Employees have wanted the flexibility of working from home (WFH) for a while, but despite the growth in technologies that can support it, it hadn’t really materialised. However, no one could have anticipated that the real driver for change would come in the form of a pandemic, but the COVID-19 outbreak forced businesses to adapt and invest in remote working for their staff – some even called it the ‘world’s biggest work from home experiment’. The result has been a seismic shift in working practices. Post COVID-19 it looks increasingly likely employees will want to maintain the flexibility of WFH and may even question why they need to be in the office at all. Having trialled WFH during the lockdown, managers will also be supportive of staff requests for greater flexibility in the future. WFH is here to stay and businesses need to be ahead of the curve and adapt. This is a long-overdue opportunity to radically rethink the way we work and live, allowing for a better work-life balance, a less stressed workforce and less time wasted commuting.
But there are benefits for companies too in allowing flexibility and WFH options. It can lead to greater productivity, allow a reduction in office space and running costs (surveys show many employees would be willing to take a pay cut in exchange for the option to WFH at least some of the time), staff are happier and less stressed and this can lead to better staff retention.
Demand for WFH will grow and employers need to be ready for potential candidates to want to negotiate WFH options into their contracts. Companies are going to have to adapt in order to attract the best candidates. Those who have already invested in infrastructure to enable WFH during lockdown, may now prefer to see this as a long-term investment in the future and hence be more agreeable to continue WFH practices. In doing so they have a head start on adapting their work strategies – other companies will now need to follow suit and catch up.
“According to a study conducted by openaccess.org, a UK based online magazine, 77% of employees agreed to go the extra mile and responded to work more, in response to the fact that their employers “
“Harvard Business review reported that employees in the US when asked to work remotely agreed to choose 8% less pay and opt for ‘Work From Anywhere’ (WFA), as compared to working from the office.“
COVID-19 is accelerating the digitisation of the future and this is both an opportunity and a challenge to businesses. There are a number of issues that need to be considered for a successful transition to WFH. For example, are staff adequately trained to use the platforms independently, deal with minor technical issues, what company software do staff need to access, and data-protection issues. Also, as an employer, how do you assess that staff stay connected and complete work, without looking like ‘big brother’ is watching you!
Benefits of WFH /WFA
- Reduces unscheduled absences
- Increased staff retention
- Increases productivity
- Saves operational costs
- Reduces the need to over staff and offers scalability
- Improved job satisfaction
- Increased flexibility and better work-life balance
- Increased employee empowerment and collaboration
- Reduced time commuting to work
The Future of the office
In reality, WFH was always there – employees, employers, clients were all connected via Smartphones, 4G and Wifi – replying to emails and taking Skype/Zoom calls. The pandemic was the catalysts that shifted the percentage share of working from office vs WFH; now having tried it companies will want to review how well it worked for them and move in the direction of more flexibility in the workplace. The traditional 9 to 5, five days a week in the office is probably on the way out.
“During the pandemic Barclays had 70,000 staff working from home. A big city office “may be a thing of the past “
Offices will still be needed as a central hub for teams to meet and for important interactions, such as client meetings. Plus, businesses will always need a central place to house their main infrastructure; files, data and supplies/stock etc. So, office culture is not over yet, working in isolation is not for everyone and staff will need some office time to collaborate with colleagues and complete projects. But increased access to WFH might mean less people in at any given time allowing some companies to downsize their office space and reduce running costs.
The Future of Work
Digitization has transformed how we do business, but the pandemic was the catalyst that shifted our mindset to actually implement the flexibility it offered. Together they have highlighted that the work is more important than the actual place of work. It took a while for the flexibility digitalisation offered to filter through to businesses, but WFA is the new norm and is going to shape the future of business globally.
Being part of the digital world allows employers to tap into talent globally as workers are no longer location dependent. Companies now regard this as a major advantage in keeping costs down and accessing a larger resource pool. If a well-structured WFH system is developed the new norm could help everyone grow together – less stressed, more time for family and friends, and perhaps even more eco-friendly as we reduce travel and office costs.