During the recent Covid-19 pandemic, many organisations not completing ‘essential’ work have reduced trading volume by furloughing workers or allowing staff to work from home full-time.
Here are five ways that more flexibility and autonomy could change the professional world for the better, and five considerations business leaders must monitor to prevent negative impact.
Since the many lockdowns implemented across the world, 74% of those currently working report being more productive than when they were working from the office. In contrast, 15% felt that they produced the same workload as normal, and only 11% were less productive. During the first two weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, employees in the UK and US were working 11-hour days on average.
In 2019, research reported that the productivity increase among remote workers is equivalent to an extra day per person per week. Staff members attribute the additional time to an increased ability to focus, start and end their days later due to a lack of commuting, and feeling less stressed and in need of relaxation at the end of the day. With more individuals than ever before now completing their tasks from their own houses and flats, employees across industries and levels of seniority have the chance to manage their own workloads and enable their productivity to skyrocket.
Creativity is also a benefit that drives efficiency and effectiveness. Fewer meetings and more opportunities for quiet thought and reflection provide the perfect environment for problem-solving and brainstorming. Creative ideas and new solutions to existing problems can motivate employees, enhance collaboration and improve product and service quality, that will ultimately lead to sustainable competitive advantage.
This major shift in working patterns has, perhaps surprisingly, been welcomed by employees, who have found that newfound peace and quiet aids their concentration and improves both their efficiency and effectiveness. The enforced remote working project has been so successful that, when the strict regulations are lifted, the vast majority of professionals say they’d like to work from home more often.
Since the many lockdowns implemented across the world, employees working remotely reported in Prism’s April 2020 survey:
Reasons behind popularity in working from home included savings on transport and commuting costs as well as the ability to cook nutritious lunches rather than snacking at the nearest available convenience store or takeaway, reducing shopping spend and making for healthier meals. Professionals also cited greater work/life balance, fewer distractions, more peace and quiet and more time to devote to personal life rather than commuting.
High employee engagement not only aids retention, productivity and quality of work, but also drives business growth. Employees who think of their employers as a great place to work are much more likely to make recommendations and referrals to others in their network, helping HR departments to recruit top talent and reduce recruitment costs.
In 2020, only 5% of FTSE (Financial Times Stock Exchange) 100 CEOs and just 2% of FTSE 250 leaders are female. Gender diversity is low across many levels: the combined number of women in executive and senior positions reached only 28.6%. A significant reason behind gender inequality is the lack of options for mothers returning to work after having children. Remote working enables female employees to better balance careers with childcare and share parenting duties with partners, as well as supporting staff members who act as carers to their elderly, ill or disabled relatives, who are overwhelmingly female. Companies that offer flexible working options can establish an employer brand that attracts and retains skilled and experienced female employees at all levels of their careers.
Diverse organisations also perform better financially. Inclusive companies that recognise and support their own employees better at understanding and serving their customer base, and both employees and consumers are more loyal to inclusive businesses. A recent McKinsey report reveals that diverse companies are 70% more likely than their competitors to capture new markets, and financially outperform their competitors by 15%.
The Harvard Business Review reports that 60% of people have experienced symptoms of mental health issues in the past year alone. Workers who are unhappy, stressed or anxious because of a mental illness will be demotivated at work, find it difficult to concentrate on complex tasks and will be less inclined to collaborate with colleagues.
Physical and mental illness are responsible for British firms losing £77 billion through 15.4million working days lost every year. Flexible schedules including working from home can return hours of time previously used for commuting and instead enable employees to spend more time sleeping, exercising and being with friends and family, which are all proven mood-lifting activities. Presenteeism encourages workers to turn up to the office when ill and elongates both the illness and the recovery process; home working can dramatically reduce stress and ensure staff achieve a good work/life balance to support good health.
Home workers can free up space for a hotdesking initiative, enabling the business to grow its headcount and resources without additional rent fees. Fewer people in the office or at the worksite translates to lower cots for electricity, water and utilities, as well as smaller spend such as coffee, tea and social drinks, which soon add up.
