Remote Working vs Office Working: A post-COVID19 perspective

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Remote Working vs Office Working is a subject we’ve touched on in a number of recent articles over the last 12 months or so. And for good reason. 

The pandemic has created a seismic shift. Remote working is the new norm. Even with restrictions eased, many continue to work from home, many companies are thinking about what next? 

How do they continue to give people the better work/life balance but continue to foster team spirit and culture in a virtual workplace?

Several white papers over the past few months have claimed that productivity while working remotely from home is better than working in an office environment.

Certainly many of our clients were surprised with the performance of many of their teams during the lockdowns.

Of course, it is not a one size fits all. 

Remote working creates issues for Ops teams, whilst many of the Sales Teams we know have benefitted massively from less time on the road and more time at a desk with webcam.

Research by Stanford University in the US claims that:

“On average, those who work from home spend 10 minutes less a day being unproductive, work one more day a week, and are 47% more productive.”

The study of 16,000 workers over a 9 month period found that:

“Working from home increased productivity by 13%. This increase in performance was due to more calls per minute attributed to a quieter more convenient working environment and working longer because of fewer breaks and sick days.”

In the same study they also reported that employee satisfaction was dramatically improved, and that staff churn-rate was cut in half.

What do we do next?

A recent article on Personnel Today discussed how ‘hybrid’ should we go as restrictions ease? 

How much time should we allocate to Remote Working vs Office Working?

What do we need to consider when deciding on where our employees should work?

Is it simply a case of driving profit vs employee wellbeing or is it more nuanced than that?

What can we as business leaders do to ensure our teams stay connected and productive?

The Personnel Today article advocates what they term an ‘Inclusive Approach’. They say:

“Traditionally, working from home was viewed as a luxury, or something only available to senior members of staff. However, the past year has demonstrated that many employees can work just as effectively from home. Processes around online meetings, file sharing and daily check-ins were swiftly put in place at the start of the pandemic and many organisations have become more agile than ever. Most employers believe it would be counterproductive to revert to how things were. Instead, organisations should view this time as an opportunity to adopt new practices and support employees to drive the business forward in a more inclusive and collaborative way.”

However, they caveat that with:

“It’s important to remember that, while many businesses have reported a short-term productivity increase attached to home working, research suggests that this is limited to routine tasks. The drivers of long-term productivity – creativity and innovation – appear to be best approached by teams coming together in person within collaborative spaces.”

Do the advantages outweigh the negatives?

If, as a business, we’re in the position to take advantage of remote or hybrid working, then surely it is more a case of identifying ways to mitigate the negative?

Hybrid, after all, means we are getting the best of both? No Remote Working vs Office Working. A best of both.

The gains we experienced during the lockdown coupled with face to face collaboration when required?

If our employees are simply looking to retain the better work/life balance they experienced during the last 12 months or so, how can we guarantee productivity remains high?

Less time commuting equals significantly less stress. 

Especially for those of us who have to deal with packed public transport (if it shows up) or heavy/slow moving traffic?

Location independence on the other-hand has clear benefits for both employee and employer. 

A recent article in the Guardian quoted Dan News, co-founder of Jump 24, who’s seen significant advantages in being able to recruit from different parts of the country. He stated that:

“We’ve always struggled a bit with Birmingham from a recruiting perspective. We can now recruit from parts of the country it would have been impossible to commute from. We just hired someone from Leeds, and we’re looking further afield, which is amazing.”

Speaking from a recruitment industry perspective, we feel it is bigger than just location though…

We can look to recruit from different socioeconomic, geographic, and cultural backgrounds. 

The talent scope is wider. 

Finding the right fit can be tricky when recruitment is restricted to a specific location.

Not everyone wants, or can afford, to live in Central London for example. 

Long and/or difficult commutes can put a good candidate off!

Managing a remote or hybrid team

For senior execs remote or hybrid working brings with it a number of challenges and factors to consider too.

We’ve already touched on the nature of the work but the work ethic and habits of the team need to be analysed and understood. 

The home office set up and the presence of outside distractions addressed.

