Get used to remote working – it may be the new norm

Provider costs and tool subscriptions cost less than office rent and real estate.
6 April 2020

Stewart Butterfield, co-founder and chief executive officer of Slack, stands outside the NYSE. Source: AFP

Owed to an extraordinary turn of events, the majority of the white-collar workforce is currently working from home. But could this be a taste of the not-so-distant future of work?

According to a survey 1,000 workers from the UK, Germany, Frace, Italy and Australia by enterprise software firm Citrix, up to two-thirds (65 percent) believe that remote working will be commonplace after business returns to normal – especially with the current situation showing just how quickly many businesses can adapt to such an arrangement.

While remote working has been launched into the fore in recent weeks, it has steadily grown over the years as a viable option for many businesses looking to tap into a wider talent pool and save costs on office rent.

For job seekers, especially among a younger generation, the flexibility can be a key selling point. Whereas prior generations have chosen or been encouraged to seek a ‘work-life balance’, the new generation believe “work should accommodate play and play should be incorporated in work,” according to Gartner, including the ability to work remotely.

A report by Zapier, meanwhile, said that organizations that continue to go against the tide could face problems with retention; 74 percent of knowledge workers in the US were willing to quit their jobs to take a similar job that would allow them to work remotely – about a quarter (26 percent) had already done so.  

Now, roughly 2-6 weeks into various national lockdowns (depending where you’re based in Europe and North America), organizations are realizing the suite of solutions at their fingertips – Zoom, Teams, Slack, Trello or any number of IM, collaboration, productivity or teleconferencing tools – are enabling them to run a tight ship, despite individual employees not sharing the same roof or coffee machine.

Even though the shift is new for many, and such a disruption would be expected to hamper productivity in itself, the benefits of remote working may actually lead to the opposite. A study by Harvard Business Review of US Patent and Trade Office workers revealed a 4.4 percent increase in output and productivity after a transition to remote working.

Translated into monetary value, that rise in productivity represented an annual value of US$1.3 billion added to the US economy. In addition, a Stanford study that monitored 16,000 Ctrip employees working from home found improved employee satisfaction, while attrition rates were cut by half. 

Darren Fields, Vice President UK & Ireland, Citrix said the home office could become an “integral part” of work culture, with widespread adoption in future rather than the company or industry-specific approaches to remote working that have defined the working arrangement to date. 

That said, some industries will be more predisposed to the move than others. It wouldn’t be a viable overnight change for highly-regulated activities in certain finance roles, such as those in trading rooms, for example, where even mobile devices are kept in locked drawers. Major banks such as Citigroup, JPMorgan, and Morgan Stanley recently relocated salespeople and traders to backup facilities so they could continue to access sophisticated and secure systems. 

“You don’t want your trader trading Microsoft shares from his living room – you just can’t do it,” Jim Toes, Chief Executive Officer of the Security Traders Association said“The systems involved that are available to traders on the floor versus their home, there’s a gap to that. You can’t have them making uninformed decisions.”

Perhaps the most glaring issue in relation to remote working that we’ve seen in recent weeks is that of cybersecurity, as entire workforces transition to using their own private networks and frequently their own devices – although there are plenty of endpoint security solutions and approaches available to businesses that are ready to take the leap.

On the other hand, one of the least discussed issues is the impact of employee isolation. While some workers may appreciate the option to work 2 out of 5 days from the ‘home office’, if grinding a full week within their own four walls some may well miss the little interactions that can lift their spirits or give them the odd smile throughout the day. Perhaps, then, it’s flexible working that will be key.