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The World of Work Post COVID-19: What Can We Expect?
More businesses are closing their office doors for good each week as we settle into a 'new normal', but that is no longer something we can associate solely with the end of trading.
Remote working is becoming a permanent part of work life for many people as businesses are increasingly following the trend. Organisations are seeing the cost saving benefits of closing their offices altogether, being just one of the many adaptations businesses are making to survive 2020, but to hopefully thrive beyond it too.
Leading this new work-from-home business development are the big names - Twitter, Facebook, Shopify and Upwork have been the role models in business agility, offering permanent remote or agile work cultures. But it's not just the familiar names proving their commitment to remote. Educational tech company, Amplify, operates remotely and people there reportedly love the culture and encouraged work-life balance. Similarly, PointClickCare, a cloud-based start up offering tech services to senior care providers, has a great reputation for employee happiness and offering agile and home working options.
But the big names in Silicon Valley are far from the only ones seizing the initiative on permanent remote or agile working. According to a survey by Intermedia, 57% of small business owners believe remote working is here to stay long term, and they're painting a surprisingly optimistic picture of what this looks like.
All of this talk about remote and agile working is the current hot topic because of the huge success it has been for businesses worldwide. The benefits have been clear both commercially and for the people themselves, as many businesses are discovering modern work culture may be a game of flex for everyone. As people are appreciating less commuting time, their productivity is increasing, and they are becoming more open minded about the possibility of variable working hours.
Global charities like the WWF employs an international team that can pass the baton from one shift to another - as the UK team clocks off, the East coast US team takes over, managing a fluid social media presence amongst them without the need for an office to share a workload. Now everyone is remote and less fixed to 'normal' hours, colleagues have more freedom to speak to their peers across the pond and engage in two-way communication rather than the old one-way system. A team separated by location is now simply a team.
It's not just about the benefits of increased flexibility either. Productivity has seen a rise consistently - and there's not much guessing why. In our previous blogs we've explored how remote and/or agile working contributes to career happiness and prolonged commitments to businesses from a team member's perspective.
We also know that giving people autonomy over their working day is a huge motivator - being able to dress how you like (comfy PJ bottoms and a smart top, anyone?), choosing the environment that you feel you'll be most productive in, and being home intime to pick up the kids from school are just some of the things many of us craved just six short months ago - that COVID-19 has inadvertently given us. When our work lets us achieve the balance we need, it's our work that benefits as well as our mental health.
The Impact on Productivity
For organisations that thrive on this type of culture, agile working is likely to be preferred over an exclusively remote set-up. By either giving people the option to work from the office when they wish, or by hiring a co-work space to create team days regularly, leaders can still nurture their culture with the quirks that make a company what it is.
It can be likened to Google's famous 20% Project, where employees are allocated 20% of their work time to pursue personal projects - with full pay. The Internet giant quickly found that when people are given the freedom of time (which is essentially what agile working comes down to), they feel free to think in increasingly creative ways which circulates and directly benefits the business. The result? Google's projects move faster, they're bigger, better and more successful. There's a reason these big names in tech are world leaders in business, and the businesses who treat their people with rigidity and zero trust are often the ones found to be struggling after a difficult period.
However, it would be wrong to claim that everyone has enjoyed the benefits of remote working. Many people have struggled enormously to maintain a sense of normality through 2020, and many aspects of remote working can be undesirable or damaging if not accounted for.
We've talked at length about mental health during COVID-19 before, but it's worth reiterating that Zoom, Slack and Hangouts (and especially emails) are not a replacement for face to face interaction. They all help, and they bridge the gap to effective communication and workplace cohesiveness, but they can't 100% prevent the loneliness and isolation felt by many at this time.
At one end of the scale, some have truly appreciated remote working (I feel inclined to include those with young families, but in honesty it would depend what day you ask me!), whereas at the other end some have found a deafening silence living alone during lockdown. This group might otherwise lean on the social aspect of work to help combat this and may not be seeing the same upsides from remote working, particularly as the pandemic continues to affect the way we think, live and process mental challenges.
As we come out of lockdown, and more industries are seeing a return to work, we have to ask how we can make businesses more agile. This isn't just about remote working. This is about having a team that's mentally and practically prepared for sudden change. We're seeing other countries return to a state of lockdown, and we should be prepared for this possibility in the UK, but this goes beyond Covid. Nobody expected the events of 2020, and there's no way of guessing what the future will throw our way. All we can do is be prepared to change, be prepared to be flexible, and prepare our people with the options and work culture that sees their roles seamlessly continue, whatever life throws our way.
Here's a starter list for increasingly innovative businesses:
- Engage with your people. Find out what's been helpful to them, and what's challenged them. Discover what has contributed to particularly successful results in their roles, and what else they would like to see incorporated into the business' way of working.
- Ensure the community remains alive. Remote working shouldn't mean alone working, and good leaders should do all they can to support people in their teams. This goes beyond the occasional checking in and incorporates strong internal comms for both clarity and cohesion.
- Consider what your people want, and also what the business wants, but make sure to give some time to the fact that this may change week on week. If you plan to continue to offer remote working, does it have to be exclusive? Can people opt in and out depending on their tasks and preference?
- If you do offer both remote and on-site working, and some people have a clear preference for working from home, you should ensure they remain just as much a part of the team as the people attending the office. Always include a Zoom dial-in to meetings and include everyone during rounds of feedback and opinion gathering.
- If you're heading back to the office with a full team, ask why. Really know the answer to this one, and it shouldn't ever be 'because that's what we used to do'. When remote and on-site working can balance the scales in favourability, you should have a good reason for leaning one way or the other and be able to communicate this to your people.
Introducing permanent changes in business agility is a process worth considering carefully. You want to make sure it's right for your people and use it to increase productivity and team happiness wherever possible.