The future has arrived – remote working is now the norm rather than the exception.
Historically a request to be raised with trepidation and often dismissed, working from home or telecommuting was, in recent years, slowly but surely becoming a more accepted aspect of the modern business world. Technology was improving. Attitudes towards work/life balance were changing. Managers with rusted-on views were retiring.
Then came a global pandemic and remote working was no longer a luxury for the lucky few but a necessity. According to the 2019 National Compensation Survey, only 7% of workers in the United States had access to a ‘flexible workplace’ benefit, which equated to about 9.8 million of the nation’s 140 million civilian workers. As COVID-19 took hold and ‘social distancing’ became the new buzzword of 2020, that number soared. Analytics company Gallup found 70% of U.S. workers were working remotely all or part of the time in April 2020 and while that number was always destined to fall, 56% continued to do so almost a year later. Crucially, that figure has remained steady, statistically similar to the 58% recorded in each of the prior four months.
With the pandemic meaning remote working was either required or encouraged, business owners, managers and employees were gifted a unique opportunity to discover the benefits that can flow on from flexible working arrangements. Judging by recent events, it is clear many liked what they found. The New York Times has reported that major corporations including Ford in Michigan and Target in Minnesota are giving up significant office space because of their changing workplace practices. Spotify, whose staff previously filled 16 floors of a towering office building in Lower Manhattan, has told employees they can now work anywhere, even in another state. Such scenarios would have been unfathomable prior to the events of 2020 but extraordinary times often deliver extraordinary change.
For companies still uncertain about exploring or embracing the benefits of remote working, take heed of the following statistics that emerged from a survey of 1,200 people who started working from home following the rise of COVID-19:
As for what they enjoy most about the concept? It will come as no surprise the lack of commuting topped the list (56%) followed by flexibility (37%) and time saved (32%). Such findings reinforce that remote working is set to become an employee expectation and businesses that fail to deliver such opportunities risk seeing talented staff abscond to more flexible organizations.
Various studies have also highlighted the positives that remote working can deliver for businesses themselves. Community platform Airtasker surveyed more than 1,000 full-time U.S. employees – half of whom worked remotely – and found the remote workers were more productive than those who toiled in an office. Key findings included:
A McKinsey consumer survey conducted a few months into the COVID-19 crisis revealed similar findings, with 41% of employees saying they were more productive working remotely than in an office.
Job satisfaction and retention rates can also increase due to remote working. The Airtasker survey found long commutes have caused one in four respondents to quit a job, while Owl Labs’ 2019 State of Remote Work Report revealed workers who operate remotely are 13% more likely to stay in their role for about five years compared to on-site workers. About 55% of remote workers also said they would look for another job if the option was taken away from them, an insight that carries even more weight today given how many people have had a COVID-inspired taste of the concept since the survey was conducted.
While remote working would undoubtedly appeal to many people, the reality is not all industries or occupations are suited to the concept. Some jobs require specialized machinery (factory workers), others must be done on location (medics) and mobility is the very essence of many roles (couriers). Additionally, some tasks are simply more effective when done in person.
With that in mind, consulting firm McKinsey & Co analyzed more than 2,000 activities in more than 800 occupations across nine countries to identify which activities and occupations have the greatest potential for remote work post-COVID. Using two unique metrics to calculate remote work potential (maximum potential including all activities that theoretically can be performed remotely; and effective potential excluding activities that have a clear benefit from being done in person), the top-ranked industries were:
Generally speaking, these industries share the commonality of employing ‘knowledge workers’ who do most of their work on computers. With technology making the world ever smaller, such workers are increasingly able to perform their duties regardless of their physical location. On a similar note, opportunities also exist for people working in customer service, marketing and administration.
As shown by the research highlighted earlier, many employees relish remote working, be it a few days each week or full-time. For those people still trying to convince their managers that it is not only a viable option but an increasingly strategic one, sharing the following benefits of remote working would likely help their cause.
Whether considering rolling out remote working or keen to enhance systems already in place, there are various ways businesses can better leverage the concept:
To make the most out of a remote working model, various resourcing strategies can be implemented to help businesses grow and thrive:
The rise of remote working has increasingly highlighted the potential for organizations to utilise outsourcing to employ specific staff or assemble teams to oversee entire functions or services. Roles that can be easily outsourced to countries such as the Philippines include:
While COVID-19 has changed the business landscape, getting the most out of one’s resources remains the key goal for most organizations. Remote working offers unbridled opportunities to do just that and the rise of working from home has led to productivity gains and costs savings in many cases.
To further explore how technology and remote working have helped businesses through the pandemic, download the free eBook Business efficiency: lessons from the pandemic.
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