Should remote working be the new norm?

President of the CIPD, Professor Sir Cary Cooper commented recently that the departure from the office caused by COVID-19 is a chance for businesses to think about the long-term implementation of remote working. And Gartner has shown that 74% of CFOs ‘will move at least 5% of their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions post-COVID-19.’

Remote working has many benefits some organisations won’t have experienced until recently: lower expenses, raised productivity, higher engagement, improved work-life balances and mental wellbeing in their staff. Businesses will want to think about how they can prolong these benefits.

woman working on laptop at home

This calls on HR and employers to question: should remote working be the new norm? Are predominantly onsite businesses ready for lasting change? Organisations can’t settle for short-term solutions, as it becomes increasingly evident we’re in this for the long haul.

The case for remote working

Managed effectively, remote working can be a major boon to organisations in a number of ways, that might include:

  • Lower running and operational costs in the long term, thanks to reduced office space. While the need for the office and face-to-face meetings will never be eliminated, organisations can consider changing how space is used, and how much is needed. This can positively impact expenses such as rent, utilities, business travel, and environmental costs.
  • Improved organisational agility, as employees adapt to flexible working. With a remote workforce on varying schedules, it allows for instance for greater client contact and service hours.
  • Improved trust and engagement within company culture, as employers express confidence in their workforce to complete their objectives at home. Weathering difficult times also gives an opportunity for seniors to be more transparent and to communicate effectively with both employees and stakeholders, bridging the gap between the C-suite and workers.
  • Digital literacy, as employees come to better grips with new technologies that are necessary in these difficult times to stay on top of communication and collaborative activities.

There’s evidently a case for remote working and it presents many opportunities for businesses. It’s the reason why it’s been steadily on the rise in the last decade. Now, organisations need to be thinking about why they should implement remote working beyond the demands of the current crisis, with a framework to approach similarly disruptive events in the future.

The challenges of managing remote working

Despite the opportunities of remote working, many organisations aren’t prepared for remote working en masse. Consequently, there are several challenges that implementing a longer-term remote working policy brings:

How quickly can it be achieved?

According to the ONS, only 30% of the workforce (8.7 million) have had experience working from home, and just over 5% (1.7 million) describe having worked from home regularly. This means employers shouldn’t anticipate a quick adoption by their entire workforce.

The confidence and speed with which a newly remote workforce is able to understand and optimise the use of tools and technology without structural adjustments will differ across the spectrum. Indeed, according to Tyto PR’s recent findings in Forbes, only 27% of office workers felt they have been fully briefed on their company’s home-working policies.

Organisations should expect the need for a significant transformation of company culture, from the top down, to see a ready adoption of remote working by the workforce.

What security concerns does it raise?

A big challenge for many companies, in their hasty implementation of remote working, has been the drastic shift to adopting new technologies. According to the Tyto PR survey referenced above, ‘only 41% of UK office workers are confident that their employer has the technology infrastructure in place to enable them to work productively and securely from home in the current circumstances.’ Such little confidence is testament to how many businesses have long rested on out-of-date systems, built with infrastructures that don’t have remote access in mind. It now needs to change.

Businesses must consider the security implications of remote working by their whole workforce, and be prepared for in-depth security adjustments. This cannot be understated. With the growth of cybercrime across the UK and Europe, it’s fundamental to get this right.

How can we maintain work-life balance?

Instead of the hurried implementation of rudimentary EAPs (Employee Assistant Programmes), businesses should consider taking the time to establish long-term support networks, to maintain employee mental wellbeing. Working from home means the line between professional and private lives becomes increasingly blurred, and it poses a significant threat to mental health, and as a result, productivity.

What do businesses need to do to implement lasting changes?

As many organisations are realising, integrating remote-working into their company culture is a much broader and deeper transition than the makeshift and short-term solutions that were required to deal with COVID-19. Significant investment is needed to transform company culture from the top down. It’s not easy, but there are three things employers might focus on:

Communication

Communication is essential. Leadership needs to be clear about its remote-working goals and what it wants to accomplish with these changes. This means reaching out to teams frequently, giving regular feedback, and being answerable to any queries that arise.

Data-driven insights

HR can help with insights on employee sentiments about the shift to remote working. Using HR systems such as Cezanne HR, surveys and one-to one conversations with staff members, HR can get a good feel for how employees are responding to the new way of working. HR can then work with the business on creating clear guidelines for remote working.

Future agility

Undoubtedly, investing in remote working now will have a far-reaching impact on the way we work post COVID-19. It will also arm us with flexible working models that we can use to approach any other disruptive events that businesses might face down the track. Remote working in some form or other is here to stay, so it doesn’t suffice to settle with short-term solutions that only meet the necessaries of the current crisis.

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