Future of remote working – models, pros, and cons
The pandemic was a world-changing event, transforming whole industries and bringing new habits to society and the work world. One of the most important changes in the popularity of remote work and a new model of operating for countless companies around the world.
Yet it would be foolish to assume that the pandemic is the last unpredictable event to occur. There are numerous other factors that will make the future even more uncertain. Starting from the climate changes to increasing inequalities – the future of work is undoubtedly changing and interesting. And what’s even more certain – the experiences gathered throughout the pandemic lockdowns will not go unnoticed.
World after Covid
According to the McKinsey reports, the pandemic has significantly accelerated the trends and changes that have been visible before the pandemic. Remote work is one of the best examples.
The European Commission research indicates that no more than 4% of the EU-based workforce has ever worked remotely before the pandemic. This includes not only remote work regularly, but even one day working from home (or any location other than the office or an employer-forced place). With the lockdowns, up to 40% of the whole European workforce has switched to remote work.
But the switch to remote working was not only a forced social experiment on an unprecedented scale. It was also a battle-test of the idea of working from home and getting rid of the offices. Apart from the uncertainty of letting the employees work with slightly less supervision, companies noticed that telework is a great way to find savings unseen before.
Offices going empty
The Statista data indicates that approximately 47% of companies are willing to downsize the owned office space, with 5% of surveyed companies willing to reduce up to 71% of the owned space.
This comes with no surprise, as up to 40% of desks were unoccupied before the COVID-19 pandemic, and an additional 10-30% of all desks remaining unoccupied due to the result of the pandemic. Thus, keeping the offices with nearly 80% of desks unused would be a huge waste of money – the rental costs, media, and maintenance would be paid for empty rooms.
Working from home – with pleasure
Apparently, remote work is profitable for employees also – up to 90% of Gen Zs (people born between 1997 and 2012) and Millenials (1981-1996) are not willing to return to the office full time. Only 10% of them are willing to get back to the office full time.
Working from home comes with multiple advantages – the employee needs not to commute, can abandon the dress code, or achieve a greater work-life balance. With an increasing share of these two generations in the global workforce, the remote and hybrid workforce is here to stay for good and bad. The work-from-home future appears to be bright.
But it doesn’t mean it will be easy to adopt it when not knowing how to do that.
Hybrid workforce models
While there is no clear and widely accepted hybrid or partly remote work definition, there can be three basic models enlisted:
While the names are pretty self-descriptive, it is worthy to deliver a slight commentary on each.
In the remote-first model the company is managed and organized in a way that makes the physical appearance of the employee irrelevant, assuming one is doing his or her job. In this model the employer is not even interested in the employee’s physical position – one can work from home, from the cafe, from a hotel in another country, or any place imaginable, assuming there is access to the tools one needs.
This makes the model available for high-tech companies that are largely independent of their physical location and get their profits from digital services.
- The company saves on offices;
- The team saves on commuting;
- The remote work can be seen as a perk;
- The company is open to employees from every part of the world.
- There is no way to build the company culture through the office, as Google does;
- There are issues with remote team building;
- There are fewer ways to supervise or support the employee work;
- With the distributed team there is a greater risk of miscommunication.
Although the term “balanced” suggests there is some kind of imbalance in other models, this refers to the fact that there is no dominant element of the work. The employees can work either from the office or from their homes or any other location.
In this model, the company encourages employees to go to the office on a regular basis, for example for at least one day every week. It can be either up to an employee's decision or regulated by the company policy (like Monday Meetings for example).
- The employees can socialize and meet in a shared space without being pushed to work there for longer hours;
- The model delivers the flexibility of a pure-remote model while keeping the offline synergies in the teams.
- There is a strong need for clear rules to avoid both confusion and abuse;
- The need to be present at the office at least once a week promotes recruiting only local employees;
- The office generates full costs, no matter if it is full, employed, or anything in between. Yet the company needs to provide the employees with working space to enable them to arrive at a place.
