Remote and hybrid work has become increasingly popular in recent years, but the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated adoption by businesses and individuals alike. Many organisations switched to remote or hybrid work models in order to continue operations during lockdowns and pandemic-related restrictions.
The general economic downturn because of the pandemic, has also led to job losses and pivoted the workforce into venturing out into freelancing and entrepreneurship. According to a survey by the freelance marketplace, Upwork, 63% of US businesses have expanded their employment of independent contractors since the pandemic started in early 2020.
One of the major benefits of remote and hybrid offices, is the ability to work from anywhere with an internet connection. Whilst for young entrepreneurs starting out, traditional office set-up costs can be minimised.
Benefits of Remote / Hybrid Workforce
For employers who are now managing a remote or hybrid workforce, benefits widely stated include:
- Increased Productivity: Remote workers have the flexibility to manage their time and work environment, which can lead to increased productivity and job satisfaction. The Stanford Centre of Education Policy Analysis (NBER Working Paper 18871) found that remote workers completed an additional day’s worth of work per week, compared to their office-based counterparts.
- Access to a Wider Talent Pool: With remote work, employers have access to a wider talent pool, without the limitation of hiring candidates living in proximate geographical areas. This allows companies to hire the best person for the job, regardless of location.
- Cost Savings: Without the need for office space, furniture, equipment, etc, remote workforces can result in cost savings for employers.
- Improved Employee Retention: This, allows employees to balance their work and personal lives more effectively. And, can lead to lower turnover rates and recruitment costs.
- Increased Flexibility: Employers have the flexibility to adjust their workforce as needed, which can be particularly beneficial in today’s uncertain economic environment.
- Better Work-Life Balance: Remote work allows employees to have more control over their work schedule and environment, which can lead to a better work-life balance and higher job satisfaction It allows employees to work in an environment that suits them best. This can in turn lead to enhanced engagement and motivation.
- All in all, many who have now become accustomed to working from home, feel they are more productive and are likely to choose to continue.
Remote / Hybrid doesn’t work for all
Remote work, however, isn’t for everyone. Some find it a challenging adjustment, and simply prefer to work in an office environment where they can directly interact with colleagues and/or customers. Some employees talk of feelings of ‘isolation’ and ‘disengagement’ negatively impacting on motivation. Face-to-face engagement with co-workers can strengthen a sense of connection to the business.
And there are of course many sectors such as hospitality, health, etc that require face-to-face service delivery. (But even many of these have found solutions to remote services).
Challenges of Remote Working Include:
- Communication and collaboration: While leading remote or hybrid teams, it could be challenging to maintain the same level of communication and collaboration as in an office environment. While there are numerous video solutions available and in ongoing development, like (Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google, and Skype, etc), not all locations have fully reliable and stable internet.
- Accountability: This is due to the possibility that remote employees may not receive the same amount and type of guidance as those working in an office environment. And they may not be as independently accountable without being overseen. Additionally, procrastination, multitasking, and other distractions that might reduce productivity may be more prevalent among remote workers. Such situations leave employers unsure of whether and how their employees are fulfilling their obligations.
- Maintaining company culture: A company’s culture can be built through many things directly related to face to face interaction and in office activities, remote working can therefore impact on this and the sense of company culture and connection be diminished.
- Ensuring security and compliance: Remote work can increase the risk of data breaches and other security threats, and it can be challenging to ensure that remote employees are adhering to company policies and regulations.
- Managing work-life balance: Remote work can blur the boundaries between work and personal life, making it difficult for employees to disconnect and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
To manage and avoid such challenges, companies need to enhance the training of both managers and their teams. This should include, empathy, listening and communication skills aligned to remote working. Creating communication policies specifically for remote work and setting ground rules and rules of engagement is important. Having regular meetings with staff and social interactive activities also helps to maintain the bond of teams.
It is also important to have that discussion on what works for the employer and, for the employee. These discussions foster trust and transparency in the remote working relationship.
Other solutions for those working remotely include:
- Establishing a routine: Setting a regular schedule for work and breaks can help to structure the day and create a sense of routine.
- Creating a dedicated workspace: Having a designated space for work can help to separate work and personal life and create a more focused environment.
- Prioritising tasks: Making a to-do list and prioritising tasks can help to stay on track and manage time more effectively.
- Setting boundaries: It is important to set boundaries and establish clear lines between work and personal life, to avoid burnout and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
- Avoiding distractions: Minimising distractions, such as social media and email, can help to increase focus and productivity.
- Staying organised: Keeping your work environment clean and organised can help to reduce stress and increase productivity.
- Taking breaks: Taking regular breaks can help to refresh your mind and increase focus and productivity.
- Seeking support: Joining a professional community, such as a coworking space or an online forum, can provide support, accountability and motivation.
So, whilst there are challenges to remote and hybrid work, with the right tools and strategies, it is possible to overcome them and thrive in this new way of working.
Supporting the growth prospects of remote working is important for both employers and employees. The market for freelancers over the past ten years as well as surveys by Forbes magazine on how much remote workers get paid compared to those working in regular offices have both shown that remote workers tend to get paid more than their peers who lack this option (which tend to not only pay less but also receive less vacation time).
The number of remote workers is growing in the post-COVID era. Freelancers and business owners are becoming more prevalent, and their success stories motivate many to take charge of their lives and professions. Transitions, as discussed, can be challenging, but making the most of the opportunity could yield rewarding life outcomes.
The question however is this: Are employers gearing their structures toward this, Post pandemic era, or are we moving back to the bricks and mortar offices? We address this question in our next upcoming Blog.