Remote work has been heralded as an office revolution and will transform the workplace forever. But is this the future that we want?
An office revolution?
It would not be an understatement to say that an irrevocable shift is happening in the world of work. As the Great Resignation exemplified, employees are no longer tolerating receiving minimal benefits yet having to work under intense stress and brutal working conditions.
This, coupled with the Covid pandemic, which saw swathes of employees working away from the traditional office environment for the first time, has caused a seismic shift in employees’ relationship with their work.
One of the greatest consequences of these unprecedented events has been the rise of remote work. While working outside of the traditional office environment isn’t for everyone, Buffer found that “84% of remote workers prefer working remotely from home,” instead of the office.
Employees are seemingly happy to substitute the commute with a lie-in and the office canteen with a cafe alternative. Through this evidence, will we ever see a ‘return to normal’, and is that even the future we – businesses and employees alike – wish for?
While most of the talk on this issue is focused on the employee, what we want to find out is how the transition impacts the workplace from the business’ perspective.
Can it be wise to allow a flexible business structure or should the return to the traditional office environment be mandated once it’s safe to do so? In this article, we’re going to look at the pros and cons of each so you can decide which option is best for your business.
A rise in productivity?
One big fear business owners have with regards to remote work is believing that employees are going to be slacking off if they’re working at home rather than at the office. It’s not exactly an irrational fear – surely with a relaxed environment, an employee might quickly finish that Netflix drama before the day starts or sneak off to visit a friend in the afternoon?
It may surprise you to discover that the opposite is true. Owl Labs discovered that “productivity while working remotely from home is better than working in an office setting.”
It’s fascinating that the same investigation found that, on average, those who work from home spend “ten minutes less a day being unproductive, work one more day a week, and are 47% more productive.” If employees are happier to work outside of the office and are being more productive, what’s the point of forcing them back?
Make work fun
To follow on from our last point, the value of a happy and motivated employee is crucial to the success of any company. As we’ve seen from the aftermath of the Great Resignation, employees are no longer tolerating being given undignified work for obscene hours at minimal pay.
Therefore, if remote work is something that an employee is requesting, it may be wise to accept this rather than face the alternative. With working remotely a potential dealbreaker, your employees could easily be tempted to jump ship to a competitor who’s offering this work perk.
A Forbes survey found that “54% of employees say they would change jobs for one that offered them more flexibility,” making remote work a crucial part of retaining employees.
Likewise, a top talent in their field who’s looking at rising in the corporate world may value the freedom of working remotely above pay and other means of compensation.
Are you going to turn away the best possible recruit just because they prefer working in a cafe rather than a cubicle? On the topic of employee disengagement, How to Deal with Disengaged Employees is a great topic that goes beyond remote work to other ways to help employees feel more motivated.
One way to support employees while they’re working remotely is to surprise them with a custom employee kit. DGW Branded can create unique, personalised employee engagement kits for remote employees to help them feel connected to the rest of the team as well as giving them the tools they need to succeed even when outside of the office.
Another benefit of ordering these kits is that the kits are packed by those who grew up in the foster care system, giving them the skills and experience needed to achieve a greater future.
Offices, especially in the city centres where they tend to be located, cost a ton. Rent, energy, supplies, all cost a fortune. We’re not denying many jobs do require a physical office but if all employees who can work remotely do so, office space for a lot of companies could probably be cut in half.
The savings this would have for your business could be monumental; Forbes discovered that “organisations save an average of $11,000 per year per part-time telecommuter.” Just imagine if this capital was reinvested back into the company – employees could be given the tools they need to maximise productivity even when outside of the office, plus your company could expand budgets in other areas such as marketing or training.
Another perk from this new setup is boasting about your company’s new green credentials. With a smaller office space, your company will see its carbon footprint drastically reduced. Alongside this, employees working from home will allow for unnecessary cars to be taken off the road.
With costs and carbon down and motivation up, this win-win scenario would surely entice even the strictest of businesses to allow their employees to work where they want to.
