The Covid-19 pandemic has been tough for most businesses. But one silver lining is that it has accelerated positive trends that were already underway. Remote working is one such example. Not only has the rise in people working from home reduced travel and helped the environment; it has also boosted efficiencies by hastening the emergence of the truly digital office.
The concept of the digital office once seemed like a futuristic dream. But now scattered workforces, pushed apart by the pandemic, have been unified by cloud-based applications like instant messaging, video conferencing, and document sharing. These technologies existed before the pandemic, of course, but awareness has grown exponentially as businesses were forced to adapt or die.
But will the popularity of these applications (and remote working itself) survive the pandemic? With a vaccine thankfully being rolled out already, life may return to something approaching normal by the summer. But will our working lives ever return to the old normal? And would we even want them to?
The popularity of remote working
Academic studies have revealed that nine out of ten workers would like to keep working from home on a regular basis. And why not? Working remotely means fewer early starts and less morning trudges to the station in the rain. But do their bosses agree?
Early research suggests they do. A survey of almost 1,000 firms by the Institute of Directors has shown that almost three quarters (74%) intended to maintain home working in future years. Worryingly for commercial landlords, more than 50% planned on reducing their office space too.
At first this might seem counterintuitive. Why would businesses be happy to keep their people apart? The main reason is that remote working can save thousands of pounds per month in office expenses. This is invaluable at a time of economic uncertainty. What’s more, remote workers take fewer sick days and fewer holidays.
The economic argument
The bottom line for bosses is that remote working is incredibly efficient. The World Economic Forum, for example, has calculated that as much as one fifth of the workforce in advanced economies could work remotely 3–5 days per week without affecting productivity. What’s more, the UK is particularly suited to remote working because of its high proportion of jobs in business, insurance, and financial services.
The other advantage of remote working is that it makes organisations resilient. Leslie Willocks, a professor at LSE and a leading authority on technology at work has argued that “wise businesses will invest in remote flexible environments not just because of net productivity gains” but because, in light of the pandemic, remote working has “the capability to support us in the new crises” of the future.
The sustainable nature of remote working — leaving the car at home and transitioning to paperless offices are eco-friendly endeavours — also make it appealing to businesses. Research has showed that sustainable companies are more attractive to customers and recruit and retain staff more successfully. This is particularly true amongst millennials.
Working out the future
Although remote working isn’t a panacea, and some businesses will always desire communal office spaces where colleague can congregate and collaborate, it’s unlikely that businesses will retain a rigid ‘9 to 5’ office culture moving forward. Yes it’s good to bring teams together in person, to build relationships and to network, but once efficiencies have been established they’re hard to ignore.
Consequently, we believe that the future will see a hybrid of office and remote working. A McKinsey survey of 800 corporate executives found that nearly 40% expected their employees to work from home for one or two days per week post-Covid, whereas only one fifth expected them to work remotely for three days or more.
However, this ratio will depend on your particular business. If you have a skilled and computer literate team that’s more than capable of using cloud-based unified communications, then you could work from home exclusively. Indeed, hi-tech companies have already proved they can do this for an extended time period. For these enterprises, communal office spaces have therefore become a matter of choice rather than necessity.
How we can help
There’s no doubt that businesses have started working in incredibly innovative ways this year. They have embraced seamless, integrated, and virtual environments to create thoroughly flexible teams capable of collaborating anywhere. But none of this would be possible, of course, unless they had a reliable high-speed broadband connection capable of supporting cutting-edge apps.
This is where we will continue to help our clients. Our business broadband, hosted telephony, and SIP trunking are ideal for tomorrow’s businesses. And as our full fibre service becomes available to all, and technologies like automation and artificial intelligence become more prevalent, we can support your transition every step of the way.
Although 2020 has been a difficult year, we’re positive that the future looks very bright indeed. There will be more devices connected to the Internet, more productivity boosting applications, and even more opportunities to grow your business — whether you’re at home, in the office, or in your home office.