Current necessity may have sped up the inevitable trend towards remote and flexible working practices. Our perceptions and narratives may need to change as we (re)discover the benefits of working-from-home and companies may need to change their working practices and benefits to attract key skills and future talent.
There is no doubt that the working world is shifting for knowledge workers. The intensity of that shift is still to be determined, but what this first day of UK lock-down is showing us, is that it is possible for employees to operate remotely and (to a greater or lesser degree) successfully. There have been a number of compromises and disruptions involved in this rather rapid scramble to get as many people set up to work from home as quickly and effectively as possible, but most people have managed to find a (semi-)workable solution.
What the next few weeks (or potentially months) may reveal, is how many companies may view flexible and remote working going forward, and how employees may change their perspective of, and requirements around, their work-life balance. Although there are some negative aspects of remote or flexible working, there are also many benefits:
- For staff: working from home, and less time community, allows for more personal and family time, more time to improve sleep, fitness and nutrition, more time to engage in the local community, hobbies or spending time with the kids and greater opportunities to live anywhere in the world and still do their job.
- For companies: recruiting those outside of a natural geographic remit could provide a wider pool of more or higher-skilled workers to manage projects. Fewer people working at HQ means lower fixed costs and potentially lower rents if HQ doesn’t have to be based in larger conurbations.
- For the environment: less commuting reduces carbon footprint and lowers peak-hour travel congestion.
For remote or flexible working to be effective, we are going to need to challenge workplace culture and workplace narratives around productivity from that of job success = time spent on work, to job success = output delivery. There will also need to be some training around:
- strategies to effectively manage working time vs non-working time
- managing mental wellness when working alone
- balancing work and personal technology use and demands
- cyber-security and how to mitigate attacks on personal and company resources
It is impossible to predict the future, especially around so much uncertainty, but this systemic upheaval in our working lives may have a number of profound effects on the way we work going forward than we can really imagine at this point.