Remote working has become a central topic in labour conversations since the start of 2020. From opening up employee choices to its impact on people management, it’s challenged us all to look beyond traditional models. The last two years offer plenty of insights, but what do they say about the future of remote work?
Remote working: past, present, and future
While the boom started as a practical way to navigate lockdown, the implementation wasn’t perfect early on. Cloud-based workflows and online communication suddenly became more important than ever.
Businesses had to invest in areas that may not have been a priority otherwise. For employees at home, virtual offices reshaped everything from time management to productivity skills. With in-office work an option once again, workforces across the world have to adjust for a second time.
This time, however, there’s a tension between the best ways to move forward. Remote work opened new doors like never before. For many workers, it removed the logistical barriers of working in an office and gave employers a deeper talent pool to hire from.
As we’ll see below, however, the picture is much more complicated. Going extreme in either direction was always going to create problems for one group or another. Which begs the question 一 is there a model that works for everyone?
What most workers agree on
According to Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index, 51% of hybrid workers around the world plan to go fully remote in the next year. The UK falls below the global average at only 38%. Looking the other way, 57% of remote workers are considering a shift to a hybrid model.
The Great Reshuffle only highlights the wide range of motivations in our diverse workforces. Even then, the flow towards the hybrid model highlights something consistent across the board 一 people want the freedom to choose.
In-office and remote work is often seen as the divide between leadership and workers. The truth is each model can benefit both parties. Hybrid work offers the flexibility to build a structure according to the needs of each employee and employer.
Here’s what everyone can get out of remote, in-office, and hybrid work models.
Benefits of remote working for employees
Remote working has undeniably created opportunities for employees globally. For starters, it cuts down on commuting time and costs, gives employees more flexible hours, and allows them to work from home if they need or want to. Additionally, remote working can boost productivity by giving employees the freedom to design their own workdays around their natural rhythms and preferences. With more jobs available online, it’s also eased the pressure on workers who may not have been able to relocate.
Marginalised groups benefitted from the removal of antagonistic practices and cultures too. McKinsey research found that:
- 39% of talent turned down jobs due to a perceived lack of inclusion.
- Office microaggressions made employee turnover three times as likely
Remote work has also intervened against discriminatory norms like perceived flexibility bias.
Benefits of remote work for employers
As is often the case, what benefits workers can offer value to their employers too. A deeper pool of diverse and skilled minds does wonders for talent acquisition. But what about operations?
According to a Global Workplace Analytics review of over 4000 reports, remote work:
- Increased productivity for two-thirds of staff
- Led to average real estate savings of $10,000/employee/year
- Halved the office equipment energy consumption rate
- Created more flexible and disaster-resilient operational structures
Downsides of remote working for employees
While the remote model’s benefits are clear, the biggest downside of remote working for employees is that they can feel isolated and disconnected from their colleagues, missing out on office politics and the social aspects of working in an office. This can lead to a sense of loneliness, which can impact productivity and motivation. Employees who work remotely also need to be able to self-motivate and stay on task, as there is no one looking over their shoulder to make sure they are getting work done.
Additionally, working from home can make it difficult to separate work and personal life, which can lead to burnout.
Downsides of remote working for employers
Most of the disadvantages for businesses come down to setting up virtual offices. Digital transformation was key before 2020, but remote work needs much more investment. Beyond moving an entire workplace online, the remote model demands:
- Skills training to close the technology learning gap
- Greater investment in cloud-based infrastructure
- Stronger cybersecurity to protect sensitive data
- Greater IT capacity to manage digital workflows
Considerations for the future of remote work
For workers and businesses, the disadvantages aren’t a product of remote work as a concept. Rather, they’re the result of forcing a shift from one model to another without creating the systems to make it work.
Remote work isn’t going away, and that’s a good thing for everyone. 20% of teenagers want to enter a job environment where remote work is an option. Investing in making remote work accessible is important for people today as well as future workforces.
Beyond technology and skills training, we should remember that people management applies in every office, virtual or otherwise. Employers also need to invest in work cultures that make remote work viable.
That doesn’t mean abandoning the office entirely. Much of the tension between both models comes from building one at the expense of the other. The minority that still prefers office work deserves as much support.
A UK law firm recently made remote work an option, but only if employees took a 20% pay cut. This is a prime example of how harmful a binary approach is. The worst thing a business can do is make workers sacrifice one need to meet another.
Hybrid models: the best of both worlds?
Reaping the benefits of a hybrid model is only possible when we put people in the centre. A dual-strategy needs to empower employees while creating an engaging culture within an organisation.
Flexibility doesn’t just mean people have more control of their hours. It means they have more tools to be the best version of themselves, as individuals and within teams. It takes vision to plan for and takes collaboration from hiring to HR. It needs to maximise the benefits while reducing the downsides for everyone.
Done right, a hybrid model might be a perfect solution for people and businesses alike.