Remote working – Is it really the new normal?

We’ve seen increasing numbers of organisations announce plans to continue remote working for set periods of time or permanently. Whilst tech firms seem to be leading, traditional industries including law firms are also seeing announcements of homeworking. Announcements have been mixed between enforced and optional remote working.  

Despite the challenges of working at home in a pandemic, the benefits have been realised. Individuals are more productive and the cost of premises can be lowered. 

At the same time there are many, particularly smaller businesses proudly showing images of their teams back in the office. The FSB are backing MPs concerns for those businesses that rely on commuter footfall. 

Lockdown has for many people changed the way they think about life. Some have realised how much they enjoy going to a workplace whilst others have enjoyed three meals a day with the family and the saved time from not commuting. We mustn’t forget that lockdown has not been a real experiment of remote working. It’s been forced remote working with our whole families at home. 

Remote working doesn’t normally include homeschooling and should include the freedom to work in a coffee shop or co-working space. 

In addition to the benefits of productivity and work life blending (I prefer this term over balance), remote working is also useful to increasing diversity. The geographical spread of teams is able to be widened. Women who statistically still do the majority of the childcare, parental care and housework find remote working aids them to balance work and domestic. At the same time, increasing male remote working will help redress this balance domestically. 

Looking to the future – well before the pandemic the voices supporting remote working were increasing. Having worked from home for over 10 years with large national companies, I have certainly found the last couple of years have seen huge increases in remote opportunities. I expect this will continue and be sped up coming out of the pandemic. 

Technology has without doubt made a huge impact on the availability of remote working. The options for communications and collaboration tools are far superior to when I started in 2008. Technology will only continue to improve the experience of remote working. 

Remote working requires trust, it requires a management style based on trust. People work well when they are trusted and have control over their own time and work. Remote working forces this, is allows people to feel trusted. There is always a concern from management – what if they spend all day doing their washing and don’t do anything? The reality is this would be pretty quickly found out if it did happen. It wouldn’t take long to notice someone isn’t producing anything. And actually, speaking from experience, there are only so many times you can load a washing machine. Having worked from home in a job in which there wasn’t enough work to do, that might seem perfect, I have plenty of time in the week to complete my work and do the domestic. In reality, it didn’t take long before I felt the impact of lack of challenge. I was bored, I moved on to something with a great deal more work. 

I do appreciate it’s not available to all, there are roles that simply cannot be performed at home. I know when I’m talking to my children about future careers I’ll be asking them to think about this. I won’t be overtly suggesting they do something that can be done remotely, there are many very rewarding careers that must be performed in the workplace, but I do think this will play into considerations of people choosing careers. Along the same lines I think people will be increasingly looking for roles that are either remote based or office based considering their own preferences. 

All things considered, for me I think the future of office work is remote – however, I think it needs some face to face. Being forced to stay in our homes is not good either. Some will want and need face to face weekly, I’m happy with it quarterly but that does depend on the type of work you do. I think we should be focusing on meaningful work, with trust and freedom over your own time and for many this will be in remote working.  

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