Remote Working - will it work long term?
Remote working has been one of the biggest transformations of the business world this past year. As we approach the one-year anniversary of widespread remote work, it’s an opportunity to take stock and see the medium to long term effects and viability.
Here are some things to consider when looking at remote working as a longer term solution...
1- We’ve learned a lot about remote working in this past year
Covid, among other things, has been a mass experiment. We’re learning firsthand and in real time the ramifications of several changes to society. Remote working is one of the most significant ideas to be turned from theory into practice overnight.
Naturally, this mass experiment yielded vast swathes of data. This data took the form of productivity and key performance indicators (KPIs) experienced by thousands of companies; but also surveys based on lived experience.
Already we’ve addressed the myth that working remotely is less productive than being present in an office. And we’re seeing employers change their tune on the issue. Indeed, PWC reports that 78% of CEOs believe remote collaboration is here to stay.
On the employee side, a survey by FlexJobs found that 96% of employees want to work remotely either full time or for part of their working week. That’s broken down by 65% wanting full time remote work and 31% seeking a hybrid of remote and being in the office.
The advantages of remote working have been well documented: They include no commutes, happier workforce, better work/life balance, fewer contagious illnesses (not just Covid - colds and flu have declined this past year) and less overheads in the form of office rentals and bills.
Elsewhere, rules and etiquette regarding remote meetings started to emerge. We talked about this in our article ‘How to Hold an Effective Remote Meeting’.
However, the drawbacks and the long term opportunities are only being discovered now. These include disimproved communications, colleagues missing one another (amplifying isolation) and arguably missed opportunities for younger workers, as being remote makes learning on the job more difficult.
2- It’s important to distinguish ‘working remotely’ from ‘living at work’
Something else we’ve learned is the value of a clear delineation between work and home. For most, leaving the office building was a clear marker. This meant having closure at the end of the work day. Ideally, if working remotely, it means only using one room for work and closing the door on that room at the end of the day. If you don’t have that option (working in a living room or bedroom for instance), it’s advisable to put your work equipment away or even to cover them with a sheet.
Because we were catapulted into working from home with little notice, long or medium term considerations were not taken into account. But as it becomes a longer-term option, employers and staff need to invest in these differentiators: employees can do so by marking out clear workspaces; while their companies can provide them with the right equipment and clear boundaries of when the workday ends.
3- Remote working after a pandemic will be different from remote working now
We’re only just starting to see the possibilities of remote work, and they’ve all been viewed through the prism of a pandemic.
Here are some ways in which remote work will differ from the current situation:
Childcare will be available again
At the moment, depending on the local restrictions, countless parents around the world are juggling childcare and/or education with work. Either the location of childcare is closed (such as daycare, school or creche) or there are restrictions with who can come and look after children, or variations of both.
But this will not be the case post-pandemic. So, if and when the virus is eradicated, there will be a re-evaluation of factors like productivity, popularity of remote working and work/life balance for working parents.
You can share office space with whoever you want
The possibilities presented by remote work after a pandemic haven’t been fully explored. As writer Anne Helen Petersen observed, you could rent an office space with friends, work from friends’ houses, or do some work in a local library, cafe or park.
The potential rise of “no desk required” meetings
A new phrase that you might be hearing a lot this year is “no desk required”. This means a meeting where you don’t necessarily have to be sitting at your desk (a catchup or a brainstorm, for instance). And, if meeting remotely, this could also translate to taking the meeting while going for a walk or sitting in a garden.
Extreme remote working could become more common
If remote working continues long-term, we might see more positions advertised for jobs that can be done from anywhere in the world. There already are people working for employers who are based in another country, of course. And working from a hammock in Thailand while generously employed by a company based in Europe sounds idyllic, but there are legal, tax and emigration restrictions to work through and around. That’s before taking time zones into account. There’s also the issue of being out of touch with a local market.
However, for employers it’s the chance to cast a wider net for applicants, and they might be able to pay lower wages if the colleague is not based in an expensive city (a salary option already being explored by Facebook and other tech giants). These factors, coupled with a new acceptance for remote work, mean that extreme remote working could grow in popularity.
4- We know some - but not all - of the knock on effects
So far, the knock on effects of remote work include:
A cleaner environment
It’s too soon to tell what impact remote working has had on the environment, but we already know some effects of commuting culture. For instance, in America alone, drivers consume over 393 million gallons of petrol per day. Other sources say that working from home for one season can cut 5% of one’s annual carbon footprint. And that’s before we get into other factors like office energy use, air conditioning and office paper use.
So in short, remote working has a positive environmental impact, yet to be fully evaluated.
Property prices skewing away from offices
Property trends and prices are already changing post-covid. In Ireland, for instance, house buyers are looking beyond the capital for their homes, now that being close to the city is no longer a prerequisite. Meanwhile, office rentals are seeing a downward trend.
We discussed the issue of presenteeism in an earlier article, outlining cautious predictions for 2021.
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