WORK FROM HOME: FORCED FROM 20% TO 85% BY COVID 19: IMPLICATIONS AND WAY FORWARD
The global workspace was very different a few years back, working remotely was an exception, not the norm. Technology has been developing so quickly that virtual workspaces are becoming more common. The current famous work-from-home trend has transformed the typical workspace. This digital transformation has surged even more than it would have been because of the outbreak of COVID-19. The world was under lockdown for several months. Therefore, the number of employees that have to telecommute suddenly skyrocketed. The whole North American marketplace jumped from a 20% remote workforce (before COVID-19) to 85% overnight, in a tremendous effort to control the spread of the virus.
Remote work was initially a challenge for so many industries, but recently it has proven that the advantages outnumber the concerns of this booming trend. Flexibility from both the employer and the employee is of outmost importance. Employees like to be independent, mostly regarding location, and their schedule. From the other side, employers are always looking to cut costs and at the same time be able to hire the most suitable person for each position regardless of where the candidate is located. Several studies show that remote work is currently one of the most valuable employment perks for workers in North America.
Does remote work support or harm productivity?
It is quite difficult to answer this question. Managers tend to think that in-office settings are ideal to control employees and therefore maintain operational efficiencies at high levels. There was a fear surrounding employees working remotely full-time. This fear was based on the fact that employees cannot be monitored physically throughout the day. There was a perception that working from home or any other location might increase distractions and drive down operational efficiencies and therefore, productivity. However, recent studies by Stanford revealed that remote workers were around 13% more productive than traditional office employees, especially after the lockdown was imposed. Organizations also overlooked the fact that working remotely decreases the number of sick days utilized as they do not physically interact with many people, transmitting any virus. Organizing daily tasks and activities to suit the most productive time of each day is also boosting efficiency, productivity and the quality of work. It is eventually found through several studies that remote work is related to fewer distractions because the interaction with colleagues regarding irrelevant topics is minimized. Efficiency also is greatly achieved as most of the employees working remotely in North America feel that there is better work-life balance. Proving that, Airtasker found through a survey of 1,004 full-time employees, of whom 505 are working remotely, that remote workers are far more productive. Remote workers currently work an additional 1.4 more days per month. The same study revealed that there are quite a few less distractions as the unproductive per day is reduced by around 27%. There are still some concerns and fears from some executives regarding the long-term results in productivity, in case remote work continues to be the norm for a long time. However, the current stats show that remote work does support productivity and operational efficiencies.
Cutting costs: the strongest motive to continue remote work
As the global economy saw a drastic plunge, due to massive lockdowns, a major concern was how organizations will survive through this unprecedented crisis. A study by Global Workforce Analytics revealed the surprising potential of saving $2,000 to $7,000 from remote workers. Cutting costs now functions as a strong motivator to let people working remotely even after the pandemic. Breaking down the costs from the employee’s side, savings on commuting, clothing, food and child care are substantial. Travelling expenses were high for both the employer and the employee. Expensive lunches or dinners at restaurants to strengthen collaborator’s and customer relationships are no longer considered necessary. Apart from that, an important benefit that organizations see now is the ability to save on office rent, utilities, and maintenance costs. In addition, employers support that remote work increases employee retention and loyalty which lowers the cost of training for new employees and hiring processes.
