My involvement with remote work goes back a long way. Around 15 years ago, I ran a home working pilot for a major company. The pilot involved 30 employees working one day a week at home over three months and for them it was an unqualified success. They loved being freed from the grind of the commute, most started work earlier and finished later but relished the opportunity to work with fewer interruptions and get on top of their week’s work. Sadly when I reported the results to the company’s board the senior management were unimpressed. They had concerns about disempowerment of managers who might not be able to track employees down, control and measurement of the tasks that employees were carrying out, arranging meetings with people who were out of the office and trust that people were actually working and not watching TV all day.
Things have moved incredibly fast in the intervening years. Broadband speeds have increased dramatically and a wealth of tools are available that plug the confidence gaps expressed by that board of directors. Videoconferencing, instant messaging, collaboration, task and project management tools, shared storage, knowledge bases as well as email have all increased the ability to contact, involve, manage and motivate employees working remotely.
The COVID-19 Pandemic
While the remote working revolution was already well underway, the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be a massive accelerant.
Virtually all of the data collected on remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic points to huge increases in productivity. For employers the combination of more work and significant savings in the cost of office rentals sound irresistible. However, challenges arise from the failure of many companies to adapt to this new way of working, continuing to organise remote working as if everyone was still in the same office. This is not only inefficient but risks promoting all of the worst aspects of remote work – loneliness and isolation combined with overwork and employee burn-out. There are far better ways of organising things. But maybe it isn’t surprising that companies are struggling to adapt, after all we’ve had over 100 years of working in offices and for most, less than 1 year working remotely.
The pandemic idealised office base work. For many people return to the office was impractical or even banned. Added to this home started to feel like a prison with limited personal interaction, many of the things we do outside of the home closed and travel restricted. People have a tendency to long for something they had before, so in many employees’ minds the office became idealised and return to the office seen as a solution to all of their issues. However the office is a far from ideal work environment with meeting overload, lots of interruptions, less than perfect communication and the drudge of the daily commute. It seems very likely that the eventual return to offices will be quickly followed by an increased demand to work remotely as employees appreciate how good it was working from home.
Most people’s bets are on a hybrid model being the future of office work, with employees working remotely 3 or 4 days per week and going into offices for the remaining days. I’m not convinced this is a viable model. There are better ways of doing this while maintaining the social contact and collaborative working that both businesses and employees crave. See our analysis of the future of work.
How to adapt to remote work
Too many businesses are simply carrying on working with remote teams as if they were still in an office. This is inefficient and more likely to lead to issues with staff burn out and feelings of isolation. Businesses need to adapt to remote work – see how.
Businesses need to use the right tools to make remote really work. There are lots of really exciting tools available and new ones being launched all of the time – see our Reviews section.
How we can help
We can offer advice on the best tools to use – see our Reviews section
See our blog posts for lots of advice on how to adapt your business to remote work.
Or contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 (0)7788 925027 for help on how to build a truly efficient remote working environment that meets the needs of business and employees.