2020 will forever be remembered as the year we had to carry out our daily responsibilities from our dining tables. Organisations that never had any work from home policies pre-COVID have found themselves scrambling to implement one. The real question, though, is whether working from home will become a permanent part of the post COVID-19 business world.
Statistically speaking, working from home is here to stay
Working from home is not a new phenomenon. Terms like remote workers, always on workplaces, or virtual employees have already been around for a while. Here are some numbers from the Future Workforce Report done by Upwork, the largest freelancing website.
According to Upwork, the youngest generations are most likely to freelance. Upwork also predicts that 73 per cent of teams will have remote workers, who will make up 24 per cent of departmental headcount by 2028.
Increasing flexibility becomes the top priority of Millennial managers. This cohort is more willing to invest in technology to support their virtual team members and is more than twice as likely as Baby Boomers to engage freelancers for ongoing projects.
Remote working and flexible hours have been primarily adopted by tech firms. Facebook is reportedly "opening up remote hiring." Mark Zuckerberg commented that over the next ten years, half of Facebook's workforce would go virtual.
Twitter also allows its employees to work from home "forever" if they wish. Other firms like Mastercard, Spotify, Google, and Microsoft have extended the period of remote working or until employees are "ready to return to the office."
Working from home is no longer a major hurdle today if your organisation is equipped with the right tools and processes. For instance, an executive can edit a live document shared by the Marketing team, conduct an online job interview, and then join the monthly meeting with the heads of departments, all from the comfort of their home via a collaboration platform.
Human resources experts and a growing list of business leaders believe this pattern is the new normal; employees will no longer sit idly in a traditional office from nine to five.
What's more, allowing employees to work off-site enables businesses to save costs such as overheads, office spaces, equipment, electricity, and more, which explains why various firms feel tempted to roll out remote working.
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Is working from home for everyone?
It is no doubt that freelancers and virtual working have gained tremendous traction during the past decades. Nevertheless, the idea solely applies to those fortunate enough to do knowledge work. A wide array of collaboration, information sharing solutions also catered only to this particular group. Our blue-collar workers do not have that luxury.
From the employees' perspective
Not all white-collar workers enjoy the benefits of working from home as they may be offered different access to the necessary technology. A portion of employees fears that "always-on" might lead to "always working."
Not to mention, isolated employees may experience the feeling of loneliness and losing touch of society as the usual in-person interactions during lunch breaks, down the hallways, over a cup of coffee are now carried out over a Zoom meeting or a chat message on Skype.
From the employers' perspective
A great challenge for managers and team leaders is managing productivity, which may seem to contradict multiple studies that prove otherwise. Reluctant managers are worried that once employees are out-of-sight, they are also out of mind.
In an article published on Visual Capitalist, reduced productivity and focus is among the top concerns for managers, closely followed by reduced team cohesive, maintaining company culture, overworked employees, and employees' career implications.
However, Owl Labs, a leader in immersive video conferencing technology, a forefront supporter of the virtual workplace movement, argues that employees can do their best regardless of their location as long as they are given the right tool.
Virtual working is the future of work
To seamlessly transition from the physical office to a virtual one, businesses must pay attention to the following elements:
- Accessibility: the future of work will move away from the traditional concept of "where one does their jobs" to "how one can fulfil their responsibilities." Thus, employees need to be given access to the right tools, software, and resources virtually to do what they do.
- Communication: when teams are geographically dispersed, collaborating between members can sometimes be difficult. That is why platforms like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Webex, Google Suite, etc. are developed to aid borderless communication. Managers and team leaders need to be transparent with their members, ensure a smooth communication flow, and easy information sharing, so employees can pick up where they left off anytime, anywhere.
- Performance: building a virtual work environment requires managers to give up on several visual cues signifying "efficiency" like employees sitting at their desks, phones ringing, people discussing, etc. To resolve the productivity issue, managers must clearly communicate their expectations and shift their focus on results, deliverables, or reports instead.
Flexibility in working environments is not only vital to keeping existing employees happy, but it is also a competitive advantage to attract new talents. Also according to Visual Capitalist, having a choice of work location plays a key role for candidates to evaluate employers. Location flexibility is viewed as more important than having an increase in holiday allowance or working for a prestigious company.
The global health crisis is a wake-up call for many organisations, who have never had any measurements or plans in place to support a virtual workforce. But working remotely is a reality. Businesses that aim to continue with the daily operations without any disruptions need to have in place a contingency plan that encompasses options for flexible working, adequate technology, and cybersecurity to protect the company's most valuable information.
A world post COVID-19 will not operate "as usual." Businesses need to be prepared for every eventuality in order to be sustainable. Subscribe to TRG's Business As UnUsual #BAUU newsletter now and stay up-to-date on the latest insights and practices to navigate today's changing environment.