The grass isn’t always greener
Now that you’ve heard of some of the advantages of allowing employees to work remotely, you may now be under the impression that of course telling staff they can work where they choose is the obvious choice for a modern, dynamic business.
But don’t pick up the phone to warn your employees that the office is now out of bounds! There are plenty of reasons why a less structured working environment may be detrimental to your business. Let’s look at three of the biggest challenges faced with remote work.
It’s a team game
Yes, we know. There are Zoom calls and Slack messages to keep everyone at a company digitally connected. But there’s something that all these apps and programs cannot replicate, the intangible quality of working together. Group projects can fail to find that spark if the process is through messages sent rather than a group discussion.
Moreover, you may find that employees are less likely to communicate with those outside of their teams. In the office, someone from Customer Service may bump into a marketing professional, strike up a conversation and be able to show them a new way of improving their workflow, or give them a great idea for a new campaign.
All this is lost when working independently. Team building is crucial for a successful business and that’s why these six team building ideas can help transform the office environment and be a place everyone wants to work at!
Another important consideration is the morale of those that aren’t able to work remotely. It’s certainly possible that a percentage of staff that are required to remain at the office, for example, due to their position or the tools that they require, feel resentment towards those who have been given the option of independent work.
When the office is suddenly half-empty and office workers check their phones at lunchtime and see photos of remote-working colleagues post a snap of their cafe cappuccino or boasting of their view of the beach, can it really be argued that resentment is unreasonable?
After another traffic jam on the commute, another poor joke made in bad taste, and a miserable canteen lunch it’s understandable why employees daydream about working remotely. However, after a few weeks of working in pajamas and visiting every coffee shop in town, is this dream little more than a mirage?
After the initial wave of novelty, loneliness will likely creep in. According to Stylist, “almost half (46%) of UK workers have experienced loneliness while working from home,” making this a serious consideration when considering our employees’ mental health. It’s all very well having a more flexible work schedule but if this is at the cost of feeling isolated is it worth it?
While for some, this might simply result in returning to the office on a hybrid basis, it’s not so easy if employees have moved to a new geographical location after already committing to working from home or have other considerations such as childcare to think about.
This last point is perhaps something more for workers to consider rather than employers but the repercussions can have consequences for the structure of the business. For an employee, the chance of rising in the company may be harmed through working remotely.
This is not to say that they’re working any less productively but simply through a lack of interaction and physical presence in the workplace. Let’s think about it: two employees who have had identical sales reports and customer feedback are considered for a promotion.
One who quietly works independently at home while the other is a vocal participant in the office; who’s more likely to rise in the company?
The feeling that working remotely can have adverse effects on career development, is according to Research Gate this is “because supervisors are inclined to negatively evaluate the performance of employees whose activities are not available for frequent observation.”
From a business perspective, this can have far-reaching implications concerning how to treat staff who are choosing to stay in the office and those remote. While scratching your head late at night you might be thinking it would be easier and fairer just to make everyone work at the office once it’s safe to do so.
Deciding on your company’s policy regarding remote work is not easy but we hope we’ve indicated a few reasons for and against as to whether it’s something your business should consider implementing.
While we don’t think the physical office environment is going to completely disappear anytime soon, the freedom and flexibility we have thanks to greater technology have opened the doors to the possibility of working from home.
This is often enticing to employees and if your company does decide to go ahead and allow employees to work remotely when possible, businesses must communicate with their staff on the drawbacks of working remotely to determine whether this is the best option for them as workers and as individuals.
Being transparent as a business with the pros and cons will help keep a dynamic and modern structure that suits the needs of everybody and will help ensure long-term success, location notwithstanding.
If you want to prove to employees that you value their contributions there are many ways to do so beyond offering them a more flexible working environment. Fantastic Employee Recognition Ideas That Don’t Cost the Earth should be the next article you read to further explore ways we can help employees feel appreciated.
About the Author
George Amodio is a business writer, specialising in sustainability and believes business success should be measured by purpose above profit. He’s the Content Creator for Doing Good Works, a B Corp that helps those from the foster care system.