The teleworking experiment

Written by Josh Musominari

We have all probably read numerous articles on remote working, with an array of opinions on its merit discussed.

In the last three months, we have all been able to participate in a nationwide experiment, getting a first-hand look at how this would work on a large scale and in the organisations we serve. With this in mind, I have looked to examine what the likely effects of this will be in the short and long term and how will this period have changed the outlook and prominence on remote working on the labour market.

Research has suggested that there are numerous benefits to employing a remote working strategy and prior to COVID-19 this was a rising trend within the UK. Organisations have been gradually extending this facility within their HR and hiring strategies. However, the shift in numbers that the pandemic provided would have taken a long time to be equalled based on the prior rates of change.

With this period having given many employees the opportunity to trial teleworking that otherwise wouldn’t, the desire for this is likely to grow. Merchant Savvy’s research into the effect this has on career choices is that 80% of people would turn down positions that didn’t allow flexible working conditions when choosing between two comparable job opportunities.

In order to maintain status in the marketplace and the ability to attract and retain talent, adopting a flexible working strategy may be a necessity going forward. During the pandemic it has been shown that the level of voluntary redundancies has dropped in response to economic uncertainty, and the likelihood of the market applying pressures to organisations will not take place until the economy is in a more stable position. However, once this subsides it is likely to become a greater motivator in peoples choices going forward. As part of developing more sustainable fiscal practices, organisations may begin applying this as part of their medium-term strategy to address real estate costs and decreasing seating costs for their physical locations.

When managing these changes effectively there is a learning curve that needs to be addressed by organisations. If a wider culture shift is to occur in this regard, then more training and facilitation practices will likely be required to ensure that organisations can deliver the same levels of quality and service in geographically dispersed organisations.

The adaptation to working remotely can be a difficult transition with the effect on mental health and wellbeing occasionally leading to difficult challenges that need to be considered. The effects on loneliness and lack of separation between work and home life can be a struggle and lead to lack of cohesion and engagement from employees. There are various reports suggesting between 20 – 30% of those that work at home full time are reporting adverse results. In the short term, organisations will need to support their staff and guarantee that effective support systems are available to maintain their wellbeing. On a wider scale as this becomes more commonplace, there will likely be products and services continuing to be developed to assist organisations and employees in successfully adapting to teleworking.

A potential development we may see is government policy being adapted to increase employees’ rights to select their work location. Germany’s Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has proposed that following the pandemic, this may become a statutory entitlement where possible. Employees with dedicated offices in their homes can claim a tax benefit and there have even been calls for this to be furthered. While these calls for change are welcomed by employees, there will likely be resistance from forced changes by the government, and if financial benefit to employers is not met as part of policy changes then organisations will likely lobby against these moves in the UK where remote working is not as prevalent as those countries that score higher on remote working index.

On the other hand, the government may look at the value proposition that remote working offers on a grander scale. Whilst there are issues with mental health amongst others, some of the societal benefits such as the lessened environmental impacts, reduced strain on urban infrastructure and increased wellbeing may impact the propensity to introduce these changes.

This period has also had technical challenges in terms of infrastructure from Telecoms and service providers. The action required to scale these services was however rapidly deployed, but some service providers struggled to manage these fluctuations while remaining competitively priced. The government has been progressively investing in the nations connectivity and this will consistently continue in the years to come.

The general consensus, however, is that this trend will continue to expand. In the short term I believe there will be some gratitude and relief to returning to the office. I do however think it is important to address that this period has been one mired in economic and social concerns and various impositions on life as a whole, making it difficult to examine the tangible effects lockdown has had on the sentiment of teleworking. However, in the longer term one of the key facets of remaining competitive as a business is to continue to add value to the bottom line.

As organisations and competitors in different industries begin to take these steps, they will put pressure on their competitors to make equal adaptations and standardising the practice. The economic proposition of these adaptations is something that I doubt will be ignored much further. We live in an increasingly digitised workplace and this is a natural cultural step in the modern office that businesses and employees have now had the opportunity to trial. It will be interesting to understand what the workforce analytics will uncover post lockdown and how organisations are to respond going forward.

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