The Future Of Remote Working

Given the chaos caused by the Covid 19 pandemic over the last two and half years and ongoing uncertainty about future variants, it’s difficult to predict with complete accuracy what the future of remote work will look like.

However, considering the amount of people that suddenly had to work from home following the initial Covid outbreak (and the different ways of working, policies and behaviours that followed), we have been given a glimpse of how remote or distance working might evolve in the future.

With remote working set to remain, we will go on to explore in more detail how the future might look. We’ll also investigate how you can better support staff in this changing workplace environment. But before we can do that, we need to investigate what’s been going on more recently.

Recent trends in remote working

From the massive upsurge in people working from home to increased flexibility in areas such as work start and finishing times and choices about where they work from. Following the emergence of Covid 19, we saw a rapid change in remote working. This included a growing volume of people switching to it, and changes occurring as a result of it.

The impact of Covid on accelerating change

Just a decade ago most employers would have frowned at the idea of their staff working from home. Yet, overnight lockdowns forced employers to get staff working from home, keep them safe and maintain businesses as usual.

However, as our understanding of the technology, security, policies and support needed to help staff work remotely improved, the popularity of distance working and employer appetite for it became more ingrained.

Is working from home the future?

Following the UK’s first Covid lockdown, working from home statistics reported nearly half of those employed working from home. This compares with around 5% during 2019.

But what’s more interesting is the large proportion of the UK’s workforce still working remotely following last year’s lifted restrictions. This includes both those working under a hybrid and a fully remote working arrangement. In an ONS survey, 38% of working adults reported working from home at some point over the past seven days. This offers an indication that the future of working from home is one that is very much here to stay.

An upward productivity trend

When it comes to the benefit of working from home, many people report having an improved work/life balance. The ability to complete more work in a quieter environment with less distractions is also a significant advantage. And when you also consider that many workers claim to be less stressed and take fewer sick days, it’s not hard to appreciate how remote working can benefit productivity.

In fact, 77% of distance workers claim to be more productive when working from home, compared with in the office.

Workers are experiencing more flexibility

From the ability to adjust their work start and finish times, to their choice over what location to work from and in some cases the technology they use to complete their work.

As remote working has grown in popularity, staff have been given greater flexibility in their distance working arrangements. This is increasing both staff job contentment and making employers more attractive to fresh talent when they need to recruit.

How the future of remote work might look

Similarly, to the interesting trends we’ve just seen, the ongoing popularity and surge in remote working, has given us an insight into how it might look in the future.

Here are some interesting areas to think about:

Working hours

Given that remote working has already granted staff greater flexibility over how they choose to work their hours, it’s not too surprising to hear that we’re getting increased calls for a four-day working week.

Employers and employees are having to rethink how work is completed and are increasingly becoming aware of the many benefits from new ways of working. So much so, that it’s likely we may see a 4-day working week in the not-too-distant future.

In the meantime, for those employers who have already adopted it, the lure of a 4-day week and the option to work remotely could become a valuable bargaining chip in helping them attract new recruits.

Company structures

The increased uptake of remote working over the last couple of years, has already begun shaping the structure of companies. Many have already downsized their physical office space, with future changes to company structures only set to increase further.

Interestingly, when you think of the many different job roles in a typical office, and how they benefit from remote work, such changes are less surprising. For example, for those in development teams, a quieter environment which distance working lends itself to, can help get them into a better mindset for coding, which can really help their efficiency. Similarly, although creative teams can benefit from quieter times when it comes to thinking about and creating strategies, they also need an environment that nurtures collaboration when they have to work with their teams to brainstorm ideas.

Companies with a diverse make up of teams will want to be able to accommodate a mix of needs. This includes catering for those who want to work fully remote and those that prefer hybrid working. Subsequently, this has led to the emergence of the ‘hub and spoke’ company model, which is likely to grow further.

This model typically comprises of a central office ‘hub’ with decentralised, satellite ‘spoke’ offices closer to where employees live. In contrast to the traditional HQ, employees can work from central and local office spaces, depending on their varying needs.

Location

Following on from these company structure changes, the potential locations that remote workers operate from is also set to grow.

Working from home is currently still the most popular location for remote workers to operate from. However, other working arrangements including flexible workspaces are experiencing an increasing uptake.

Subsequently, with falling demand for large physical office spaces, growth in flexible workspaces like those outlined below is set to continue:

Serviced offices

The closest to the traditional office, serviced offices consist of enclosed offices or suites in a larger serviced office building that businesses can rent out on a cost-per-desk basis, as opposed to a flat rate. The space is typically fully equipped and ready to work in. All the maintenance, cleaning and management is handled by the operator.

Coworking spaces

A more popular version is the coworking space. Here individuals from different companies can work side-by-side in an open and shared environment.

To rent the space, people need to pay a monthly membership fee. This will include the use of equipment, office features, and other facilities.

