult to introduce lunch breaks or to stretch and walk. This can impact physical as well as psychological wellbeing. Those short walks in the office to the coffee point or between meeting rooms do not only mean you get informal time with colleagues but you also get to stretch your legs and look beyond the screen. Employers need to encourage their employees and those of their partner suppliers to take time off and take breaks. That way not only will you improve wellbeing but time ‘at work’ will be more focused and productive.
PRO: Time and Cost-Efficient
By eliminating daily commutes could save employees hundreds, if not thousands of pounds, each year on train fares or petrol. Let alone time that can be spent on other things like carrying out household chores, spend time with family, or do something for themself that makes their day easier and enjoyable. And if you do finish work late to meet a deadline, you can still be home on time for dinner!
More than 30 minutes of daily one-way commuting is associated with increased levels of stress and anxiety, and research shows that commuting 10 miles to work each day is associated with health issues.
Reducing the stress of the commute will allow employees to be more relaxed and efficient in achieving their deliverables. Not only that, but they’ll be also happier with the extra cash in their back pocket through the cost savings.
There are also cost savings and efficiencies to the business as they can reduce head office overheads by reducing office space required by utilising a more effective hot-desking concept, let alone reduced utilities consumption.
CON: Limited Career Development
But with these savings comes a counter. When out of the office for long periods of time, it can make it harder to stay in the loop on business activity. We all know the adage “out of sight, out of mind” – not being seen on a regular basis could make it harder to make your contribution noticed which may impact your advancement through the company.
It’s important if you’re working remotely to keep consistent contact with your colleagues. Maximise your exposure in video or conference calls to ensure your voice is being heard. And if you’re also producing quality results in a timely manner, you’ll be recognised for your contribution.
PRO: Positive Environmental Impact
Reducing the need for travel will ultimately have a positive impact on the environment. We saw this last year with the clearer skies and lower air pollution.
The top picture shows the India Gate war memorial on October 17, 2019, months before the nationwide lockdown. The bottom picture shows the memorial after air pollution levels began to drop during lockdown in New Delhi on April 8. Equivalent photos have been shared for many cities, from London to New York and Johannesburg to Tokyo.
CON: IT Security
Working remotely can introduce the potential hazards of limited IT security relying on public WiFi or an unsecured network. This could mean it’s possible you’re putting sensitive information at risk. Businesses will need to introduce suitable security measures. From improved policies and IT security awareness and training to improved security solutions such as VPN*1 and MFA*2 access, which are put in place to limit this threat.
*1 VPN = Virtual Private Network
*2 MFA = Multi-Factor Authentication
PRO: Location Independent
One of the considerable benefits of remote working is having access to a broader range of job opportunities that aren’t limited by geographic location. The same could be said for employers – they can broaden their reach to ensure they have the right candidate.
So, what does the future of remote working look like?
As ever, there is no silver bullet with the future of remote working. Businesses and their employees need to take a combination of these pros and cons and make them work effectively for their organisation and culture. For employees who have established a more effective work-life balance, this will be a priority for any future roles moving forward. Employers who have started to establish ‘trust’ will do best by building on this and seeing the measurable benefits that come from that. The answer though will vary from organisation to organisation, will involve finding the right mix between remote and in-office working.