Flexible and remote working options can also be offered as a benefit, rather than committing extra expenditure to more social events or employee discounts, and is just as effective at engaging and rewarding employees.
Even before the coronavirus and subsequent lockdowns struck, employee turnover was at its highest in 10 years. With the cost of replacing the average employee set at £30,000, retention is a key way to reduce unnecessary costs and ensure your business has the skills and expertise to grow and succeed in the long-term.
In February and March 2020, cyber threats to businesses increased by 380%. CEOs are understandably concerned about security risks posed by staff who are spread across multiple locations and networks. Many of the technologies and tools available are fairly new to the market and have not yet proven their robustness, and employees are using equipment and programmes for which they have not received comprehensive training.
Some hackers have been taking advantage of the lockdown situation by accessing links and documents that are not password-protected, secretly joining private digital meetings and sending emails posing as business leaders or managers and requesting financial or company details.
However, with the right policies and procedures, remote working can be just as safe and secure as office working. Ensure your staff are aware of scams and assure them that management will never ask for financial details over email, instruct your employees not to open attachments from email addresses they do not recognise, and train staff to identify and report suspicious activity immediately.
Work with your IT support teams to remotely install security software directly onto employee computers, including anti-virus protection. When setting up new software or communication tools, set strong, complex passwords and encourage individuals to memorise these rather than writing these down.
When teams and departments are physically separated, processes and projects can become confused amidst a lack of communication. Due to the fast-paced nature of many industries, out of sight can often mean out of mind – managers must ensure they and their teams stay visible by reporting regularly on progress and updating teams on activities and the success achieved.
Regular visibility of company progress against short-term and long-term goals encourages all staff, from interns to Board Directors, to feel proud of their contribution and part of a greater purpose. Executives need to make additional allowances for employees who are out of the office, by enabling staff to join company update meetings via video link and ensuring all staff can access virtual meeting rooms and project management tools.
Without the ability to see every movement of direct reports at their usual desks, managers and leaders may be tempted to micro-manage to keep on top of projects. However, this will have the opposite effect: employees who do not feel trusted will experience more stress and less job satisfaction, will not feel empowered to make necessary decisions or pursue creative ideas, and will be less efficient and produce work of poorer quality.
Instead of being tempted to install activity tracking devices on staff software – which risks demotivating and alienating workers – use the change in working practices to empower your employees with more trust and autonomy, and manage performance through output rather than hours worked. Involve employees in determining processes of reporting and communication, such as project management tools and online teamwork software, to ensure they are fully on board and understand requirements. Establish a routine that allows for communication as regularly as is necessary, and leave workers to reach maximum productivity outside established meeting hours.
Industries such as Motorsport and Marine require engineers and technicians to work onsite building and maintaining vehicles and boats alongside other skilled individuals. Remote working is also not possible for those who work with vulnerable people and animals, those who work in agriculture or environmental protection. Individuals with jobs involving a high percentage of training, coaching and supporting others may find face-to-face training more effective at engaging groups and achieving results.
If working arrangement vary greatly between staff members, communication could slip between these groups, leading those at home feeling siloed and excluded from decisions and projects. Resentment can easily build between employees who perceive others to have a superior working experience or as enjoying a benefit that they cannot access – managers can regularly promote the contributions of remote workers and the impact of their efforts on team and company performance.
Office banter and friendships are a normal part of professional life, and can continue over digital communications, however morale is much harder to maintain long-distance. A positive work atmosphere is the second most popular employer quality favoured by potential jobseekers – 45% say that a positive culture, collaboration with teams, transparent processes and a comfortable office or worksite would make them more interested in applying for a job and more likely to remain with that employer. Businesses with poor internal culture could see remote employees become further detached from colleagues and company goals.
HR teams can easily adapt internal communications to facilitate employees across locations by providing regular email communications and digital invitations to meetings and social events.
Read our 6 Steps to Managing Remote Teams or find out The Long-Term Impacts of Covid-19 on Global Business.
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