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Remote working is now widely recognised as part of the way businesses operate. Almost 2/3 of companies worldwide have a flexible workspace policy. Within Europe, Germany is top at 80%, Belgium bottom with just 47% and the UK in the middle at 68%.

Businesses looking at remote working ask the same questions; Productivity, employee reaction, issues arising, and requirement for additional support or equipment?

COVID-19 has thrown everything into sharp relief. Organisations being forced to adopt remote working (at least temporarily). This research is more likely to provide real results than a hypothetical questionnaire. The scale of change has taken companies by surprise and so need to pay close attention to the downsides.

Working Patterns

One myth about remote working is that they become workshy and productivity falls. Most actually get more completed because they can be fully engaged with their tasks when they would have been commuting, no office distractions, and be flexible to work until the task is complete.

Lower productivity is generally associated with those having additional childcare (due to the pandemic), or a poor workspace.

Almost 2/3 liked the flexibility to change their working hours to suit other commitments. Changes in working pattern included starting earlier, and/or finishing later (not necessarily both), taking more breaks, and fitting work around childcare.

Advantages of Remote Working

One of the main advantages is the opportunity to improve self well-being, including removing commuting. The time saved was appreciated by nearly everyone. This links into having a better work-life balance, and a greater sense of autonomy.

Being away from the office reduced administration tasks and paperwork which was seen as helpful by more than over half of workers.

An environment controlled by the individual (such as home), allowed people to be more focused and concentrate better. 75% could concentrate better, and 2/3 found having fewer distractions an advantage. It is highly likely the ones not in this group had young children or additional home schooling responsibilities.

Disadvantages and difficulties

The issues surrounding team communication outweigh those of technology or administration. The top disadvantage is a lack of sharing within a team. Management is also an issue from both ends. Managers have difficulty tracking progress, and employees gaining support when needed. With more planning these are all issues that can be overcome.

Experience with technology was a mixed bag, particularly if technology was old or of poor quality or underpowered. Additionally difficulty in accessing IT support and lack of peripherals which are normally shared (photocopiers/scanners/printers) is a major disadvantage.

Companies that work with physical materials (documents, packages etc.), also suffered from a lack of local physicality. Companies that have a documentation digitisation policy had many fewer issues.

Personal issues of lower communication, and in some cases isolation was a major challenge for 1/3, and a minor issue for 41%. Work-life boundaries were also significant for 27%, and this is mostly associated with a poor home working environment, or lack of a defined working space.

Managers have been generally good at the practicalities of remote working, by organising efficient virtual meetings, and sorting out technical issues. Employees have been less enthusiastic about the effectiveness of their management being split 50:50 on whether hours worked or output was more important. Management were also lacking in providing the level of emotional support that was expected.

Summary

  1. Employees working from home are somewhat more productive. The gap would have been larger (much more productive) if childcare was not an issue.
  2. The main benefit is an improvement to work/life balance, particularly in the reduction of their commuting time. The improved sense of well-being and the use of commuting time saved for work seem likely to be major contributors to better productivity.
  3. There is a broad spread of technological preparedness from sub-standard to fabulous. All companies need to be technologically prepared for the future.
  4. Companies need to invest in the digitisation of processes and workflows to reduce the burden of paperwork.
  5. Human issues are even more of a problem than technology, and they are also harder for employers to fix.