Amid all the uncertainty and fear of the coronavirus pandemic, within the tech world surely one longstanding myth has been dismissed forever – the idea that remote working and employee productivity were in any way mutually exclusive.
According to a survey by recruitment firm Robert Walters, 87% of UK employees want more opportunities to work from home after they return to the workplace as lockdown eases. Employers must surely see they cannot hold back the tide of flexible working now that so many people have proved that technology allows them to be as productive at home as they are in the office.
There is no shortage of anecdotal information to suggest that many staff work better at home – often longer hours, too, without the need to commute. Other studies suggest that about two-thirds of people reported they are just as, if not more, productive at home than they were in the office.
Instead of resisting, this is perhaps a once in a generation opportunity to radically rethink working culture, and to address several other social issues at the same time.
Imagine if all employees who wanted to do so, chose to work from home, say, two or three days a week. Even conservatively, that could mean 20% of office-based employees who would otherwise commute by car, train, bus, tram or tube, removed from the transport network every rush hour, every day. Straight away, overcrowding issues and road congestion are eased.
Companies facing soaring office rental prices in cities and towns could downsize their estate. Imagine freeing up 20% of brownfield commercial properties for social housing. What about the beleaguered high street, and pubs, restaurants and cafes struggling to make it through lockdown? How much would they benefit from more people buying lunches or taking coffee breaks in their local shops?
What if local councils took a creative approach too? Imagine all those libraries threatened with cutbacks and closures, that could become co-working spaces for people who still want some human contact during their remote working days?
And what if it wasn’t 20% of people working remotely, but 30%, 40%, or even more? The social and community benefits could be immense.
Technology has brought us into a position where all this is possible. It’s tragic that a pandemic has become the catalyst to show it could happen. But enlightened bosses – with the help of their IT leaders – could now bring about a social revolution that offers something positive in the long-term for millions of people and many businesses.