And as much as remote work can be fraught with obstacles, there’s a number of quick/relatively inexpensive things that we can implement to better support. 

Making sure team members have the support and equipment they need is the starting point.

Robust processes around online video meetings, document sharing and daily check-ins mentioned in the earlier Personnel Today quote are essential. 

We need to be responsive and agile. 

Those most successful on our network during the first lockdown were the organisations who were able to react with speed and flexibility.

Embracing the changes

Of course, even 16 months later, we’re still learning but better systems and software, better insight, is helping the transition.

The Personnel Today article looked at what they call “ensuring the workplace works”. 

They highlight health and safety and workforce wellbeing as the critical HR components, and stress that:

“The challenges of the past year have put mental health at the top of the HR agenda and as workplaces move into the ‘new normal’, this is something that should remain a priority. In order to build a culture that lends itself to hybrid working, managers need to listen to employees and take their individual needs into account. A one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to work.”

Just because people aren’t always in the office, employers and HR professionals still have a duty of care. 

It is critical that we ensure those we employ are looked after and they’re given the tools and support to perform their role.

That could be as simple as broadband, laptops, an ergonomic chair, or for those with health issues, specialist office equipment.

We need to make sure that those we manage are clear about how remote working will work, define goals and objectives. How will you keep each other updated, how frequently, etc.

Strategically all staff must have a clear understanding of the bigger picture and how what they do fits into the organisation achieving its objectives. 

How workload is shared between different team members, departments, etc, how it all comes together, how they can support each other.

Rewriting the management handbook

As senior management we are required to place a huge amount of trust in those we have working for us remotely. 

It can be difficult to give people the freedom to perform their roles without micro-managing. Set clear expectations for both you and each employee. 

Focus on the deliverable/achievable results rather than the how and when. If they want to start work at 6 am to finish a little earlier, then that’s OK if their to do list is ticked off. If they’re hitting targets set.

Much of good team leadership is about rhythm. Structure. Communication. 

Everybody on the same page and know what is expected of them. Regular one-to-ones and team meetings are essential. 

Remote, office or a mix of the two, structure and continuity is important.

Much of the concern with a shift to greater remote/home working is the lack of human interaction. 

Maybe we took those ‘cup of tea or coffee conversations’ for granted?

It can be difficult to pick up body language or tone on a video chat or from email. You can’t always get a true sense of what people are feeling or thinking.

We are conducting regular interviews with candidates via video call, and for us it works. However, both parties are engaged, happy to communicate via this medium… 

The challenge comes when you need to have the more difficult conversations. Say when a team member is not pulling their weight or you suspect dishonesty. 

That is a difficult conversation to hold in the same room but even harder virtually.

Meeting socially is also a critical to team building and rapport. 

How do we overcome this with a virtual team? 

It needs creativity and application.

Don’t make all online interaction work related. 

Make time for a chat. 

Make people feel relaxed and part of something. 

Show interest in them, their family, their well-being.

There’s also the less discussed benefits of increased home/hybrid working such as the sustainability and environmental impact. 

Less commuting = less cars on the road.

There’s no escaping the fact that remote working can increase productivity and performance in many disciplines and sectors. The pros often greatly outweigh the cons.

Less commuting, better comms, flexibility, reduced financial costs, increased productivity, etc.

The important thing is how we manage our people and still create a culture in which they thrive both personally and professionally.

Focus on the positives

Working from home often provides fewer distractions not more. 

Time is utilised more efficiently. 

Less office chatter, politics, meetings for meetings sake. 

Virtual meetings are more efficient.

Take away a stressful commute and people have more time in their day (often hours).

When it comes to Remote Working vs Office Working, the most important thing… Trust people!

Whilst the pandemic has been the catalyst it is no longer the only reason for us to work from home.

In fact, the benefits of working from home have a dramatic impact on so many things, be it personal, professional or scocio-economic that it is a logical step forward.

Barron Williams can help you connect with remote roles and remote talent!

If you’re looking for a senior executive for your organisation, please use our Client Upload Form or Call Us now.

If you’re looking for your next role, then please feel free to Upload Your CV or Call Us for an exploratory conversation.

Barron Williams

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