Remote working was a growing trend before COVID-19, but the pandemic and associated restrictions have dramatically accelerated the shift to a remote workforce. At the end of 2019, just over 5% of employed adults in the UK were mainly home-based, whereas in April this year, 45% reported working from home.
As restrictions are gradually lifted, bringing the opportunity to return to the physical workplace, businesses are questioning whether the established office model is still in their best interests. After all, the pandemic has removed most of the stigma attached to working from home and proved what is possible when necessity calls.
Many organizations will take the opportunity to adopt a fully flexible policy, where employees don’t just have the option to work from home on occasion; instead, they are fully empowered to work remotely with a company culture built around this new operating model.
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Here are three reasons now is the time for companies to prepare for their employees to stay at home:
Wellbeing and productivity benefits
A better work-life balance is one of the key benefits of remote working. With no commute, there are simply more hours in the day, and employers can offer flexible scheduling where roles and responsibilities permit. This situation allows employees to adapt their hours to suit childcare requirements, make time for activities that contribute to personal wellbeing, and work when they are most dynamic or creative.
Increased flexibility has a knock-on positive impact on companies as employees who have control over their working day are more motivated and productive. A long-held assumption that employees work less when they are at home is mostly incorrect, with 85% of businesses across the globe reporting increased productivity as a result of greater flexibility.
And it’s not just employee satisfaction that makes working from home more productive; other factors such as asynchronous communication also come into play. In an office environment, employees are continually interrupted by in-person queries that distract them from the task at hand while compelling them to come up with an instant response that may lack consideration and substance.
With remote working, the majority of communications are asynchronous, allowing employees to set ‘do not disturb’ hours, evaluate and prioritize requests, and put time and thought into responses. Of course, synchronous communication will always be needed for meetings, urgent tasks, and all-important bonding between colleagues. But, remote working enables employees to combine communication types more effectively.
The expense of renting office space continues to rise, with the average cost of occupying a new-build office in the UK increasing by 3.4% in 2019, double the rate of inflation. While most businesses won’t become entirely remote and ditch offices altogether, they can dramatically reduce the space they need.
Organizations may consolidate multiple offices down to one central hub where employees can meet clients or gather in small numbers, and hire larger locations for one-off company events.
Forward-looking businesses aren’t only concerned with financial overheads, and they’re also factoring in environmental costs. Having a remote workforce enables a company to reduce its carbon footprint as employees aren’t commuting to work every day. Sustainability will be a crucial business differentiator in the future, and companies that can demonstrate sensitivity towards environmental issues will gain an advantage over competitors that retain large unsustainable premises.
Improved collaborative tech
The shift to remote working is assisted by a parallel shift from legacy, on-premise systems to agile cloud-based infrastructure, and online communication tools. But the proliferation of digital platforms now available doesn’t necessarily bring increased productivity.
In the scramble to set up remote working due to COVID-19, many businesses rapidly implemented a variety of systems – from video conferencing and messaging apps to time logging and invoicing tools – just to keep functioning. The result is employees are switching between multiple tools, and business-critical information is scattered across separate systems.
Fortunately, tech tools are now available to simplify and streamline online collaboration as businesses look to make remote working as advantageous as possible. By implementing a centralized platform or all-in-one hub that can combine functions such as communications, work scheduling, and financial management, businesses can ensure all employees have access to the same tools and information and don’t need to switch between disconnected environments.
Collaborative platforms provide a single source of truth that ensures all employees are monitoring the same timelines and working toward the same goals.
Without physical office space, tech platforms become the new workspace, so getting the digital infrastructure right is vital. By customizing collaboration platforms to business needs and integrating them with existing systems, companies can make work in any environment more efficient and pave the way for a fully remote workforce.
The COVID-19 enforced shift from office to home was sudden and steep, but the return to the workplace will be staggered, with many businesses never fully returning but switching to a remote-first model instead. With remote working increasing employee wellbeing and productivity as well as reducing costs for businesses, and tech tools now available to enable streamlined collaboration, companies should prepare for staff to stay home for the long term.