In March of this year, businesses across the globe were thrown into a new way of working. Many who had never even considered remote working before were forced into sending their staff, who were able to, home to work for the foreseeable, many pushing it through without a plan or strategy in place and therefore no metrics to measure its success.
Twitter was one of the first companies to go to a work from home model in the face of COVID-19 and one of the first global businesses to offer their staff choice when it comes returning to the office. In a press statement earlier this year, Twitter said: “If our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen. If not, our offices will be their warm and welcoming selves, with some additional precautions, when we feel it’s safe to return.”
This has prompted numerous debates about the longevity of a permanent remote working structure and the importance of choice for your staff. Like Twitter, shouldn’t employees be given a choice? And by removing your office entirely are you not removing that choice?
In the short term, working from home has provided many businesses across the globe a lifeline during the pandemic, it’s enabled the world to keep functioning whilst keeping people safe. Though can we really say it’s been a success? To say it’s been a success would mean certain metrics and strategies would need to have been put in place and for many businesses, particularly SMEs, and there just wasn’t the time.
When planning office requirements for the long term, many businesses have failed to consider all the factors at play. Yes, on paper, in the short term, it will save you money, but businesses need to consider the long term costs, not only in monetary terms, but also the long term detrimental impact on their teams functionality, creativity and most importantly culture.
As a serviced office provider, you could say that we are bias, but throughout this pandemic we’ve been at the heart of discussions with SMEs and business owners addressing their challenges and helping them plan their office requirements after Covid.
We have always supported working from home, however, as a supplement and as a choice if your business is configured to manage it.
The performance of your team is crucial and business leaders should consider a variety of factors and objectives when planning for the future, including providing a productive and functional environment in which to work, creating a brand and team culture, increasing collaboration, knowledge sharing and team growth and performance management and wellbeing. We delve deeper into these objectives in a later article.
Although many of the issues business leaders will face with long term remote working, in isolation, can be overcome with time and money, the long term cost will still only provide their team with the second best option which when combined, will be more expensive.
Here we explore some of the factors and practical things companies need to start considering. This list is by no means exhaustive but are what we consider to be the most important. We’d like to know from you as business leaders what other factors you’re considering. Share in comments below.
There is a reason why businesses have an office and those reasons shouldn’t be forgotten after we emerge from this pandemic. Both from a team and individual perspective the office places a vital role in the day to day running of a business.
In March everything changed, and we’ve seen across a variety of industries the short-term benefits working from home can have.
For many who commute long hours and struggle to maintain a good work life balance, working from home has had a huge impact on their day to day lives.
However, this flexibility comes at a cost. When you look further into the future, maintaining a permanent remote working culture could have a detrimental impact on your staff and your business.
The decisions businesses make now need to be carefully considered to make sure they do not undermine the performance of their team for a marginal cost-benefit, and risk destroying their company culture which will ultimately lead to unmanageable team churn.
Reduction in motivation
A report, published by UCL PhD Researcher, Dave Cooke, at the beginning of the pandemic, highlights the pros and cons to consider about remote working. His recent research looked at how people adapt to remote working, and he found that “after an initial honeymoon period, remote working quickly became too isolating for over 25% of his participants.” He quotes one participant as saying, “some aren’t naturally self-motivated, and no end of self-help books will change that.”
Keeping self-motivated in the long term can be a challenge, and an issue many businesses will encounter as we emerge from this pandemic. What seemed novel at first will quickly start to become more challenging for those members of staff struggling to keep themselves self-motivated.
Lack of creativity
Another issue for many industries is the long-term effect on creativity. Working from home, although at the time may seem more productive, can be incredibly limiting when it comes to creative thinking. Not being amongst your colleagues removes that sharing of ideas, which is difficult to achieve over Zoom. You can guarantee that the greatest inventions in the world weren’t produced over video call.
Perfectly summed up by pioneer Steve Jobs, who believed that employees’ best work came from accidentally bumping into other people, not sitting at home in front of a computer. “Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”
A cement echoed by PR and social media agency, Wolfstar, who have been working remotely for the last four months. Chairman, Tim Sinclair said: “Nothing can replace face to face discussions and debates. In our industry, we need to be creative, we need to think outside the box and it’s impossible to do that sat behind a computer screen. My team feed off one another other, we bounce around ideas, and openly discuss them. It’s impossible to do that over video.”
Loss of social interaction and risk of feeling isolated
What working from home doesn’t give you is that sense of community and nuance that you get from being in the office. For a lot of people, working from home as a longer-term solution will significantly impact their social interaction leading to a risk of feeling isolated. A recent survey conducted by OnePoll on home working revealed that 41% of workers in the UK said that lack of human interaction was one of the biggest concerns or challenges encountered regarding home working. 30% also said that losing motivation was a big concern.
Access training and development and the sharing of ideas
Staff training and development is a key area to be impacted with working from home permanently. Working from home requires staff to work more independently, therefore losing the ability to easily ask questions and develop their skills. How can your staff learn from senior members of the team if the only communication they have with them is over video? Much of your team training and development comes from the sharing of ideas and the sharing of knowledge which immediately gets taken away when you have no collaborative space in which to do that.
In some ways training can be likened to riding a bike. It doesn’t matter how many times people tell you over Zoom, you will never learn to ride it until someone holds your hand whilst doing it.
Research shows working from home is far worse for team cohesion and innovation than working in the office. Other research finds that face to face interaction is essential for identifying opportunities for collaboration, innovation and developing relationships and networks.
We’re a firm believer that to become the best place to work, communication and collaboration are key, and without the right environment in which to do that, your business as a whole will suffer.
It’s impractical and not cost effective to establish the same functionality as an office at home. And with all staff working from home, you’ll find that in the long term you’ll end up spending more time and money in getting them set up in the right working environment, with a good connection, than you would in an office. Your office space should be approximately 10% of your total wage bill and you may find you spend more than this getting everyone properly set up at home.
When you start to look at installing business broadband and phone lines at home, as well as creating a dedicated space to work, including the right set up, lighting etc. the costs start to increase.
Not everyone has the luxury of a dedicated workspace at home and maintaining a physical and emotional separation between home and work is vital for optimum performance. You can also guarantee that most homes are not connected as well as an office. Fiber connectivity provides hardier and faster connectivity, but in the UK, just 10% of all homes currently have fiber connections. This could result in considerable disruption occurring, especially for broadband intensive sectors, especially for those living in areas still predominantly served by copper-based networks. Not only are such networks slower, but they're also less robust and subject to greater dropout.
A survey conducted by US, design company Gensler, found that the vast majority of people want to return to the office, albeit with critical changes. Many want to have the choice, to continue to work from home at least some of the time.
Choice is what we have long sought to offer our teams and Covid should not be seen as the end to the office but the start of a world where leaders have the confidence, systems and mindset to offer the teams choice. The biggest barrier as we see it is not technology but trust. Technology has not moved on as much as trust has. This should be respected and not used to usher the masses in to solitary work settings where they can not be their best selves.