Office-first with remote work allowed
This model doesn’t differ significantly from what has been seen before the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing all the advantages of working from the office. The employees get their desks, their working stations, and the opportunity to socialize in shared spaces. The meetings are held in conference rooms and all the office vibe is kept. The company needs to maintain the office, yet there is usually nearly a full headcount in the office at present, so it is not an issue.
The remote work is available at will, yet the employees are discouraged from overuse it. This can be either included in the company policy or regulated by custom. Having a one-day remote is a good example of how it can look like.
- Everything looks familiar, so if the company did not change during the COVID-19 pandemic, it needs not make some dramatic changes;
- The employees are socializing in the office, there is access to all perks, including large monitors, conferencing rooms, and comfortable chairs – something that appeared destructive during the lockdown.
- This model brings only a slight increase in the flexibility of the company;
- Keeping the obligation to show in the office can be considered a less open culture than a more remote one;
- The company can see little to no benefits of shifting to the remote working style when limiting it so much.
Hybrid workforce – tips and good practices
No matter which model the company will choose, there is a set of good practices to follow to avoid confusion. By following them, the company and the management avoid multiple pitfalls that can hamper even the most promising remote transformation.
Set clear rules
Following clear rules is the core of the remote-friendly environment. The rules need to apply to various aspects of the work that are considered clear and intuitive when it comes to working from the office. This includes:
- The availability – is it obligatory for the employee to be available on Slack or a similar contact platform throughout the working day? If not, what is an acceptable response time, and is there any way to indicate that one is unavailable?
- Key performance indicators – if one is working from home, how is the management supposed to determine if one is really working or only pretending to do so? Is it about tracking the time? Delivering results? Anything in between?
- Breaks – one can have a break, but how many breaks are an abuse of the rules? How to mark a break?
- Flexible working time – if one is working remotely, it is common to blend the work and life matters – and that’s cool. Yet there is a need for a clear definition of when the work is done and can be done without violating the rules of the company.
Depending on the company’s industry and culture, there can be multiple other rules to set to avoid confusion among both the employees and the management.
Pay attention to the leadership
The company may claim to be flexible and modern, yet if the management team is in the office on a daily basis, the rest of the team will feel the pressure to be present as well. And by that, the company will not witness the full synergies and benefits of going remote.
A clear set of rules can be helpful to solve this situation, but in the end, it is the purpose of the leaders to give the best example.
Keep track of the performance and promotions
On the other side of the same coin, the company needs to be extremely clear about performance and recognition. If there is a significant shift toward the office-centric team, the overall morale would be hurt. Also, making the unofficial preferences toward one way of working is against the rules that need to be not only established but also applicable to all of the employees, no matter if it is a manager or an intern.
Be transparent and fair
Last but not least, if the company wants to go remote and get all the benefits and synergies, it is crucial to keep everything transparent. What does “transparent” mean exactly? Again, a clear set of rules applying to every employee and visibility of all the key performance indicators.
Time and attendance tracking are one of the simplest and best-performing ways to increase transparency in the company. When knowing how many times one was working, when and on what project, the company can make more informed decisions. When compared with the overall productivity of the employees it is easiest to spot the stars and promote the best ones.
The shift toward remote work is here to stay, probably forever. Companies can either try to stop the change or follow it and get what’s best. With the guide above, it is much easier and more efficient to maximize the outcome of the remote-centric shift and avoid what’s harmful.
Reports shows clearly that the remote revolution has changed the world for better or worse. The report states that 69% of employees were working or are working remotely due to the pandemic. Also, 48% of those who worked remotely during the pandemic say that if they were not able to do so after the COVID days are over, they would start looking for another job.
When the lockdowns started and nearly a half of the EU workforce was suddenly switched to the home office, there were questions about when “everything will be back to normal”. Now we know – never. The world has already changed and hybrid work is one of the key aspects to adopt in the new reality.