Imagine a world without 6am alarms, whirlwind mornings of half-eaten breakfasts, and chaotic commutes. Instead, you wake up extra refreshed and enjoy a leisurely breakfast, ready in time for a productive day at work in the comfort of your own home.
And so here we are. At the forefront of the home working revolution.
It’s estimated that close to 40% of workers in Europe have been forced to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. What was a steady transformation has turned into a seismic shift and now, with millions of companies investing in remote working technology, it seems that the office could soon be a thing of the past.
The desire has always been there – repeated surveys showed that 8 out of 10 of employees wanted to work from home at least some of the time, while a third would even take a pay cut to make it happen.
But what value does remote working bring, both for companies and workers?
For many of us, the daily commute is something we’d rather not endure. Still, we’ve had to endure it – a 2018 study found that more than 20% of workers spent more than 90 minutes commuting each day.
And commuting can have serious repercussions for our mental health – one UK study finding that people with long commutes are 33% more likely to suffer from depression.
Replace the maddening experience of the daily dash across town with yoga or meditation sessions and you’ve got a far happier, healthier workforce. And studies show that improving workplace health can have a big effect on a company’s bottom line.
Speaking of the bottom line, multiple studies have shown the potential for remote working to cut costs for both workers and companies.
From an employer’s perspective, Global Workplace Analytics found that businesses can save an estimated €9,000 a year for every full-time employee who spends half the time working remotely, with much of the savings coming from a reduction in office space.
Another impact of cutting the daily commute is the benefit to the environment. It’s estimated that the effect of 4 million people working from home at least 50% of the time is the equivalent of taking 600,000 cars off the road every year.
Studies have shown that lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic inadvertently brought about positive impacts on the environment, with dramatic improvements in air quality and reductions in emissions, largely due to commuters taking up remote working.
While emissions levels are already on the rise as lockdowns are eased in many parts of the world, we’ve been given a glimpse of the incredible effect mass remote working can have on the environment.
One of the biggest barriers to embracing remote working has typically been the belief that it would lead to a downturn in productivity. In fact, it’s proven to be the opposite.
Global Workplace Analytics have found that companies save around €5,800 per worker every year due to increased productivity alone.
None of this increase would have been possible without the rise of a number of online platforms that are able to make remote working an efficient, flowing and focused reality.
Aside from super-fast, extra stable connections – think 5G – companies can now utilize cloud-based computing (Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure) automatic time trackers (Timely), expense apps (Expensify), and project management tools (Asana).
Perhaps one of the key reasons for the uptick in productivity is the ability of remote workers to bring next-level focus to their work, with the removal of low-level distractions.
For some, open-plan offices can prove to be too distracting and uninspiring. And while it’s true that more and more companies have been designing inspiring workplaces in recent years, it’s quite possible that remote working brings a level of personalization that an office just cannot compete with.
Free from the clutter and background noises that can sometimes be found in traditional office environments, many remote workers find that the freedom to create their own office – whether it’s a zen-like quiet space for optimal concentration or a colorful creative hub for added inspiration – can make all the difference.
Remote working has the potential to bring a higher degree of flexibility, giving workers more control over their working day. Instead of working a standard 9–5, they can shape their working day to best suit their personal preferences.
This is typified by those who work remotely as part of the gig economy – workers including freelance writers, designers, and programmers – who benefit from project-based employment and have more freedom over how and when they work, as well as who they work for.
Remote working can break down borders, making geographical barriers a thing of the past. For companies, this means hiring talent from anywhere in the world, without the previous costs associated with relocation.
For workers, this means having an unprecedented level of choice when it comes to job opportunities. This, in turn, affects where many people choose to live – those living in rural areas will no longer feel pressured to move to a city for work, leading to less congestion in cities and a suburban revitalization.
While there are many benefits to remote working when compared to working in a traditional office environment, there are some potential obstacles companies will need to overcome to make a successful transition to remote working.
Working in an office environment makes it easy to cultivate a close-knit team. Whether it’s chatting about family with colleagues as you grab your morning coffee, or sitting down to lunch together in the canteen, it’s easy to form a bond with team members.
Remote working, on the other hand, presents companies with big challenges when it comes to creating and maintaining team spirit.
While the likes of Zoom and Slack keep employees connected on a professional daily basis, companies will need to find other ways to forge relationships within teams. This can include anything from weekly in-person meetups to, in a post-Covid world, team-building getaways.
Also, combining remote working with working in the office could blend the best of both worlds – giving workers extra freedom and flexibility, while allowing them the chance to get to know their colleagues and form connections.
For many remote workers, the biggest hurdle to maintaining productivity is maintaining some kind of structure to their working day.
Flexibility and freedom are great, but without some form of routine, it can be easy to lose focus and motivation. Companies need to find ways to keep their team engaged, without compromising the flexible approach that makes remote working so productive.
That’s why remote project management tools such as Monday.com, ProofHub, and Hive are now worth their weight in gold when it comes to providing the framework that enables remote workers to flourish. Time-tracking gadgets like the TimeFlip 2, a Pomodoro timer, could also help remote workers bring extra focus and flow to their working day.
On-boarding new employees or adding strings to the bows of current employees has always been a challenge. Remote working brings a new level to the challenge and companies will need to make significant changes to the way they train their workforce.
Part of the adaption towards remote training will involve a learning management system (LMS). An LMS is a great way for employees to set up, manage and track training. The best LMS platforms, like TalentLMS, Udemy For Business, and Docebo enable employers to create a fully customized training program. The world’s biggest companies are already on-board.
Having a decentralized team of remote workers brings higher cyber-security risks. From unsecured Wi-Fi networks and personal devices to passwords shared among colleagues, there are many factors that could leave companies open to hackers.
To adapt to the home working revolution, companies will need to adopt new remote access policies. This can involve setting up reliable VPNs that offer end-to-end data encryption, issuing company devices in place of personal devices, and setting up training and education programs so employees can better understand security best practices.
And it seems remote working is a trend that’s here to stay – for the short term at least. According to Global Workplace Analytics, an estimated 25-30% of the workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.
With cultural and technological barriers broken down – largely due to the unintended consequences of a global pandemic – we stand at the brink of a fundamental change in the way we work.
There’s a lot to do when it comes to adaptation and integration. But governments and companies around the world are already laying the groundwork for a hybrid working model that’s set to become the new benchmark in the years following the COVID-19 pandemic.
The physical workspace will remain, as a central hub where the team can touch base, collaborate, inspire, and become inspired, while performing tasks that can’t be carried out remotely.
This will be enhanced by a digital workforce with the ability to work from anywhere and an increasingly worker-centric approach that values employee wellbeing and productivity over 6am alarms, whirlwind mornings, and chaotic commutes.
A new dawn awaits.