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Understanding the New World of Work

remote work

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to major changes in how many people work, including remote working and increased flexibility. While these changes bring benefits, they also raise challenges that need to be addressed. Let’s look at the benefits and challenges of working remotely, and how to make it work.

Increased investment in assets and capabilities

With staff asked to work from home to combat the pandemic, businesses needed to boost their investment in physical assets, including laptops, headsets, desks and printers. Many businesses were forced to make large, fixed cost investments in remote work that they might have been avoiding. With the investment already made, it’s much easier to justify ongoing remote working arrangements.

For businesses that need staff to get together to collaborate, a hybrid approach – where teams work from home and come into the office occasionally to work on projects – might be the way of the future. With fewer people in offices, this would make it possible to meet social distancing requirements while enabling team collaboration. 

Businesses need to consider their long-term remote working policies and how these will impact investment in assets and team collaboration.

Cost savings

Remote working has been growing in popularity in recent years due to the cost savings it brings, as a result of reducing office space needed and lowering utility costs. Research conducted by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics revealed that remote working grew by 7.9 percent between 2016 and 2017. It increased by 44 per cent over the last five years and 91 per cent over the past ten years. 

While there are cost savings associated with remote working, businesses will need to look at other factors that could have negative impacts. Some staff members might not have a suitable work space for remote working. Others might need a structured environment to stay motivated.

Health and environmental benefits

People working from home are less likely to catch colds and flus, even when there’s no pandemic. In addition, fewer people on the road results in fewer car accidents. 

In addition, a decrease in commuting to offices has environmental benefits. When Xerox moved 11 per cent of its employees to remote work, it reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 40,894 metric tonnes per year.

Productivity increases for some, but not for all

The productivity impacts will depend on the situation and worker preferences. One study showed that call centre employees who wanted to work from home and were allowed to do this made 13.5 per cent more calls than employees who wanted to work from home but were not allowed to. In addition, the remote working staff were 50 per cent less likely to quit, which saved in recruitment and onboarding costs. While some employees might be keen to work from home, and more productive, others might want to be in an office environment with their coworkers. So staff preferences need to be considered when introducing remote working.

Change in management requirements and training

With remote working, managers don’t have the ability to observe staff performance as closely and collaboration between workers happens differently. These changed conditions mean managers need to provide frequent feedback and provide the tools to facilitate collaboration. Training in the use of technology can help remote workers succeed in remote working. Once the tools are in place, take steps to maximise their effectiveness. For example, set up daily team check-ins to go over projects and discuss any blockers that are in the way.

Cybersecurity risks

When staff are working remotely, IT managers have less control over cybersecurity. Home wi-fi is often not as safe as commercial versions and passwords might not be as secure. Certain video conferencing apps have come under scrutiny for security and privacy deficiencies. Phishing scams are another risk that is heightened when working in a home environment. Cybersecurity risks are reduced when remote working policies and procedures are in place and followed. These could include using a VPN (virtual private network) and providing online training about safe remote working practices.

Increase in loneliness and isolation

One study of remote workers revealed that 21 per cent of remote staff found loneliness as their biggest challenge. Ways to prevent the feelings of loneliness and isolation include setting up social activities such as online happy hours and pizza parties. Also, set aside time at the beginning of regular online meetings for social interaction. Start conversations about what people have been doing in their free time by asking questions such as ‘What did you do over the weekend?’ Managers need to be proactive with staff and ask questions to determine how they feel about remote working and if there are underlying problems.

Changes when remote working is not an option

Many businesses are not in a position to transition to remote or hybrid working. In office environments, social distancing requirements might necessitate changing current office configurations and the way people interact in common spaces such as meeting rooms. Businesses where staff have regular contact with customers will need to change policies and procedures to avoid spreading the coronavirus as long as pandemic persists. All businesses should consider sick leave policies to ensure that employees don’t feel compelled to work when they are not feeling well.

Unknowns in the new world of work

Although it’s still too early to tell what the long-term changes will be as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, approaches and attitudes to work will change as a result of the experience. Remote working was growing in popularity before the pandemic, and this trend will continue. Much will depend on how the coronavirus pandemic plays out in the future.


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