Will Remote Work Become the New Normal?
We are living in a strange world at the minute. In many countries parks and green spaces are getting a much-needed break from human traffic, while a select few sit atop a massive hoard of toilet paper. But while the physical world is on hold for the meantime, the digital world is busier than ever before.
With remote working platforms seeing a huge spike in demand (and less productive tools reducing bandwidth as well), this period will serve as a reckoning for remote work in general, and may help to spur on digital transformation out of sheer necessity.
As introverts settle into a month of bliss, and extroverts begin to climb the walls, keeping occupied at home is crucial to helping everyone get through this time of uncertainty. Working from home is already a reality for a lot of people, and many employers even before COVID-19 already offered some kind of flexibility around working in an office or from anywhere in the world. However, new research from Tyto PR suggests that remote working measures are nowhere near up to scratch. In the UK specifically, less than one fifth (18%) of the workforce had the flexibility to work from home before the outbreak of COVID-19, and only 41% of UK office workers are confident that their employer has the technology infrastructure in place to enable them to work productively and securely from home in the current circumstances.
While the technology involved is a crucial (if imperfect) medium for remote working, the biggest challenge is that there was no preparation for this drastic shift to a digital way of working. Despite digital transformation being such a prominent buzzword of late, just over one quarter (27%) of office workers in Tyto’s survey of UK office workers had been fully briefed on their company’s home working plan, despite over half (52%) having expressed a preference for working at home before the new isolation rules were enforced.
Waiting until full quarantine sets in isn’t the best time to figure out how digital transformation can work in practice, however this might yet be the tectonic shift needed for digital transformation to really take hold. As Brendon Craigie, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Tyto, puts it: “Ultimately, this scenario might act as a catalyst for employers to allow more flexible working in future, given they’ll have adapted their capabilities to enable this now.”
As we are all discovering, remote work comes with its problems and its perks - abject self-discipline is not easy, but working with all necessary creature comforts is a major positive. Remote work has an advantage over office work though, as traditional problems with communication, collaboration between departments, and even cultural differences seem to be less relevant. When everyone has to put in extra effort to work together, problems associated with hierarchy, communication or even toxic work culture have little to cling to. With enforced isolation now very much in effect, the fixed, stubborn mindset that often accompanies office work can be replaced by a flexible, digital way of working that values individual wellbeing as highly as collective productivity.
As Craigie points out, “employers with engaged workforces shouldn’t have any concerns about empowering their teams to work from home full-time during the coronavirus outbreak.” Furthermore, companies that did not have strong employee engagement might find that the digital transformation brought about by enforced remote working actually improves their working practices, and that the virus does not impact work as much as expected.
In fact, there is no reason the COVID-19 outbreak should not be a strong catalyst for change in the working world. Tips from Feed.fm co-founders Jeff Yasuda and Lauren Pufpaf, such as to “prioritize and scrutinize to-do lists,” to “keep meetings as short as possible”, and to “block off windows that you are ‘on duty’” to set a proper work-life distinction are good tips for working life in general. A good company culture should have all of these provisions for employee wellbeing in place already, and treat employees with the respect they need to work comfortably.
Digital transformation is about a lot more than just remote working, however, and the current need to get familiar with working digitally gives employees the opportunity to focus on streamlining the business as well. Working in isolation, and with a set of powerful tools, people may find there is more opportunity to finally focus on those tasks that have been waiting in the background. By eliminating endless meetings and disproportionately time-intensive tasks, people will inevitably start working on projects that improve their working lives and getting rid of (or even automating) the most repetitive and vital tasks. This in itself is a guerrilla-style digital transformation, brought about simply by employees using digital tools to improve working practices.
COVID-19 might not have very many positive effects, but as we are already in this midst of one of the most disruptive events in our generation, we might as well find the silver lining of being isolated at home. Adopting a healthy and effective remote working strategy, and committing to digital transformation by doing so, companies might actually find their employees more engaged, less stressed out by work, and more communicative than ever.
Digital transformation should progress off the back of a global pandemic. Most importantly, this could be the wake up call that many businesses need to change their working practices, and treat their employees with the respect and independence that remote working demands.
Author: Charles Towers-Clark