With working from home the new normal, what does the future have in store for businesses? And is the forecast good, or bad?
Remote working has increased dramatically as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. With almost everyone who is able to do their job from home currently doing so, businesses have had to shake up their policies on working practices. It’s also looking like after the pandemic is over, these policy shifts will stick.
Earlier this month, business behemoths Facebook and Twitter announced that the remote employment of their staff will continue indefinitely. A recent Gartner survey also revealed that 74% of Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) intend to move at least 5% of employees to work remotely permanently within their companies.
But how will a surge in people working from home long-term affect businesses and workers? Who will benefit from the change, and who will ultimately lose out?
The benefits of a remote workforce
The benefits of flexibility for workers being able to work from home are numerous for both businesses and employees.
For business owners, a remote workforce could bolster cost-cutting measures. For many companies struggling as a result of COVID-19, reducing costs across the board is integral to improving profitability and cash flow. According to Gartner’s survey, 20% of respondents revealed that they have already deferred on-premise technology spend, and an additional 12% are also planning to in future.
Cost saving measures like reducing the amount of computers and equipment required in-office, as people switch over to their home laptops, desktops and mobile phones, could make a real difference for these companies struggling to improve their working capital.
Partial or even fully remote workforces will mean significantly reduced overheads such as high rent office locations. Companies may choose to provide access to co-working spaces where their workers are concentrated, rather than opt for expensive real estate options in the city centre. According to Gartner, 13% of CFOs have already implemented reductions in real estate expenses, with another 9% planning to do so.
For employees, the benefits are different, but potentially extensive. Flexible work hours mean that employees could benefit from forming their own routine. Scientifically speaking, different people are productive at different points in the day. Therefore, enforcing a strict 8.30am to 5pm regimen may not be beneficial for some, for example those who aren’t productive until 11am.
The removal of the need to commute is also likely a significant benefit for many Aussies. Before coronavirus struck, it was reported that the average full-time working Australian spent an average of nearly 5 hours commuting to and from work each week. In Sydney, this was as much as 7 hours per week. A University of West England study found that as little as an additional 10 minutes in a person’s daily commute lowers job satisfaction as much as a 19% pay cut.
Therefore it goes without saying that getting those hours back can sincerely boost morale and productivity. People who live far from their usual workplace may have recently found that their sleep has improved by the later start to their day, allowing them to be better mentally prepared for work.
As time goes on, these benefits may increase for workers. Those who live in less than desirable locations on account of their jobs may be able to move to pastures new, if able to work fully remotely. The “Digital Nomad” lifestyle may also become accessible to more people, particularly younger individuals.
What are the drawbacks of a remote workforce?
As the country gears up for the changes on the horizon, it’s good to remember that a shift towards increased remote work is a double-edged sword.
Many employers may worry about opting for a partially or fully remote workforce for various reasons. These may include:
- Increased distraction during work hours
- Decreased motivation for staff
- Increased difficulty in training and mentoring new employees
Employees also face a range of difficulties when it comes to working from home.
Employees may suffer from feelings of isolation, which can have an adverse effect on mental health. Offices provide a space for social interaction and forming relationships with colleagues. Being unable to bounce ideas around the office, or enjoy breaks with work friends, may reduce morale across many industries.
Work life balance
Employees may also struggle to separate their work life balance, as the lines between home and the home office become blurred. Some employers may also expect too much from employees who are working from home, assuming that they are always available, meaning that workers feel obligated to work additional hours.
Many workers may harbour concerns that their visibility within the workplace is lessened by working from home. Less face-to-face contact with managers may lead to it becoming more difficult for individuals to have their hard work recognised, and therefore receive the promotions or pay rises they deserve.
While it is important for employees across the board to learn new technological skills, some employees may struggle with the changes as work becomes more digitalised. As more businesses switch to an entirely remote force, will everyone be able to keep up?
Whether the move to home offices is a step in the right direction, or a step towards an isolated future, will very much depend on the industry and the individual. Either way, business is changing, and COVID-19 has accelerated the process by forcing an unprepared model to adapt to a situation at a rapid pace.
Without a doubt, this large-scale experiment in remote work has been eye opening, and the upcoming shift presents new and exciting opportunities for both businesses and employees across the globe.
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