In a recent survey conducted by The Remote Lab, only 4% of those surveyed wanted to return to the office full-time after the pandemic, but equally only 4% wanted to work fully remotely. However, a study of American Remote workers by Owl Labs found that 50% of employees would not return to jobs that did not offer remote work, as well as 23% accepting a pay cut of 10% to work from home at least some of the time. 80% expect to work from home at least 3 days per week, post-Covid. So many more statistics echo these, provide mounting evidence that the future is distributed, and employees want to have the freedom to work remotely at least part of the time. The conclusion? If you want to keep your employees, now more than ever is the time to prepare for a distributed future. You need a remote strategy.
1. SEE THE FULL PICTURE
The benefits of increased remote, or flexible, working do not end with the employees. High office costs have already led many companies to downsize, in favour of increased remote working, or flexible hub rental. Toronto city has already launched a Workplace Modernization Program, encouraging a culture change to remote work and flexible hours, and reducing their office spaces from 55 down to 15 locations. The UK government has similarly made a move to save €2.9bn by 2030, by reducing their fixed departmental offices from 800 down to 200.
An office space in a major European city can easily cost up to 1000 € per month (based on a London West End average office rental of 1424 € per m2 and an average West End office size of 723 m2 – quite small compared to others, likely due to cost). The evidence from both Toronto and the UK government suggests that companies are considering downsizing fixed office rental by about 75% in favour of hubs and flexible working – and this money could then be channelled elsewhere, such as better equipment, or even new hires. Do you know how much you could save by moving to coworking or fully remote working arrangements?
2. BE AWARE OF THE RISKS
However, there are some risks that need to be addressed. In 2013, 10% of the US workforce were already regularly working from home. Since Covid-19, 33% of the European workforce are working remotely. Yet remote working was still not considered a phenomenon worth researching, so few studies exist on the risks and benefits. Liang and Bloom (2013) conducted a controlled experiment on the Shanghai travel company Ctrip, putting together a test group and a control group of 500 employees each. The control group were working from the office 5 days a week and the test group were working from home 4 out of 5 days per week. After only 3 months they could see that the team working from home had increased their productivity by 13%, working more minutes and taking more calls per minute. However, after 9 months the participants in the test group were visibly starting to feel isolated and lonely. They were longing for social interaction at the office. After the test period had ended, people were still willing to work from home, but not as much as 4 days per week. When thinking about a life post-Covid, these findings are important to consider. Other studies have suggested people are treated more as machines when they are just working remotely, which can lead to increased stress, and a higher risk of burnout. One study of 1,153 workers found that the 52% who worked from home at least occasionally felt more left out and ignored than those who went to the office. How can you ensure your employees are satisfied with their work situation?
A straightforward solution to this is to establish a clear remote working policy, taking these risks into account. Many companies have neglected to fully develop such a policy, due to the suddenness of the pandemic and remote situation. But a good remote strategy should think about may things: from planning when people will work from home, or the office (also avoiding the risks of having not enough desk space); to defining how working hours should be distributed during a day; how/when employees can avoid work-related communication; as well as who pays for home-working supplies (chairs etc.) or coworking memberships. The Irish government have developed a checklist for companies employing remote workers, which adds extra points of thought, such as: can you ensure your employees will get at least 11 hours off work in a day? A good remote strategy needs to address practical as well as wellbeing concerns.
3. THE OFFICE OF THE FUTURE
As we have discussed, the future of work is distributed. Yet focusing on increasing remote work does not mean neglecting the office – if anything, the shift to remote work demands a redefinition of the office space. If a company downsize their offices, what should they focus on in the new structure? There has recently been a shift to activity-focused workplaces, where spaces are designed to encourage collaboration and creativity: de-siloing departments, creating open spaces with meeting set ups etc. In the case of integrating this with increased remote work, investment in good videoconferencing technology in these open spaces is important.
Asking employees what they are looking for from their workplace is equally important: if some prefer to do their individual work from the office, then there may still be need for individual desktop setups. If they only come in for conference calls, then this needs to be a focus. Some companies, such as Google, or E.on have developed workplaces built around encouraging creativity and wellbeing: a workplace that makes people want to come in even if they don’t have to. They have focused on outdoor space, gardens, sports facilities and good eating facilities, as well as yoga classes, or tennis courts. An added benefit of this is that it can encourage inter-departmental collaboration, and project creativity through casual conversation. The lesson to retain is this: if you want employees to come to the office, the office space needs to be designed to encourage them to want to come in. And especially if part of the workforce remains remote, then the office needs to have a function, and be set-up according to which facilities your employees need, and the thing which might also make the workspace more appealing, as simple as green space. Have you asked your employees what they miss from the physical office?
The future is coming faster than we planned. According to a Mckinsey report released in October 2020, organisations have taken a 4-7 year tech leap in the space of a few months. Remote work existed before the pandemic, but all evidence points at it being here to stay, in some form or other. Now is the time to keep up with the companies who have already taken a leap – such as twitter, facebook and spotify – and develop your company’s own long-term remote strategy.
Do you have an overview of your company? Do you have any influence over the directions your company can take in future? We can help you keep, or even improve your competitiveness.
The old way of working will lose you both money and employees once the pandemic is over – taking the step to becoming a remote-friendly workplace can help you avoid this. It could also open your labour marketplace on a global level: if you accept fully-remote hires, you can attract the best of talent from all over your continent, or even the world.
We’ll support you with this. We’re collaborating with global experts in the remote-working field, as well as the internationally reputed, future-oriented online education platform Hyper Island. Don’t lose your company’s hard-earned place on the market. Commit to the future.