We have been plunged head-first by the pandemic into a future of work for which few were prepared. Although not everyone can work from home, for those who can, nobody imagined the remote working revolution arriving at quite the speed it did. The pandemic has forced a global rethink of where office work happens. Overnight across the UK, vast numbers of employees started working from home, many for the first time, even though the digital tools for remote working have existed for a while now.
What has emerged is Remotopia – the idea of a place where remote working is the norm for those who are able to do so. We have been well on the road to Remotopia ever since digital tools and techniques began transforming how we live, work, shop, and play. No matter the lifestyle, people all over the globe are finding ways to make remote work fit their needs, both professionally and personally.
Remotopia will have important, lasting significance as a concept where we are empowered with networks and platforms to connect, create, and accomplish. It allows many of us to self-isolate and still stay connected with the entire world. It is not difficult to imagine homes of the future being built – or retrofitted – with dedicated home offices: routers in the right place, soundproofing, and flattering lighting for video conferences. Perhaps we will even see advanced child locks to keep them out of the office for those all too important calls.
Seeing the light: how an organization benefits from remote working
Remote working meets a broad spectrum of needs for both individuals and organizations. Simply put, it makes all parties involved more agile. This agility is noted in the many benefits that remote workers cite for preferring it to traditional work arrangements. For some, it comes in the form of greater time flexibility. By eliminating the daily commute, they can spend more time with family, and the reduction in miles driven helps decrease their carbon footprint.
Additionally, remote working allows many more people to enter the workforce. Those suffering from chronic conditions or disabilities can remain productive without the challenges of travelling to and navigating a far-off workplace. While these benefits improve the lives of workers, their employers also benefit from remote work policies.
Remote work has many attractions, including saving money. A recent survey found that 89 percent of UK respondents believe remote working is saving them money, and by not having to do things like commuting and buy lunch every day, the average employed remote worker is saving £44.78 every week. Benefits such as this may lead to an increase in the number of people planning on working from home for the rest of their career. Catering to these digital workers will be essential in the future fight for talent.
Despite less direct supervision, people are more productive when working remotely. The same survey found that 83 percent of employees feel they do not need an office to be productive. The time gained from eliminating a commute, for example, allows workers to explore other interests, activities, and social opportunities outside of work.
The human touch: maintaining connection on an island of isolation
With the blending of the “first place” (home) and “second place” (work), the need for a “third place,” is essential, for example coffee shops and libraries. Third places are critical to society since they foster opportunities for empathetic and creative connections with others, outside of a physical office.
One thing we must note is that offices will not die out completely; however, the notion of spending over 40 hours there a week will. Workers should be able to come into the office when it suits them and their work schedule, not feel chained to a desk due to presenteeism. Whilst some people have been working this way for a while, we can all agree that it was a small group of people who benefited from this luxury. However, we can likely expect that this now becomes the norm for the majority.
The building blocks of managing remotely: lessons for life in Remotopia
For companies to whom remote working is new, they may already be aware that the going is not always going to be easy. As technology, social norms, and individual needs shift, implementation of working from home will continue to evolve.
The following lessons could act as a useful guide for those still overcoming the challenges:
- Do not overstep boundaries – Build trust with team members by nurturing individual relationships through empathy and instilling confidence through the consistency of actions.
- Do not silo remote workers – Instead, establish a rhythm. That could be weekly check-ins to bring team members together, encouraging collaborative problem solving.
- Continue communicating – The lack of a centralized workplace presents new challenges as office conversations cease to exist, and the need to continue communicating has never been more important. Collaboration platforms, such as Krisp, Muzzle, and Trello are emerging to help combat siloes created through remote working.
Remote work is not just a short-term, social-distancing solution. It has become a more permanent arrangement for many of us due to the global pandemic and, as the saying goes – necessity is often the mother of invention. But whilst we will likely never go back to the ways of working before, we do not see a future where those who can work from their homes do so permanently and forever. The power of getting together in physical spaces to create new ideas will always have a part to play.
Desmond Dickerson, Manager, Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work