In 2015 ONS statistics showed that 4.2 million people across a variety of sectors were working from home. In April 2020 the ONS released figures showing 49.2% of adults in employment were working from home as a result of social distancing measures.
In Buffers 2019 State of Remote Work Report 99% of workers surveyed said they would like to work remotely at least part-time. This is a big shift from the traditional way in which we have worked in the past. Covid 19 has accelerated the growth of remote working and has changed the way we work forever.
Twitter has already announced that remote working is now a permanent option for employees and BT has announced a similar plan. Other organisations are revisiting strategic plans and changing the way they plan to expand their organisations. Working remotely brings a whole range of benefits such as flexibility, cost savings, the ability to recruit international talent to name a few and it’s great for the environment too. However it also brings a new set of challenges for HR professionals, leaders and line managers. We will all need to change our thinking about what work looks like and how we manage our new remote/hybrid teams. It also puts employee engagement and mental health at the top of the people agenda. Traditional ways of measuring performance, productivity etc will become obsolete and new tools will have to be developed.
Whilst for some employees remote working is a dream job improving work/life balance, others find the lack of social interaction stressful and isolating. Feeling isolated impacts on mental health causing higher than usual levels of stress, anxiety and depression. There is also a tendency for remote workers to feel that they need to work longer hours and contribute more than in-office colleagues leading to burn out.
Managers and leaders with remote/hybrid teams are facing new challenges and will need to acquire new skills to meet those challenges with coaching and Emotional Intelligence high on the list. We need authentic leaders who put people at the heart of their business. We also need managers who can use Emotional Intelligence to build and maintain high quality relationships, recognise when people need additional support and manage individuals in ways that enable them to perform at their best. Technology such as Zoom, Skype, Teams etc give us great tools for visual communication and staying in touch with the team. These platforms also enable the team to stay in touch with each other providing social interaction which is important for team morale. Feeling isolated is one of the key contributors to stress so ensuring everyone still feels part of the team is essential.
This accelerated move to remote working has generated a huge, fast paced wave of change with little time to plan for it. People respond to change in different ways, some will embrace it for the work life balance it provides, others will take longer to adapt. Leaders and managers need to acknowledge the challenges for employees and provide additional support to those who need it.
Those organisations at the top of their game today are the ones that fully embraced technology 20 years ago. In another 20 years those at the top will be those organisations that fully embrace remote working now.