Is Remote Working Here to Stay?

Remote working is the ‘long-distance relationship’ of the recruitment world.

So, as we all know – the pandemic has brought with it the need for remote working. We’ve seen vast swaths of the workforce set up shop at home, in a surprisingly seamless transition.

Is remote working here to stay though, once normality resumes? Has the pandemic exposed the superfluousness of the office space, in a largely online world?

Well…yes and no. Let’s examine this in closer detail.

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We’ve used the analogy of employment agreements being like relationships before. When you think about it, there are a lot of similarities, from the dating phase (recruitment) to the probationary period (‘honeymoon’ phase) and full-term or even tenured position (marriage).

If those are the normal phases of employer/employee relationship development, then remote working is undoubtably the ‘long-distance’ relationship of the employment world.

Well yes, certainly in the short-term it is possible to make things work. We have the necessary communications technology these days, to enable us to speak from pretty much anywhere in the world. But long-term, things will start to become tricky.

I’m not saying that it can’t work.

I know people who are in long-term, long-distance relationships. There’s always an exception to the rule and good for them! For most people though, they miss those in-person interactions that are such a huge part of relationship building.

Obviously, as a relationship builds; you move into phases of higher commitment. It would be unusual for two people to get married, have kids and live apart. Just as it would for someone to further their integration with a company, move up the ranks and manage teams; only to stay at home and do everything via Zoom.

Again: you could, but you’re not really going to feel properly connected to your team or the company itself.

You will miss out on all of those interactions that teach you somebody’s habits, how they like to work, what makes them tick etc…

Working remotely also places limits on building interpersonal bonds and trust in your fellow team mates. When you’re able to help each other out, in person, you build that understanding more clearly of who has your back. You also understand each other much better, with a reduced risk of the kind of miscommunication that comes with emails and phone calls.

“Yes, but look at how well people have been working from home since the COVID crisis took hold!”

Sure, that’s true – it is working relatively well, for now. Remember though, that for a lot of those people; they started off working together in an office in the first place. They’ve already built those relationships in person.

Conversely, what we have found with our clients this year who are going through on-boarding with new employees, is that they are struggling to get a foothold.

Embedding themselves within the company culture is much harder. As is understanding the way that different teams work together. Training from scratch is also much slower, with managers having to communicate via video calls with people they’ve never met.

Just as with our long-distance relationship analogy: development of that relationship is going to be stunted somewhat, missing out on activities, friendship groups, events and so forth.

The other issue we hear a lot at the moment is that there is often a lack of inter-departmental communication, with employees feeling ‘siloed’ in their teams. If you think about it, without physically being in the same building and seeing other departments do their jobs; there is going to be a break down in the understanding of how the company functions as a whole.

Online meetings and communications also have a tendency to be overly official, with everyone just getting straight to business in order to fit into a time slot.

On-the-fly discussions and ideas, that happen organically in the course of a day in the office, are far less likely to occur. This reduction in creativity may not be felt right away, but over time it can add up to inefficiencies and stagnation of processes.

So what are most companies likely to do, once they have the option of returning fully to the work place?

What we’re hearing from a lot of our clients is that they intend to do one of three things:

  • Return to business as usual – in-person, in the office.
  • Continue to work remotely, closing all unnecessary brick & mortar presences.
  • Come back with a hybrid approach, allowing for flexibility between working from home & in the office.

Now it may seem like this has been about building the case for a full return to the office, and certainly: there’s a lot to be said for that. It is not without its downside though. Office-drama, politics, operational issues etc… all of the things that keep HR departments busy (and not in a positive way) would also return.

Similarly: staying at home all of the time is bound to lead to issues with your spouse, kids, house-mates etc… In Japan they have an expression that roughly translates as ‘Retired Man Syndrome’, in reference to the high number of divorce cases that arise when retirees are forced into each other’s company 24/7.

So what do we recommend once the necessity for remote working ends?

Well, we are suggesting to most of our clients that they adopt a more mixed approach, where appropriate. This has the obvious advantage of being able to downsize office space and reduce costs, while also having somewhere to bring in teams and reduce the ‘silo effect’ that we talked about earlier.

It also has the benefit of creating more of a work life balance, giving employees more flexibility with their home life, but also enabling them to go into the office and feel as though they are a professional member of a company.

This approach obviously comes with the caveat that: one size will not ‘fit all’. Indeed, just as every company is different, so too will their approach to remote working need to be tailored to the various nuances and needs of their unique processes.

The real difference will be that, once restrictions are lifted: working from home will no longer be on a ‘war footing’.

But despite not being an absolute necessity, where it makes sense – we can be open to it, safe in the knowledge that it will work.

The move to more remote working was always happening, but the pandemic really hastened the move by forcing everybody’s hand.

When the dust settles, and we are all able to go back to pre-COVID conditions; I believe that remote working will be something that can be effective for some. With the caveat though that it depends on the role (certain regional sales roles for example) and the company ethos.

Where you have more creative/collaborative departments, that really need to be able to get in a room together and ‘whiteboard’ their ideas; remote working will be far too restrictive.

How about you? What are your thoughts on how your company will structure itself, once “normal” life resumes?

If you are considering your options as a business, for how best to return to the office and would like some guidance on how best to implement that; please get in touch with us today.

We will be happy to help walk you through your options and find the right solution for you and your teams.

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