Hybrid office spaces

Hybrid office spaces, which combine parts of both the serviced offices and coworking spaces are seeing an increased uptake too.

In this scenario, hybrid operators offer shared rooms for coworking customers, as well as private offices for businesses to rent, while office facilities are communal. As with all types of flexible workspace, maintenance and management of the space are left to the operator.

The digital nomad

Along with the new generation of workspaces for employees, the pandemic threw up more radical work lifestyle changes including the digital nomad.

When they could no longer work from the office, many younger professionals chose to work abroad instead. This was facilitated by Countries that could allow them to work there on new ‘digital visas’.

As technology continues to evolve, we’re likely to see more people working in this way, and other ways of working, which are yet to come to the fore.

Technology

From the high-speed internet, emails and video conferencing software to online storage, collaboration and security tools, smartphones and tablets. The many advances of recent years have made it much easier to set up a workstation and operate from anywhere.

However, it’s through the next wave of innovations where remote working trends are likely to become even more entrenched in work culture and easier to manage.

Here’s what we could see next:

Staff data collection will expand

In the future, we should expect to see the use of more work tracking and well-being software.

In fact, Gartner has suggested that nearly a fifth of employers are already monitoring their employees. This includes methods such as virtual clocking in and out, tracking of work computer usage, and monitoring employee emails and internal communications/chat.

Similarly, many other employers will be focusing on employee engagement and employee experience, using the technology to improve staff well-being. This could include anything from software that tracks when people have worked too much and prompts when they need to recharge through the monitoring of their biorhythms, nutritional requirements and exercise needs, to an increased use of online surveys to monitor their changing sentiment.

Upskilling/digital dexterity valued more than tenure/experience

In the future, the most valuable work will be cognitive in nature.

Staff will have to apply creativity, critical thinking and constant digital upskilling to solve complex problems. This is because the digital economy demands new ideas, information and business models that continually expand, combine and shift into new ventures.

AI will feature more in the workplace

Smarter machines continue to get smarter. Not only are they completing tasks previously reserved for humans, but also jobs previously thought to be impossible for machines. Subsequently, we’re likely to see companies increase the functions of smart machines, software, apps and even avatars.

Smart machines are likely to become our colleagues. Staff will be able to develop personal toolkits of virtual doppelgangers and virtual counterparts, with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) software and devices that they can interact and work with. In addition, they are likely to have the ability to carry their personal workplaces with them using cloud communities, open applications and personal virtual assistants.

New job types

As remote workforces get bigger and a higher proportion of a company’s workforce is working remotely, they become more challenging to manage.

Subsequently, we’re already seeing the creation of new jobs to help with this, particularly in larger companies.

Here’s a quick snapshot of some of the roles that have emerged. It also gives us a glimpse of what we can expect to see more of moving forward:

Head of remote

While it’s hard to provide a detailed job description, this role’s responsibilities include keeping the company’s remote operations running smoothly. This can include anything from implementing distance working strategies, policies and standards to implementing strong feedback mechanisms within teams and nurturing a healthy remote or hybrid working environment.

Head of culture

Although this role can vary, the job holder’s main responsibilities include developing and managing the company’s culture and values. This can involve anything from promoting a positive working environment and effectively communicating the company’s culture to new and existing employees to helping to build an environment that fosters greater staff contentment, creativity and productivity.

Remote consultant

When the Covid pandemic caused the sudden switch to remote, it exposed many issues that come with distance work. Many companies were just hoping to get by, before getting back to the office to resume previous ways of working. However, there was quickly a realisation that the workplace had changed. It would never completely go back to how it was previously.

Subsequently, the role of the remote consultant emerged to help companies struggling with this.

The consultant works with companies to shift their mindset from a rigid 9 to 5 structure, to a more flexible one. This can involve the consultant in anything from helping companies switch around various aspects of their operations to function remotely, to improving their HR and hiring procedures to develop a stronger remote workforce.

Supporting employees in a changing workplace

Whether you already have a sizeable remote workforce, or you’re still in the process of developing one. Whatever stage you’re at, moving to a remote or hybrid working arrangement is a major undertaking. It’s one that requires ongoing monitoring and tweaking, if you’re to gain maximum value from it.

Your staff who are at the front end of the policies and procedures you’ve put in place for distance working, are the best placed to tell you how well it is working. So, you need their feedback to make this work and the best way to do this is through surveys.

From employee engagement and experience to staff satisfaction, motivation, pulse surveys and more. There is a raft of surveys you can deploy to check how your staff are feeling. Then through this you’ll be able to identify and make the changes they want to see.

Ultimately, feedback is the key to maintaining happy and highly engaged staff that will improve your business performance and productivity. And the importance of this will only continue to grow as more technologies and ways of working emerge.

What do your employees think?

Remote working is already proving a positive experience for many but a less than ideal development for others. Don’t be left wondering what your own staff think; join the 1000’s of employers who are using surveys to capture and measure opinion, motivation and more.

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