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Remote working, whether full time, hybrid part time, or via a ‘choose your own’ work-from-home (WFH) model, has clearly become the operational structure of choice for many former fully office-based workplaces.
This has resulted in much debate about the benefits and detriments of remote working. Some employers have suggested staff are abusing it, while some employees are accepting pay cuts to maintain it. There have even been suggestions that remote working is a detriment to workplace productivity.
However, in today’s climate, WFH doubters are in the minority. Remote working has cost, efficiency and time-saving perks that work so effectively it has transformed from a short-term solution to social distancing, to a legitimate and long-term industry standard for mainstream business operations.
However, a long-term remote or hybrid working strategy is a completely different endeavour to the short-term solution employed during lockdown in the UK, where businesses were forced to rush into new ways of working with no strategic planning time.
There are several simple, but understandable, reasons why some businesses have struggled to maintain productivity levels, staff engagement or creativity during this current stage in remote, or hybrid, working.
Failure to adapt operations
In encouraging a positive and proactive workplace culture while remote working, senior decision-makers should not simply attempt to replicate an office environment from a digital setting, but instead play to the strengths enabled by remote work. This might include increasing personal autonomy for employees, allowing them to take regular breaks away from screens and shift away from traditional 9-5 working hours. If employees have a clear understanding of what is expected from them and deliver what is expected, should it matter what their working day looks like?
In today’s climate, we understand that work-from-home procedures will not be consistent across different organisations, and what works for one company might not be possible in another. Business leaders must therefore establish open lines of communication with each other, and their staffers, and establish the best way to facilitate a working environment that suits them and their employees, in equal measure.
Adapting operations will not happen overnight, but it’s important that it does happen, otherwise employees will become disgruntled, productivity will drop, and some may even look elsewhere for a job that better suits their requirements.
Failure to adopt new technology
Technology has been the lifeline that made remote working possible in the first place but, unfortunately, many business owners stopped short in the implementation stage when it came to tech adoption.
There are many digital toolsets available, often purpose-built for remote working and specifically designed to aid communication, workflows, administration or in-document collaboration, supported by a public cloud infrastructure for seamless and flexible operability.
Making use of these tools in the workplace is imperative to reinforcing a positive and engaging company culture, regardless of where each employee is working. Training around how to utilise and implement these tools is just as essential as onboarding it in the first place. Without a proper understanding of how exactly a tool or app can aid workflows, staffers will be under no obligation or not be motivated to use it, leading to wasted time, money and resources.
The teething problems many businesses encounter during these early stages of widespread, long-term, remote, hybrid and flexible working are to be expected. While there is no telling what the industry standard for business operations will look like in the years and decades to come, hybrid working is the clear and safe solution already favoured by most business owners and staffers.
Further down the line, this new working normal will also create unprecedented opportunities and benefits, including the creation of a larger and even more diverse recruitment pool. This is because hiring will no longer be contained to a certain location, allowing for equal opportunities regardless of gender, geography, socio-economic background or any previously limiting circumstances which presented barriers to recruitment.
One thing is for sure – the new working normal looks very different now to how it was and those who adapt to the new trends will have the ability to flourish more so than those who simply try to revert to the old ways.
Sridhar Iyengar is managing director of Zoho Europe.