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Remote Work – COVID-19 has changed nothing! It’s merely accelerated what was already happening

29/05/20 Adam Walker Director

Before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote working was very topical and something many employees raised in surveys, it was often desired, but only a handful of permanent and contract staff were ever granted it and often for a limited period once or twice a week or month. In 2019 I read a report where the headline stuck in my mind based on the environment, we now find ourselves in.


‘Remote work is not a trend — it’s here to stayʼ


A company surveyed nearly 2,500 remote workers in the USA and highlighted the struggles and benefits that come with remote working. Of their respondents, 99% said they would like to work remotely at least some of the time. Of all the data outlined, this was the most powerful response. Many individuals cited….

‘A flexible schedule is the biggest benefit to remote work.ʼ

Now, it seems, many employers are doing it. The coronavirus outbreaks have created one of the largest global experiments, with companies stress-testing working from home en masse. This sudden increase in working from home has created many problems as well as opportunities. We are all now familiar with Zoom, Microsoft TEAMS, Google Hangouts, House Party, with many of these tools being offered for free with the hope of enticing new users for the future.

The internet had always threatened to revolutionise the work environment, particularly traditional offices, with advanced communications we had the potential to free people to work wherever – but this has generally not been the case until now. With leaps in technology, the office has appeared to stay firmly in our psyche and has shown no sign of diminishing. 

Some companies have been reluctant to let their employees work remotely, with concerns over productivity, fear of disruption often at the forefront. While companies (including Redline) have introduced flexibility, few workers telecommute on a daily, weekly, and on monthly basis. Working patterns have been limited by technology and corporate inertia slowing its adoption across the globe. Where businesses were resistant to a single employee or contractor telecommuting for a single day, organisations are now having to come to terms with having the entire office working from home for extended periods.

Some systems are failing regularly. Corporate networks now have a large majority of their connection coming in over virtual private networks (VPNs), these have suffered technology issues; speed, connection malfunctions etc, while internet and mobile service providers have come under pressure to lift bandwidths so customers did not get cut off mid-month. More pressing is that internet usage, in general, is increasing across the board. As more people work from home or isolate at home, peak traffic in impacted regions and countries has increased, on average by 10%. Large fixed network connections lie idle into office blocks whilst home broadband connections suffer due to Netflix and kids’ online gaming. 

But for the struggles, it turns out that a large number of workers can, in fact, do their job with a high level of efficiency from home, we could see businesses drop their objection to home working, and adopting new organisation structures, and this is likely to include the reduction either in size or the possible jettison of offices altogether.

Large tech firms were some of the first to move to remote working for all their staff, utilising pre-existing infrastructures such as remote access, office chat rooms, critical tools, agile processes, and the fact that knowledge-based work can often be carried out remotely.

The question it raised for me isn’t whether the world will change its working practices, but by how much? To support such a change will require better technology and infrastructure, and a lot of carefully considered work from business senior management to change workplace culture.

Some investment has already started, how many new desks, chairs, laptops, and LCD screens have been acquired to support this home working process. It becomes harder to justify the expense if the business does not see some longer-term benefit rather than a short pandemic bottom-line cost. If this expense could be written off over years rather than weeks and months, it could be considered to be a more sensible investment.

The Coronavirus could permanently shift working patterns as companies are forced to embrace remote working, finding their employees do not want to return completely, or at all to the office once the closures are lifted.

What will businesses need and how could they benefit? How can we maintain a sense of belonging while isolated at home? We will need more technology! I guess from a technology recruitment business you’d expect that but applications such as virtual reality to replicate face to face meetings are likely to be very important. Also, the ability of businesses to prevent isolation, mental health issues should not be taken for granted and the diversion of the “coffee-machine” or “water-cooler” chat is critical in developing new ideas, processes, and work culture. 

Remoting working forces employers to engage all staff in a new sense of corporate purpose and means everyone is treated like adults. This may also offer an opportunity for many companies to build a culture that allows work flexibility. Business leaders are likely to take this opportunity to give their employees more control and trust to deliver and manage schedules, objectives and deliverables. Meanwhile, every organisation will be continuing with the experiment in different ways. 

But I still believe most people should work in an office at least part of the time, or co-habit with other people and very much avoid solitary working home arrangements. Working from home does have benefits especially for new parents, people with ageing family members, or employees with medical needs..

Advocators of remote working often cite studies showing people who work from home are more productive BUT other research highlights any gain in productivity is often lost in creativity and innovative thinking. Studies have consistently found people working together in the same area tend to solve problems more quickly than remote collaborators. 

Coordinating virtual team members can be challenging, and communication can be a big stumbling block for many businesses trying to successfully navigate remote hires. Efficient, effective communication is the cornerstone of any functioning group, and it is especially crucial for remote teams.

“Creativity comes from spontaneous meeting, from random discussions”, Steve Jobs said.

Research by Google found the ideal amount of work-from-home time is one and a half days per week so you're able to participate in office culture, with time for focus work.

Although absence from the office was enforced by unprecedented circumstances, the return to the office may have some downsides – commuting to my home office has been very easy and cheap but there will be numerous people, myself included, who love the routine and the work office environment of face to face communication.

Hopefully this experiment will lead to a healthy debate about flexible working arrangements, the development of new technologies to support such activities and is unlikely to signal the death of the office. 

I'm sure we’re all expecting the sales calls from Microsoft, Zoom, Slack………

To find out more about how we can help your technology business, please contact Adam Walker – Director on 01582 450054 or click here to view our latest job opportunities.