Remote work is transformed through surprising trends
- The rise of a “hybrid” transformation design or model, combining in-office and remote work, presented as the optimal solution to tackle work isolation and communication challenges, two major concerns regarding remote work
- The constant development and growth of remote work software and services along with constant improvements of cyber-security tools
- The increase of Generation-Z employees coming into the workforce, benefiting organizations because of advanced digital skills and online training, developed lately through online education
- An ongoing concern regarding the severe lack of preparation (management practices and technology acquisition) from the employer’s side due to the sudden work-from-home shift
- After the Kung Group surveyed more than 500 founders of venture-backed companies, 70% of founders will let a great majority of employees or even all, continue working from home
- The same survey also reveals that 76% of those founders argued productivity has increased after employees started working remotely
The “Work-from-Home” trend, developing fast in the financial services industry
Remote work is very effective for many industries, as well for financial services. Before the outbreak of the pandemic, flexible remote work was the exception even for this industry which is developing fast in terms of innovation and technology. It was not a significant transformation design that financial institutions were following and definitely not an essential part of their corporate strategy. On the contrary, after the outbreak of the virus, the work settings changed radically and are predicted to continue moving towards that direction even after this crisis. Breaking this down in numbers, before COVID-19, only 29% of Financial Services executives had around 60% of their employees working from home at least once per week. Moving on to the outbreak of COVID-19, this percentage of executives jumped into 69%, according to PWC research. Financial services employees embrace this change very well, 86% of them support this new reality. However, comparing to other industries, the percentage of employees that are willing to continue working remotely on a full-time basis is only at 35% for the financial services industry. Experts say that this may still increase over the next several months, so it is not a definite number that we should stick to for long. Balancing flexibility and the need of being in-office should be within the core of current concerns in any financial institution. In this way, communication and productivity challenges can be tackled. Productivity is currently not the major challenge as it is continuously increasing within financial services, but coaching and collaboration remain a struggle. The main reasons that employees said they may not be willing to continue working remotely full-time is difficulties in collaborating with colleagues and managers and getting the right information on time. Coaching remote teams remains a concern as it is not as efficient as in the in-office environment, playing a critical role in providing high-quality customer experience.
Change management and agile development should continuously be embraced by all institutions in building resilient and efficient virtual-office systems. This will help optimize customer experience, as the success always lies at servicing the customer smoothly without any interruptions or concerns in order to make remote work successful.
The development of business consulting for remote work practices
Consulting is now extremely helpful while companies are trying to move operations where needed to remote work settings. As consulting supports, allowing only remote work will not be successful until there is a holistic adoption of that practice. Confirming compliance is the first step towards this successful adoption as a certain form of agreement may be needed between the employer and the employee regarding the new work settings and processes. Consultants also argue that optimizing tracking of the work being done every day is equally important as the compliance, which targets high levels of productivity and efficiency. This kind of tracking may include regular virtual communication, helping to prevent employee isolation. In addition, consulting is now helpful when organizations need to hire remote workers. Each organization needs a piece of advice when it comes to identifying which positions are the best for hiring remote workers, which role components will form an effective remote working model, and what are the characteristics needed for the best candidate. After hiring, coaching is another aspect of remote work that might be different than it was traditionally. Strategic coaching, prioritizing what the organization will inspire to its employees, is directed through the right consulting advice. Above all, each organization should become a “remote-friendly” company if its goal is to have an effective transition to remote work. However, there is a newly conceived concept that organizations should now go beyond and become “remote-first” companies, instead of “remote friendly” ones, especially when organizations apply a hybrid model, having both in-office and remote workers.
|Allowed to work remotely||Empowered to work remotely|
|Synchronous communication||Asynchronous-first communication|
|People and information are more accessible to people inside the office||People and information are equally accessible to all employees, in-office and remote workers|
|Key decisions are made in-office||Key decisions are discussed online where all employees can be part of decision-making|
|Possible bias towards promoting remote workers||Equal promotion opportunities between in-office and remote employees|
Do we know what is best for each organization when it comes to remote work?
Deciding on whether an organization should work entirely in a remote environment or entirely within an in-office setting or through a combination, is always up to how managers envision the corporate strategy which incorporates the “workforce system”. Whatever the organization might choose, a smart restructuring is necessary. Restructuring consulting is potentially needed, but it is certain that they should have a “conscious aspiration”. Several experts support that work-from-home is a system with various interfaces and interdependencies, which should be carefully identified and coordinated. As they set aspirations and envision the ideal work setting, they need to identify the technologies that already exist and some that should be established, human resources and the rules, norms and metrics, all making the ideal workplace. It is said that combining remote work and in-office may be beneficial for many organizations if this system is established with the right balance.