ne of the major topics throughout this period of global lockdown has been working from home, and whether or not it will become the “new normal”.
People who might have spent all their lives working in an office are now adapting to doing so remotely, and some are starting to prefer it. Tech companies have been reaping the benefits of having everyone online, as it is predicted that many of those who have begun working at home may try to stay based at home after the lockdown ends.
With the combination of schools closing, and other care responsibilities added on to personal schedules, some staff will be very happy to be able to stay home during these difficult times. This shift toward remote working could precipitate more changes in what we see as the“traditional” working week.
This situation seems to have shown us how many jobs could easily be done from home with the help of technology, with some of the tech giants considering what would be a massive move to a more consistent remote working model. Twitter announced that their staff would be encouraged to work from home indefinitely given how successful productivity has been for them during this lockdown. Similarly, Google has advised that their offices will be closed for the rest of this year, effectively mandating remote work for the coming months. It seems more than likely that other larger companies will follow suit.
The amount of tech in the workplace has gone up massively in the last few years with Slack, Zoom and G Suite having all made their entry to great effect. The levels of connectivity that we currently might just take for granted are actually quite new to the scene and will only improve with the growth of other tools and co-working spaces.
The personal aspect of remote working cannot be underestimated, as staff appreciate being able to work around care responsibilities and spending more time with their families. It seems unlikely that those with excessive commutes or family responsibilities will be willing to return to the routine now that they know that working remotely can be justas effective. It might just be in the interests of managers to look towards remote working and co-working in the future. With office space being as expensive as it is, especially in the centre of major cities, the cost-effective route may well lie in allowing staff to work from home if they so wish.
For the near future at the very least, it will very much be in the interest of managers to make remote working as accessible as possible for health reasons. However, in the longer term if organisations wish to save on office costs or allow more flexibility in the workplace it may be a route that many explore.
An idea that is being explored at the moment by some organisations, particularly in the Civil Service, is that of partial days being remote working, and the introduction of hot-desking in the office. This arrangement allows those who need to work from home at certain times to fulfil their personal responsibilities, but also keeps the traditional office space alive for whenever it is needed.
The major risk for firms that utilise remote working is that of data security, particularly large tech firms that work heavily with consumer data. It has unfortunately been the case that others have tried to take advantage of the new security weaknesses to steal customer data.
Security will have to improve if this is to continue and grow, that much is clear, and there is much work to be done if organisations that deal with extremely sensitive data can make the same step towards remote data management.
We have seen in the past that when large tech companies put their mind to something, it tends to get done, so if there is a will to improve security in order to allow remote working for more staff, there will be a way.
For the time being, however, it seems as though the option of going fully remote will be limited to organisations that do not deal heavily with sensitive data. With the shift towards online banking, it seems only a matter of time before banking institutions and building societies reduce their offices and branches to be replaced by wholly online and remote services.
The step towards working from home is also an important cultural one, as the routine of a working week and a commute may slowly be on the way out. Staff who might have commuted for an hour each way have realised that they no longer need to spend those two hours on the tube, and they could easily be spending it with their children and families at home.
The working culture, both in this country and overseas also, could be due for a major change, and it might just be technology that causes the switch. With the Coronavirus posing such a large risk to not only the health of staff, but their loved ones too, staff will adamantly against any steps to return to the office too early. Additionally, upper management will of course be loath to reopen offices if there remains any danger to health.
This is not to say that we envision a world without offices, as some organisations absolutely need to have that central base.Equally, not every industry permits the same level of flexibility when it comes to working remotely, as client and business meetings can’t quite be done in the house.
It will be interesting to see how the ‘new normal’ unravels and becomes part of our lives once restrictions are eased. The lifestyle and habits formed during this time have changed people, their mindsets and their priorities, and it will certainly be interesting to see how much of the traditional ways of working people actually run back to.