Jon White, MD at InXpress, discusses what the future of remote working will look like post-COVID-19
Most of the working world has recently either been required, or strongly urged, to work from home. It’s estimated that 1.5 million UK employees currently work remotely on a full-time basis. And yet a recent survey by Virgin Media Business predicted that 60% of all employees will regularly work from home by 2022.
For many, this sudden jolt of remote working will be their first time working from home for a lengthy period of time – or even at all, with some bosses previously not seeing it as feasible. Some will have been able to request work from home days for specific reasons, such as doctors appointments. Others will be seasoned remote workers, able to choose when and where to work as they please.
No matter what category you fall into, one thing is for sure. Moving forwards, it’s going to become a lot harder for many business owners who have been resistant to make changes to argue that it cannot be done. Once the health threat has passed, what does the future of remote working look like?
Infrastructure will make or break
Advances in technology have contributed to the increase in desire to work from home over the years. People know that it can significantly enhance their working from home experience, and technology like video communication tools have helped to humanise the workforce over the last few months.
But many network systems are often not designed to have the entirety of staff working remotely at the same time. An Office 365 spokesperson even said ‘the corporate network infrastructure may have been scaled and designed before any major cloud services were rolled out and in some cases, not designed for a situation where it is required simultaneously by all users.’ There can be a few tech headaches for employers, with companies such as Cisco rationing VPN for staff when its network becomes strained.
Although home-working hasn’t overloaded the internet yet, IT must plan for situations where it will continue to have to support a larger workforce which is distributed in multiple locations.
Trust is Key
A study by Acas way back in 2013 found that a mistrust of remote workers was holding the UK back from flexible working. And according to Garter this year, only 56% of managers let their employees work remotely – even when policies allow it, partly due to lack of trust.
Working from home still needs to morph from a privilege to a right if it’s in the company policy. Of course, if a staff member is regularly late to work and takes extended breaks, it might be a sign that they would not be able to be productive when unsupervised. But in the grand scheme of things, remote workers actually become more productive. Most people will not allow home comforts to interrupt priorities, in the same way they won’t take longer lunches or spend long amounts of time by the coffee station. Trust needs to be developed, and potentially the coronavirus change will enable this. Employees know they need to get the job done, and when they’re trusted to be able to work from home, they’re 22% happier in their jobs too.
Flexible time, flexible place
It won’t just lead more people to recognise the benefits of working from home. During the pandemic, some people have had to work different hours in order to fulfil childcare duties and other tasks. Yet they’re still getting the job done, meaning there will also be less room to resists flexitime requests, which every employee is entitled to after 26 weeks of employment. And again, 77% of employees say they go ‘the extra mile’ for their employer as a result of being offered flexible hours.
Workers are also likely to want to work in different locations, which will require technology to ensure they are secure from any device on any network, in any location. This may require extra BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) rules in an organisation.
The environment has also become a top talking point during the pandemic, with numerous reports from across the world showing emissions have tumbled during lockdown. While working from any device can have sustainability issues, the drop in car-use has seen toxic emissions at major roads in London falling by almost 50%. This will no doubt have a ripple effect on working, with those who can commute by bike or foot being encouraged to once lockdown passes, and the benefits to working from home also leading to fewer emissions.
The traditional office won’t disappear
This situation we’ve been thrust into has shown that telecommuting can work well, but that doesn’t mean that the office will disappear. As the flexible working benefits have increased, so have the importance of social interaction, hence the take-off of systems like Zoom. There are already companies which exist and let employees work from home whenever they want to, but people still head into the office most of the time.
People will still hold meetings like they used to, but there will likely be far fewer in-person meetings now we’ve seen the benefits of video conferencing. There isn’t a replacement for face to face chat, but while social distancing is implemented until a vaccine is found, the office may look different. Some may continue working at home until the vaccine comes, as not to hinder their productivity.
Research suggests that it takes an average of 66 days to form a habit. We’re approaching that figure in the UK since lockdown began. Working from home isn’t the new ‘normal’ yet, but it’s getting there. Once this passes, people will have formed new behaviours and new ways of becoming productive that it will be hard for bosses to ignore. The future has to be more flexible – there is no other option.
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