Future of work

What business leaders are getting wrong about remote work

Lydia Watson

We are a nation divided. Split by strong views, and polar-opposite opinion. But I’m not talking about Leavers and Remainers, or Tories and Labour… no, this is a conflict that’s entirely location-based. One where the battleground is between office and home.

When the pandemic arrived, bringing with the wave of international lockdowns, remote working became a necessity to ensure business continuity. In some industries, this meant a steep learning curve. But despite this unexpected shift to Zoom calls and bedroom-to-living room commutes, most studies suggested that productivity stayed high.

But despite the positives, business leaders aren’t a fan

While workers across the world felt the benefits of having time back, more flexibility, and the equalising nature of video meetings, many leaders have shown strong opposition to remote working becoming a ‘forever thing’.

72% of US leaders prefer workers in the office, two thirds of managers think it holds back people’s careers, and a similar amount see remote workers as replaceable – and that’s reflected in future planning, where only 24% plan to include increased remote working in their long-term business model.

Why is that? Many talk about the challenges of collaboration, the lack of visibility, employee loneliness, or an absence of trust that people are staying productive… but however valid their concerns, was remote working during the pandemic a fair representation? 

Remote working during a pandemic wasn’t a fair representation:

  • There was no choice of location: sympathy for people living alone or in anonymous houseshares is well-meaning, but remote working isn’t to blame for loneliness. It was the pandemic that meant remote working was synonymous with solo homeworking, but it doesn’t have to be that way…
  • Most businesses weren’t used to it: claiming that collaboration doesn’t work between remote workers is a tad unfair. When you enter a new stage of life – like living independently – no-one expects you to know how often to clean the fridge, or how to cook a coq au vin. It’s a learning process, and businesses were thrown in the deep end. 
  • We all had a lot on our minds: despite the reports that productivity levels stayed high, it’s inevitable that some businesses saw a dip. But is that really remote working’s fault? Consider the fact that your employees were living through a global pandemic, with no clear end-date, fearing for their families. That’ll hamper anyone’s performance. 
  • We didn’t have the right tools: for effective collaboration, communication, and visibility, you simply need the right tools. A formerly office-based organisation wasn’t equipped for fully remote work, because managers are used to doing things a certain way. This leads us to…
  • You have trust problems to solve: if your employees are telling you remote work is better for them, if your business is performing, then you might not trust your team as much as you thought. Consider why it’s not for you. 

3 ways remote working will be better in a post-pandemic world:

1. True flexibility of location

Your choices aren’t just office or at home. Remote working should embrace the freedom to work whether you’re most productive. For some, that’s a busy coffee shop (especially since offices are quieter places than before!) and for others, that’s the solitude of a garden shed or, like it or not, a sunlounger on a particularly warm day. If people are happy and getting their work done effectively, what more can you ask?  

2. Schedules can be rewritten

Think about it: are all your recurring weekly meetings useful, or are they just a way to make sure people are online? If you’re genuinely concerned your employees are sleeping in ‘till lunch, you’ve got bigger problems (cough cough make better hires). Keep the important meetings, and embrace the freedom of working when suits – as long as your early birds and night owls both keep meeting targets, you’re all good.

3. Neutral collaboration spaces

Yes, collaboration is better face-to-face. But is the office the best place for that? Aside from the strange tension of hierarchy, and the worry of interrupting solo workers, maybe your office just isn’t that… good. Remote working means teams can meet up in a location of their choosing, whether it’s a coworking space, park, or restaurant. If you want creative juices flowing, then why not be creative with the location? 

Takeaway? Be open, be optimistic, and be inquisitive

Whatever your preference, it might be time to listen to your employees. What do they really want? Are you willing to accommodate their preferences, or do you need help addressing the things that are putting them off the office? Either way, your best bet is our Returning to the Workplace survey.

Ask your team for their thoughts, and you can find the perfect balance – and so you can get answers fast, we’re offering a 21-day free trial. Try it today:

 

Use the Returning to the Workplace survey for free

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