For a growing number of professionals, the age of the office-based 9-to-5 is over. The Covid-19 pandemic forced a great number of workers to transition to a new remote work lifestyle. The buzz of creativity was replaced with the hum of a solitary laptop, while those Friday night drinks became quizzes on Zoom.
But even as the office doors start to reopen, many are choosing to continue to work remotely. A study by McKinsey showed1 that a quarter of the workforce in advanced economies such as the UK, US, and Japan could work remotely for three to five days a week without productivity loss.
As long as small businesses and freelancers can keep their overheads down while staying productive and flexible to changing demands, there seems no reason to bring back the bustle of the commute culture. But while the landscape continues to shift, what can we expect to see in the coming years when it comes to remote work?
Remote work removes the trappings of a central workplace environment and allows employees to work where they choose - either on a permanent basis or combined with a ‘flexible’ policy requiring some days to be spent in the office. Where you may once have commuted to an office to collaborate with colleagues in person, with remote work you can continue your role in a different place for the majority of your working hours.
Working remotely in the pandemic showed us that our home can effectively double as our workspace, with potentially fewer distractions and no significant impact on our productivity.
Did you know? The median price of a San Francisco one-bedroom flat rental decreased by a quarter in one year once Silicon Valley companies had announced remote working options2.
The day-to-day of remote working hasn’t changed working patterns, only the methods. Thanks to video conferencing we can still catch up with colleagues for informal chats and clients for strategy meetings. We can still canvass opinions, collaborate on solutions, and crunch to tight deadlines.
Remote working isn’t limited to our homes, either. If you’ve struggled to find the right space to perform your duties, you can rely on co-working spaces or even coffee shops, provided their Wi-Fi is decent enough (and your IT policies are secure enough). Some workers can even give up the traditional workspace entirely and work on the road if their role allows it - even working remotely abroad.
Whether you’re your own boss or not, staying motivated away from the typical workplace can present its own challenges. It really depends on your personal ways of working - some need the buzz of an office around them to focus on their tasks, while others can get by in isolation with a pair of headphones and a bit of initiative.
As long as you can stick to your daily goals, the longer-term effects of choosing to work remotely can benefit your small business. See our starting a business from home guide for advice on getting the ball rolling.
Provided you can achieve close to 100% of your to-do list with little more than a computer or phone, you’re probably best placed to bid adieu to the office.
‘Non-manual work’ is a pretty wide net to cast over a degree of the population that can work remotely, but the description is also quite clear.
On the other hand, a worker who operates specific work-based machinery or typically gets physical with in-house inventory or resources couldn’t fulfil their job role remotely. Those working in professions like frontline healthcare, retail and Early Years education are also unlikely to be able to get away from the workplace any time soon.
It still leaves a relatively broad spectrum of tasks which you can perform remotely. If a job involves some or all of the below types of task, you might be able to do them without ever stepping foot in an office.
If you specialise in creating written content, video or graphics, you don’t necessarily need a dedicated workspace. This runs the gamut from graphic designers to video editors.
You may be tasked with maintaining a sisable IT infrastructure or designing a website back-end. But unless you need to stick close to the server room, you can tick off much of your to-do list remotely.
Although management tasks will require the requisite amount of oversight as your employees work to agreed-upon outlines, much of your communications can be done virtually and the workflow can live on the cloud.
Recruiters rely more on soft skills like developing relationships and empathy than they do with hard skills like knowledge of process and programmes. It might even benefit you to take your show on the road, where you can meet more people and get them placed in the right job.
There are so many costs associated with keeping the lights on in an office that’s spacious and equipped enough for an entire workforce. Factor in the costs for utilities and supplies, as well as what employees are spending on travel and there’s already a strong case for working remotely to save on the bottom line.
Did you know? A 2021 estimate of city centre office space rental by square foot puts London at £60-£85 and Liverpool at £18-£253.
Wider talent pool.
Working remotely frees you from the geographical constraints of hiring locally - or asking prospects to uproot their lives to move close enough to commute to your business. With a larger talent pool to draw from, you also stand a better chance of getting the employees you want at a salary that’s competitive for them and more affordable for you.
The call from senior industry figures to return to the office is clashing with the views which employees have shaped during their extended time away. An O/AN OnePoll study of 2,000 Americans working from home during the pandemic showed4 that almost half of employees now consider remote working their top priority as a job perk. Almost three-quarters wouldn’t work for a company that didn’t offer this flexibility. Offering employees a work-life balance boost could boost your own chances of landing - and keeping - top talent.
Cutting out the commute.
Before the pandemic, the average daily commute took 59 minutes - there and back5. With remote work there’s every chance you can spend those two hours much more meaningfully every day - whether spending more time with family, taking up a new hobby or getting more exercise.
There are also financial benefits. The average UK commuter has saved £126 per month by cutting out the commute - in London it’s £164 per month. And by choosing to work from home two days a week going forward, it’s estimated they’ll save £48 a month6.
When linked to employee retention prospects, workers would love the chance to recoup their time and money by staying away from the office.
