Remote working, short-term COVID-19 necessity or long-term choice?

With the latest government advice in repose to the COVID-19 virus being for all employees to work from home where possible, companies across the UK are exploring the possibilities of remote working. Remote working doesn’t need to be just a temporary measure – with recent advances in connectivity and collaboration tools, it might just be the time to consider remote working as a choice, not a necessity.

Working remotely has already become a popular choice for American workers, and its popularity is growing. An extensive analysis by FlexJobs and Global Analytics indicates the number of remote workers increased by 159% between 2005 and 2017. Around 4.7 million US workers currently work remotely, and over half the respondents to a recent workplace survey stated that having a choice of work location is a higher priority for them, than working for a prestigious company.

Remote working has, of course, become a much more practical option for most companies over the last decade or so. Technology now makes it easy for businesses to adapt and allow for remote working, especially in creative and knowledge-based industries. Online work, centralised software, and a wide range of video conferencing and virtual meeting solutions mean that being in the same location as colleagues and clients are, for many workers, an unnecessary inconvenience.

Many workers love the flexibility that comes with remote working, whether they choose to work from home or travel the world with their laptop bag, but it’s not just workers who are benefitting from the rise of remote work opportunities. Many companies are also embracing the remote work culture because there are several benefits to it and very few drawbacks. So, what are the benefits?

Expand your talent pool

If your company relies on work that can be done remotely, you can recruit across the entire country, or indeed across the world. This allows you to attract the top talent in your niche or industry, regardless of location. A side benefit of this is an increase in diversity, and possibly an international perspective. Whether you’re a regional company, hoping to attract big-city talent, or a London start-up wanting to avoid competing with other local companies for top talent in the area, remote working can be the solution.

Remote working can reduce your costs

A remote workforce reduces the amount of office space you need, and significantly cuts other overheads, from utility bills to office equipment. Many remote workers supply their own equipment, especially if they work as freelancers or contractors. Depending on your situation, you may also save on salaries, particularly if you employ workers based in locations where salary expectations are generally lower. Talented workers are often prepared to take a lower salary in return for cutting commuting and other work-related costs. In fact, the 2019 State of Remote Work report found that one in four US employees would be willing to take a 10% pay cut to work remotely.

Increased productivity and efficiency

It’s been estimated that the average office worker is fully productive for less than three hours of an eight-hour workday. This sounds extreme but won’t come as a shock to most office workers, who know how much of their day is taken up with distractions, interruptions, dealing with colleagues, unnecessary meetings, and office politics. Remote working, and indeed other kinds of flexible work arrangements, tend to increase productivity. According to the International Workplace Group, 85% of businesses confirm that productivity has increased in their business since increasing flexible work options, and over 60% of those surveyed reported an improvement in productivity of over 20% due to flexible working.

Decreased staff turnover

Keeping staff happy is the key to retaining them, and there is evidence that companies who offer remote work opportunities experience a lower staff turnover rate. According to the 2019 State of Remote Work Report, 55% of remote workers would look for another job if they were no longer allowed to work remotely, and 80% say that they are more likely to recommend working at their company if remote work is offered. In addition, over 90% of remote workers made the decision to work remotely based on acquiring a better work-life balance, meaning that stress and burnout are generally less likely among remote workers.

Remote working has challenges too

Despite the benefits, remote working is not without its drawbacks and challenges. Knowing what they are can help companies mitigate them and adopt practices that avoid them. Two of the most important drawbacks of a remote workforce involve communication and security.

Communication issues

Remote workers can experience a lack of communication from management and other colleagues. To be fair, however, this can be a problem in any large company, especially when projects require coordination across different departments. Centralised, cloud-based software solutions can be a huge help in these cases. They allow a project to be managed online, from one dashboard, that updates everyone involved, in real-time, whenever progress is made or obstacles are encountered. Other communication technology, from Microsoft Teams and Zoom, to Slack and Trello can be used to ensure that strong, two-way communication is maintained.

Security issues

Cybersecurity is an ongoing issue for most companies, and having a network of remote workers, potentially working from insecure mobile networks around the globe, can potentially put company data at risk. The 2018 Mobile Security Report found that more than half of CIOs in the US suspected their mobile workers had experienced security hacks in the last year, and a recent survey by Apricorn suggests that a third of organisations have experienced a data loss or breach as a result of mobile working.

When your workforce is remote, it becomes more important than ever to reduce points of vulnerability. Remote workers should be trained to ensure all connections are secure, that password safety is enforced and that general cybersecurity procedures are maintained at all times. Companies can cut the risk of hacking by using two-factor authentication when employees log in to company systems remotely. The introduction of multi-factor authentication (MFA) to the industry-standard Microsoft Office 365 has dramatically improved this.  It is also advisable to use cloud-based software that ensures that all data and documents are stored online, not on the individual devices of remote workers.

Is the future remote working?

It’s certainly looking that way. With close to 5 million Americans already working remotely, and trends showing that remote working is an increasingly important factor for workers across the US, it’s time for companies to catch up. The COVID-19 virus pandemic may be forcing companies into remote working but could it result in longer-term strategic change? Now is the perfect time to explore flexible work policies, make remote working a long-term option where possible, and start reaping the benefits.