Is remote working really the answer? Companies are having second thoughts

Business 21st September 2020

Projects take longer – Collaboration is harder – Training new workers is a struggle

Six months ago, workers throughout the UK went home and did something amazing. They got their work done, apparently without missing a beat. Bosses were amazed at how well their workers performed remotely, even while juggling childcare and the distractions of home. Companies of all sizes were falling over themselves to announce that they’d be embracing remote working permanently. Some companies declared they’d be giving up their physical office spaces entirely.

Fast forward to the present day and companies aren’t quite so bullish. Cracks are emerging in the utopian world of the work-from-home experiment.

– Training is harder to carry out effectively.

– Hiring and integrating new employees is more complicated.

– Some employers say their workers are less connected

– Younger professionals aren’t developing at the same rate as they would in offices

Productivity driven by fear

An increasing number of executives now say that remote work, while necessary for safety for much of this year, will not be ideal in the long run.

Laszlo Bock, former HR chief at Google, says, ‘It was people being terrified of losing their jobs, and that fear-driven productivity is not sustainable,” he said.

In many sectors, efficiency has taken a hit. Problems that might have taken an hour to solve in the office can now stretch out for far longer.

Bonding in the English countryside

The Boston-based video technology firm OpenExchange, which organises online conferencing events, is planning to go a step further to bring employees together. Workers on the company’s European team claimed they’d benefit from some personal interaction. So, in late July, OpenExchange rented a 15-bedroom house in the English countryside. Employees were able to live and work together for a few weeks and re-charge their social batteries. This, of course, isn’t an option to available to every company.

Mark Loehr, CEO of OpenExchange, asserted the value of having people together in a room – seeing body language and reading signals that do not come through on a screen. ‘They did their work there -modestly, individually, sometimes in group rooms—but tried to meet for breakfast, lunch and meals,” he says. “And maybe out on the lawn, just to get to know each other.”

The virtue of spontaneous interaction

One benefit of working together in person, many executives have said, is the potential for spontaneous interactions. It seems that workers have conversations with peers that wouldn’t have happened in a remote set up – maybe discussions sparked by a passing question in the corridor, for instance.

Firms tied to long leases

Of course, many firms won’t be vacating their premises soon, even if they want to. Often, they’re tied to long leases, and the cost of abandoning these premises, with the potential cost of dilapidations will be punitive. They’ll be better off staying put until the lease has come to an end.

Blended hours

It appears that most companies envision a hybrid future, with more time spent working remotely than pre-pandemic, yet with opportunities to regularly convene teams. Some firms are looking at the option of instituting ‘core’ or ‘blended’ hours for its employees. The idea is that teams would agree to come together for a limited time on certain days of the week to bounce ideas off each other, collaborate and discuss strategy.

Stifled career development

There’s also the fear that the toll of extended work-from-home arrangements is likely to affect career development, particularly for younger workers. In many sectors, junior employees learn their skills and knowledge of processes by literally sitting beside more experienced colleagues and shadowing them – not an easy task when attempted remotely.

Onboarding issues

You also have the challenge of training employees who started work after the start of the pandemic and who have had to work remotely from the first day’s work. For them, onboarding has been much harder to achieve successfully. These employees miss out on casual day-to-day opportunities to ask more experienced workers for help or advice. They quickly feel disconnected – almost lost.

These issues will be more severe in some companies than others. It depends on the sector and on the business processes. What is needed is open minds and open ears. Those companies that listen to their employees and involve them in the decision-making process, will be those who are able to keep them onside.

Here at Gravitas HR, we’re well-versed in all issues relating to working practices, training and HR.  We’ll be delighted to advise on every aspect.

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