The pandemic has, without a doubt, irrevocably changed the way we work, and it’s now time for business leaders to consider the long-term effects of this shift in culture. What have we learned about the effects of remote working on employees over the past year, and do we really need an office at all?
What are the advantages of hybrid working?
The nature of work is changing. Pre-COVID, work was a ‘place to be’ rather than a ‘thing to do’, but recent pressures have resulted in this office-focused mentality being tipped on its head. As such, a hybrid model is essential for most organisations going forward; something which must be led from the top and have buy-in throughout the business to work effectively. From a leadership perspective, this involves a lot of re-wiring of working practices. Across the board, business leaders are working on a tactical basis to adapt to home working, and even some of the most progressive businesses are not yet analysing remote work productivity as a metric. As the dust settles on the new normal, employers need to ensure all decisions are not only proactive and intentional, but also flexible – home working is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and different working conditions such as parenting, and house sharing must be considered when setting expectations and targets.
There are many positives to businesses operating with a hybrid work model which have come to light throughout the last year. One of the main pros is the increased emphasis on productivity, which many companies have reported as a benefit of hybrid working. This is due to there being a shift in focus from ‘set hours worked’ to completing a project within a set timeframe. Instead of trying to fill up time throughout the day in order to look ‘busy’, there is now less focus on just appearing productive and more focus on actually being productive. This now means that employees are more likely to be judged on the quality of work and their results rather than their daily behaviour.
Another main component which adds to the increased productivity found amongst businesses is that working remotely allows people to fit work around their personal schedules, enabling them to be more productive in the hours they are at their desks. In order for these ways of work to be successful, employees must also pull their weight by optimising their use of collaboration tools to effectively carry out daily tasks and maintaining strong relationships within the team. This could mean anything from understanding virtual meeting etiquette (waiting to talk, muting to avoid distractions, etc.) to being mindful of family circumstances when trying to get hold of someone. Not only must employees ensure they are getting their work done, but they must also show they can be trusted to perform effectively from home. Already, it has been found that the hybrid working model instils a sense of trust in employees and motivates them to get work done efficiently.
In addition to increasing levels of productivity, many reports show that staff wellbeing and morale have also increased over the past year. It’s been found that people tend to prefer the remote/hybrid work model; Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2021 report found that over 97% of respondents would “like to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of [their] career”, with key benefits including the ability to have a flexible schedule and work from anywhere, not having to commute, and the ability to spend time with family.
Results and reports from hybrid work model trials have shown that flexibility helps build a better work culture where employees are happy, more efficient and productive, and employers are satisfied with returns and overall improved business performance. As seen below, reports from Employment Hero provide many statistics which support the above arguments. Whilst productivity increased, so did job satisfaction and retention rates. 55% of workers said they would look elsewhere if remote/hybrid work was not an option in their company, and 13% were more likely to stay in their role for 5 years if they could continue working in this way.
Source: Employment Hero
How has working from home affected cyber security?
Although some companies have been ready for remote working for years, many have had to scramble to get their tech up to scratch and ensure everyone knows how to use it. This is especially important when onboarding new joiners, but even existing employees should have a working knowledge of the tools available to them in order to maximise efficiency and ensure IT time is spent on more urgent matters.
Any companies with a physical presence must also reflect these changes within their office space for the same reasons. With some participants in the office and others at home, meetings are becoming increasingly hybridised, but there has been concern among many of our clients that this can result in peers joining remotely being given either all the attention or none at all. Where possible, AV systems in meeting rooms should be set up to encourage equal participation through collaborative tools such as interactive boards and screen sharing options. As previously noted, all staff should know how to use the technology, and it is advisable to keep instructions on a shared drive as well as in the room itself.
With this in mind, a huge negative of switching over to a remote working structure are the cyber security issues that come with it. According to a study by Twingate, 59% of people felt more cyber secure in the office compared to at home, and many experienced cyber breaches during meetings, with over 1 in 10 employees having their video calls hacked. Despite, 86% of managers claiming to have prepared their teams to work from home securely, only 60% of employees felt prepared – this leaves a large percentage of employees not feeling confident with security. Moving forward, therefore, if businesses want to continue working online, they must ensure they carry out the correct training and education for their employees and make sure they have a secure system in place to combat breaches.