While the benefits of remote working are clear for your employees, they may also experience some drawbacks.
Younger workers have said remote working is bad for career advancement, as they feel that being around their peers is their best chance to learn on the job.
Remote working also removes some of the bond between colleagues from the same teams, making it harder for new starters to integrate themselves into a new organisation.
Some workers may lack the available space at home to go fully remote. For many, the pandemic brought home the importance of a fully equipped and spacious workspace.
Businesses may also find increased costs in supplying new equipment and providing training for their remote workers - not to mention the pressure of widening the IT policy to cover devices being used on remote networks.
Above all, there are issues with trust. A poll7 found that two-thirds of employers don’t fully trust their staff to perform their jobs remotely and 39% believed staff don’t work as hard at home.
How do I get started with remote working?
If you’re planning to start a business from scratch and have decided on remote working as the way forward for you and your employees, here are some things to mull over.
Making new remote workers feel welcome at their new job can be tricky when there’s no opportunity to meet in person. Hold a team meeting to introduce your new colleague so they feel some of the social benefits. More importantly, make sure they have everything they need on day one - not just their laptop but access to the secure servers, too.
Book some regular 1-1 time with new starters so you can check on their progress as they settle in. And make sure that you hook them up with ‘buddies’ who can both help them to develop their work and get to know more about the company culture.
Did you know? Companies that are strong on onboarding new workers improve employee retention by 82%.
Keeping clients happy
Onboarding new workers can be difficult enough, but satisfying clients shouldn’t be far behind on your list of priorities.
What’s important here is being able to clearly communicate the work you’re doing on their behalf, giving them complete transparency. Arrange regular updates to discuss progress and allow enough time for questions from either side to be addressed.
The fact your team doesn’t work centrally from an office might still be a challenge for clients to get over. The key is assuring them that it won’t affect your capability to do the job. Give them as much information as you can about your team’s ways of working so they can get comfortable with the idea.
Employee growth and development
Without the benefit of working together in person, it can be difficult to assess employees’ strengths and weaknesses. Similarly, without the benefit of in-person presentations or training sessions, employees don’t get the chances to raise their profile in and around the office.
Seek out external opportunities for employees to increase their visibility. Sales pitches, speaking engagements and writing for external publications are all chances for your workers to see their name in lights and feel more engaged with their role. Your more experienced team members are invaluable sources for junior colleagues to learn from. Mentoring is not just an opportunity for younger team members to learn a lot, it can also make your senior team members feel more valued.
Consider additional training for the team where there are overlaps, so everyone can feel more comfortable tackling something new or getting a much-needed refresher.
What’s next for remote working?
Remote working may have been a boon both for employees and businesses during the pandemic, but in years to come will it be the norm or a blip?
Some companies are embracing the change and even making big changes to their workspace to do so. One London office has altered its set-up by removing desks, installing moveable furniture and integrating video conferencing into all meeting spaces, so that those who are working from home don’t miss out on the buzz of the office8.
For those companies choosing to remain remote, plans to move away from the five-day office-based week have been accelerated by the pandemic. A worldwide McKinsey survey9 revealed that 22% of respondents expected remote employees to work at least two days a week out of the office. This increased to 38% after the effects of the pandemic were being felt.
The hybrid working model - where offices will amend their policies and even their premises to account for lower office headcounts - has really taken off since the effects of the Covid pandemic were first felt.
In the US, the number of fully remote workers rose from 17% to 44% during 2020 and Q1 202110. The Survey of Business Uncertainty (SBU)11 found employers expecting the rise. In 2019, 10% of full-time employees would be working from home for one day a week - now it’s 10% who they expect to work out of the office on a full-time basis.
Major UK employers including John Lewis, Very Group and Lloyds Banking Group are encouraging hybrid working, with employees free to divide their time equally between home and the office.
While larger employers make these huge changes to housing their workforces, small businesses can make the jump in a more agile manner by adapting more quickly to the new demand for remote working. Allowing employees to work from home is now one of the most attractive perks for recruiting talent, so it’s up to small business owners to take advantage.
Frequently asked questions
Does working remotely affect salary?
While major tech companies Facebook and Slack have announced salary adjustments based on where workers live, the industry’s baked-in competitiveness is one factor. In the UK, a survey found 16% of employers have said they’ll keep the matter “under review”12 while only 7% have actually changed pay to reflect working remotely.
Is working from home worth a pay cut?
A survey reported in The Guardian revealed13 that 61% of workers are willing to take a pay cut just so they can work remotely. Whether that’s because working from home merely offsets the costs of commuting or because it’s a more desirable perk in itself, is hard to tell at this point.
What equipment do I need to work remotely?
Aside from the essentials like a laptop, you’ll want your remote working experience to be as comfortable as possible. While working from your bed might seem fun at first, you’ll eventually need a proper workspace so a desk and chair comes highly recommended. A second monitor will also help you to get more organised and stop having to switch windows every few minutes.
Check out Make Your Move to hear from entrepreneurs who are growing their businesses remotely.
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