Tea Lehman

Working from home: is it a long-term option?

For some time now, the concept of remote working has been seen as the future of the workforce, but is it producing results?

During the past two or three years in particular, social media platforms have been flooding newsfeeds with content about the endless benefits of remote working, including that telecommuting allows the employees to not only save on travel time but utilise this bonus time to be more productive.

However, while there are some advantages to remote working, the reality is that it isn’t producing the expected benefits. Some of the disadvantages include:

a. Isolation: Goodbye casual chats in the kitchen, social club events, weekly morning teas, daily divisional WIP sessions. And so long, ‘Friday night after-work drinks’ traditions. You are now your own community and yes, although you can dial in, it’s just not the same.

b. Disengaged: For many, the idea of not attending what can appear to be endless numbers of meetings is a bonus. However, it can be quite disengaging for some people, as many conversations and decisions are made and executed within this space.

c. Interactive mentoring: For those in leadership positions, remote working makes it difficult, and sometimes impossible, to give staff the time they need and expect. For instance, they can no longer turn to managers or mentors with a quick question or to confirm details about a case being worked on together. This takes us back to the disengagement point. The workplace environment, remote or otherwise, is about the team, and the impact on them and their working cycle, career development, colleague relationship building – the list is extensive.

d. Accountability: While we create endless ‘to-do’ lists, the allure of a quick coffee trip while working remotely could easily turn into a quick catch-up brunch — and goodbye to that report being delivered on time!

There are other considerations as well, from the expectations of Millennial workers, to the impact on the organisation’s culture, to IT security. This isn’t to say that remote working is on the way out. With more and more freelancers and “solopreneurs” working on a contractual consulting basis, the future of the workspace is definitely being reshaped.

However, it seems that remote working is not the way of the future for everyone.

At the other end of the scale, we have seen a growing trend towards shared desks and hot-desking. This approach is particularly popular with senior management, helping reduce costs and, they hope, improving efficiency.

A recent study of 400 multinational corporations found almost 70 per cent are planning to implement a shared-desk environment by 2020. However, research titled ‘Distractions and workplace angst: Are shared workspaces all they’re cracked up to be?’ by Morrison and Macky has also confirmed this outcome is far from popular. Employees like to have their own working hub, and the study showed that shared work environments such as hot-desking did not lead to better co-worker relationships, and many employees had to put in place “coping mechanisms” to deal with extra noise levels and less privacy. In addition, employees felt that there was less support and leadership available.

It’s worth noting that this does not refer to co-working and multipurpose spaces within an office environment, which can play a useful role in improving productivity and helping with internal networking. Such approaches can allow staff to be more flexible, engaging with divisions that require their expertise and support during a set time.

The study had a number of recommendations for workspaces of the future, including:

– Reconsidering ‘clear desk’ policies that prevent the personalisation of workspaces;

– Installing panels or shelves for privacy;

– Providing employees with noise-cancelling headphones; and

– Establishing alternative spaces such as “touchdown areas”, “bookable offices” and “break-out workspaces”.

We are therefore seeing a number of trends taking shape, including staff expecting a flexible workspace that will cater to all their needs; artificial intelligence influencing how core processes are managed and adding value to the business model and its strategies in order to remain competitive; start-ups driving creativity solutions and setting standards; and sustainability where the organisation is in a position to demonstrate its obligation and involvement, such as its commitment to social justice, employee health and diversity, business ethics and philanthropy.

These trends are, in part, triggered by demographic shifts. It is predicted that by 2025 our global workforce will be Millennial-driven, with an astounding estimate of 70 per cent of workers being born between 1980 and 2000. Such workers will never have known a workforce without internet or mobile phones, and social media will have dominated their lives. They will therefore have very different expectations of what is normal in the workspace.

It is for this reason that employers collectively need to pick up their game in order to cater to this generation’s expectations.

Essentially, this means working spaces that allow bonding, inclusiveness, collaborative teamwork and sense of community. Many of the benefits that organisations have traditionally offered are no longer seen as benefits. Instead, being part of a team, where they feel valued and appreciated, which is easily placed in a non-rigid workspace, will be important.

In addition, there is an expectation about technology which allows employees to always feel connected — to their work, to their colleagues and ultimately, their commitments. This is a generation that grew up with computers at home, “bring your own device” programs at school, and having access to a mobile whilst in class. Tools and resources are technology infused. Bringing this generation into a workspace which is poorly equipped or does not have a technology department to support working processes, will see them running to an employer that is not only tech savvy but understands the importance of these basic ‘modern tools’ of the trade.

For instance, a recent study by PwC found that, outside the collaborative teamwork, 41 per cent of employees say they prefer communicating electronically, rather than face-to-face or over the phone. This is based on quick turnaround and time frames. It is clear that this generation wants to deliver in the most efficient, resourceful way and via an instant route.

Although in recent times Millennials have been seen as the generation that is highly demanding, ping pong table driven and overall lazy, they are in fact highly committed, seeking a job with a clear purpose and involvement, and not afraid of change.

This growing new wave of flexible employment goes hand-in-hand with the flexible working space. The challenge is to create a workplace of the future which will not only attract top talent but retain the people already on board.

Téa Lehman, group recruitment manager, HLB Mann Judd

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