Do we need an office at all?
For some smaller businesses, the shift to remote working has brought into question the need for having a central office at all, especially when productivity levels seem to be just as high at home. There are some issues with this model, however.
While there are many positives to working remotely, there are also numerous reasons why for many people, returning to normal can be seen as going hand in hand with returning to the office. Despite other studies indicating otherwise, a global study conducted by Qualtrics, SAP and Mind Share Partners found that over 40% of people said their mental health has declined since COVID started, and they reported increased levels of anxiety and stress. In many cases, this directly links to a lack of social interaction. Although many studies show that a hybrid working model proves to be the most popular, humans are inherently social creatures. Therefore, a lack of work-life balance, especially for those with less ideal home working conditions and declining mental health, could affect the overall potential of the business as a whole.
Judging by the number of our clients who have begun to return to the office in recent months, we have also learned that face time is something that cannot be replaced. This is particularly important with reference to onboarding new joiners, working on collaborative projects, and ultimately staff morale. Not only can this impact the work/life balance, but Twingate also reported that 40% experience mental exhaustion from video calls and are drained from the reality of having to attend more meetings throughout the day while working from home, attempting to maintain the same level of interaction that they would typically experience at a normal day in the office. Similarly, Forbes reported on a Doodle survey that found a full week of virtual meetings leaves 38% of employees feeling exhausted, while 30% felt stressed. This heavily suggests that face-to-face interaction is not important solely for social purposes, but also to promote mental wellness and morale amongst workers.
While being able to work remotely has been a blessing during the pandemic for many companies, not all roles or businesses can cope with working in this way forever. According to research carried out by Gartner, remote working can actually marginalise people who may find it harder for their voices to be heard. It can also cause divisions between teams, with employees feeling as though their colleagues who have better home working conditions have the upper hand. Further supporting the risk of marginalisation, a survey from Igloo found that remote workers experience great challenges with inclusion in meetings and general office dynamics. The report states that 55% of remote workers feel left out of brainstorming sessions and meetings whilst at home, and feel as though they do not have access to adequate resources and information in order to do their job or progress. This, alongside reduced social interaction, can result in diminishing relationships between colleagues, demotivating them and therefore negatively impacting the company dynamics.
To combat this, many companies are considering establishing out-of-town offices, utilising co-working spaces, or even just holding team meetings at a café or library. Although space requirements are shifting, especially in the uncertainty of the short-term landscape, offices are crucial for maintaining employee mental health, motivation, and a sense of togetherness – there will always be a need for them, the question for business leaders now is: in what capacity?
How does remote working affect customer satisfaction and experience?
There is a direct link between employee satisfaction and customer experience. For many businesses, client interaction is crucial to the overall success of a company and the services they provide, but some employers may not be aware that they also need to keep an eye on how remote employee performance. Although remote working has in many cases led to increased personal performance, it has not necessarily led to increased company performance in certain sectors that depend mostly on employee-client relationships, nor made it easier for interactions with clients. Remote working has, in some cases, proven to have a negative impact and interrupt customer experience, especially for physical consultations from specialist service providers. The hybrid model is likely here to stay, but in order to combat this challenge going forward, businesses need to rethink both customer and employee experience. This could be achieved through implementing long term plans to ensure longevity of service, making sure they have the correct technologies and systems in place, and also making a point of checking in on employee satisfaction and happiness to ensure this translates and reflects onto their client base. Organisations must find the right balance of human interaction between clients and employees, as clients and customers personalised interactions and relationships greatly affect perceptions of the service’s value.
When it comes to these different working models, there is no one size fits all, and each company and individual adapts and copes differently. Whilst the hybrid model seems like the best option for many businesses moving forward, there are industries that would not benefit from this to the same extent and so will continue with this in mind. We know remote working can work when it needs to and that there are benefits to it, even if it is only carried out for a short-term period. Moving forward, we must accept that there are many pros and cons to each working model and find a happy medium.
Whether you’re going back to the office, staying remote or implementing a hybrid model, we can help source the right talent for you. We have a network of over 30,000 professionals ready to slot right into your organisation – head over to our specialisms page to find the right consultant to assist with your hiring needs.