Remote working. Has it worked for you?

22nd Oct 20

Remote working, once seen as a bit of a luxury or something to be enjoyed for a perfect dose of work-life balance, has now become a necessity for many of us.

The changes over the past few months have been drastic, to say the least, and unfortunately, many businesses are taking a hit. It’s not wrong to say that many of us have had to make very fast switches to the way we work and how we interact.  It has been a bit of a roller coaster ride for most of us. Still, now things are starting to settle down a bit into a new norm, it looks as if the changes we’ve all had to make will stick around in the long-term and we will need to keep adapting our work practices efficiently to try and stay ahead of the pandemic.

The new landscape of work

Most SME business owners have had to adapt their working practices in one way or another. Whether you’re in customer-facing roles which have been supplied with PPE (personal protective equipment) to work safely or you’ve moved your office to your home, we’ve had to adapt our work in some shape or form.

We have all had to embrace new technology, whether we’ve learnt the nuances of each conference calling platform or adapted to online project management tools.

We have had to take note of new way of managing teams and employees, particularly when managing furloughed staff or those now working with changed hours. New policies and procedures have had to quickly put into place and of course, recent social distancing and PPE use rules.

Implications on businesses

The real question on everyone’s mind currently is, ‘will remote working stick around long-term’?

Here are our thoughts:

Remote working is the latest evolution in the way we work.  Our methods of working and the workplace have constantly been evolving – from the formal offices of the past with structures such as the typing pool, and the cubicle-based offices of the 80s and 90s, to the open-plan offices we are now all used to. 

Remote working will be the norm for many businesses and the new normal for employees across every industry.

It does make sense on many levels, and here is why.

  • A more diverse workforce

Calls for more diversity across the workplace have become far louder. Remote working offers an opportunity for businesses to build a more diverse workforce – a workforce that has the skills it needs with location or the ability to travel no longer being a barrier.  Companies can thrive by becoming the destination for the best people regardless of where they are based and what background they come from. Both small and large companies can benefit from this as the approach is not so different. Yes, management and technology might need to change, but the opportunities to employ the people who can help our business grow are there for all of us.

  • The shifting generation

As millennials and generation Z employees become our business leaders and climb the corporate ladder, they increasingly shape their work environments according to their needs and impose remote working as the norm.

A report from the freelancing platform, UpWork, shows that 69% of younger managers say they allow their team members to work remotely, compared to 59% of generation X managers and 58% of baby boomers. It states that by 2028, up to 73% of the workforce will be remote. They’re prioritising workforce planning and embracing an agile future.

  • A higher quality of work and increased productivity

Technologies like Monday, Asana, Toggle, Timecamp, Wire, Slack and Zoom enable remote employees to plan activities, track time and collaborate with their teams while working from their remote location. No time is wasted on commuting and less time is spent in meetings, so companies are finding that their teams are focusing on their tasks, being more productive and often, more satisfied with their jobs.

When everyone is remote, businesses are finding that with a little change to the daily structure for catching up, the sense of belonging remains. Face-to-face meetings are important on occasion, but these are done with purpose rather than because people are available.

  • A profitable choice?

Cities have been the traditional base for growing businesses.  We only have to look around us here in East Anglia to see the growth around our big cities of Norwich, Cambridge and Ipswich.  But are they still suited for our business and employee needs?  Being a rural business, we would, of course, say no!  We love the fact that we are just a steps away from a lunch-time countryside walk, and we also love that we do not have to pay prime office space rates.

Our cities may look ideal but the mix of high rental costs, high rates cost, high traffic levels and then the inconvenience for employees such as restricted parking or limited public transport, are clearly showing that cities are increasingly less appropriate for a business that values employees looking for a higher quality of work/life balance.

  • A choice for our planet

Over lockdown, the carbon emissions drop clearly showed how much the travel to work impacts on our planet.

By allowing employees to work from the comfort of their homes, businesses can have a real impact on the planet.

There are other aspects we should consider as well, such as the lowered amount of plastic used as we buy less pre-packaged lunches or snacks and the reduced energy use. 

Will it work for all?

No.  That’s our short answer.  Some businesses will not yet have the technological framework to help their teams work productively and securely from home. Not all will have the mind-set to do so, and others will find that employees prefer to be in the office or have a mix of remote/office work. Some businesses just will need people in their offices, but if you are contemplating moving towards full or part-time long-term remote working, we’ve got a few ideas on how you can make it work.

  • Implement stable structures and frameworks

Remote work is only as good as the foundation and frameworks in place to support efficient workflow and avoid frustrations. Having the tools is great, but they need to be used to their fullest extent and successfully migrated with clear directions from managers who are committed to the progress.

You might need to upskill your managers and staff to help them make the best use of these tools, and help them change their mind-set to working differently.

  • Higher security measures

Companies need to step-up their security measures when everything is remote. With viruses and cybercrime on the rise, they need to have the right tools in place at the right time, so employees feel secure when working remote going forwards.

  • Better work-life balance

With both work and pleasure being in the same building, probably at home, many employees are struggling to differentiate their work life and their home life.  Good communication needs to happen on a consistent basis within teams and with managers to ensure staff remain productive – and remember to switch off.

What are the downsides of remote working?

Of course, there are plenty.

Here are a few that we’ve come across and which get consistently mentioned by employees.

Some people just miss the buzz of being in the office and others miss the structure.  So, being flexible could work better for your team.  Now that some people are back in the office, a mix of home/office work seems to be ideal for many.

Retaining the culture of a business can be difficult, so you will need to have very clear values and objectives. Employing workers from overseas can bring unique expectations ranging from the standards for employee behaviour to communication preferences.

Email and file systems! Why not ban the email for project work and move towards the project planning software such as Asana or Monday so each team member can post or comment directly into the platform?  These platforms will allow you to keep track of what everyone says in one place.  Google Drive or One Drive might work for your filing system and will allow your team into the files they need to get into so they can keep working.  Computer and IT issues are probably the most frustrating issue when working remotely.

Accountability can be hard to track.  This is down to setting your objectives, timelines and deadlines and then down to your managers to track. With a completely virtual presence, it’s harder to establish ties, such as friendship and camaraderie that encourage accountability. Ask for weekly reports or use a time tracker.  It is a different way of doing things for many workers who may not have had to account for their time in the office, but it helps build trust and shows up any over- or underworking.

Security.  For remote workers and businesses who may employ them, the loss of a laptop is catastrophic, especially if your business deals with sensitive customer data.  Other concerns could be data leaks or employees stealing data.  If you are not an IT or security guru, it is well worth investing some spend into working with a professional. They will help you set up the most secure system for your business and the level of data you store.  On a fundamental level, using a password manager such as Dashlane or Last Pass on individual’s computers would make it possible for team members only need one password to access all the accounts they need. If there is a breach or someone leaves, then the password is changed. 

Author: MD, AccountAbility-Plus, Kate Sammons.

Kate has many years business experience, including setting up, running and selling a number of successful businesses.

As she says: “Over the years I have been involved in running a number of businesses, ranging from a cash & carry feed merchant to a building maintenance company, a coarse fishery to a café and shop, architectural salvage to investment property rental and I have experienced the growing pains all businesses suffer. My team and I can ease those pains for other growing businesses. We work with them becoming an integral part of their team. Using our expertise and experience we can optimise our clients’ business growth with our day to day business support.”