Updated: Nov 23, 2020
The Dawn of the Stay-at-Home Professional
Under the strain of a pandemic and the reactive policies it brought forth, post-haste, some employers have been forced to swallow the bitter pill of a remote workforce reality. However, with the extended period of time, during which workers had been asked to “work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible”, what was a temporary fix to an emergency, might well be bedded in as a normal working practice, in some quarters.
So, has the medicine, which some employers have had to take in order to keep operating, in this time of crisis, had a sweeter than expected coating? A relevant study several weeks into the lockdown (Personnel Today, 17 April 2020) indicated that the UK was coping well with the suddenly imposed need to work from home. Interestingly, only 47% of workers predicted that their employers would cease general remote working, once the restrictions were lifted. It remains to be seen, now that the lockdown is essentially over, as to whether this forecast becomes a reality.
Modern Problem; Vintage Thinking
The eventuality of remote working was being predicted as far back as the 1970s, in Alvin Toffler’s ‘Future Shock’ (Random House). Nearly 20 years later, as the Internet was beginning to gather pace, renowned Business Thinker, Peter Drucker, in the April 1989 edition of the Wall Street Journal, indicated an imminent step-change, writing that “commuting to office work is obsolete”. Advances in and the availability of the necessary technology was removing almost every constraint associated with secure business communications decades ago and this has only improved in strides, over time.
Yet, the preferred option of business managers has been to ensure that roughly 80% of the UK's 10 Million office workers fulfil their duties onsite. Why this remains the case, can perhaps be put down to three key factors:
Traditionally, the chief concern about homeworkers has been their productivity level. However, statistical research conducted in this area, not only disputes the notion of adverse productivity figures, but actually shows the reverse of this perception. Improvements and increases in the volume and quality of a home-based workforce might be put down to intangible facets, such as the time and energy saved by not having to commute; there being less interruptions than might be usually encountered in the office environment; a generally more relaxed disposition, due to the familiarity and comfort of one’s own home. Moreover, it has been found that employees tend to use less of their holiday entitlement in more flexible working environments.
Another reason why companies are for maintaining an office-based staff, is that many businesses are simply not geared up to mobilise a fully remote workforce. And, truth be known, why would they, when for so long in the past, enterprise architectures have been centralised, with resources focussed on Campus LAN topologies? Yes, despite the availability of technology to support diversely located employees, it is not until relatively recently that the tech has been affordable.
Whilst Cloud Computing adoption rates are much higher today than they were in the early part of the last decade (and, even now, with a strong link to legacy/hybrid), there is still some way to go. However, tactical solutions are an option, many of which should be available, in even a partial employment of Cloud Services / SaaS, and are relatively easy to implement, until longer-term strategic programmes can deliver.
Management by Method; Not Mood
This leads us to the matter of the change required in process, to facilitate successful results from staff working remotely. Perhaps it is as much an issue of a developmental nature, with an adjustment of mindset required, as it is the mere deployment of new procedures. However, such transformation seems to engender more resistance from the management than it does the staff.
Where this scenario exists - and one cannot begin to calculate the depth of such concerns - the fear of change relates to a perceived loss of control. Associated with this, is the sense of exposure from having to introduce new methods of communication; perhaps in a more tightly timetabled manner, using structured forums, with pre-determined expectations, outputs and reporting.
With a staff in local attendance, there is a stronger sense of having resources at hand, which becomes a familiar comfort to those setting and overseeing activities. This is especially the case for those team leads and supervisors, who have a tendency to manage ‘on-the-hop’; assigning activities ad hoc, as the day’s challenges arise and the reactive light bulbs begin to flash. Thus, in some cases, there will be less pressure on the need to plan; less structure in communications and more impromptu meetings and actions.
The requirement from a remote management style is a relatively radical departure from that of same-site supervision. The concept of a team becomes decidedly more real, despite it being physically dispersed. If previously, for example, there had been a leaning towards paying more attention to certain team members than others, one should get ready for each and every remote team member to be sitting in a front row seat, from now on.
Managing remote teams means that the emphasis on regular, structured and shared communications becomes much more significant. The ability to set clear and measurable goals is essential, along with the ability to track and share workload progress across the team. Meetings should be frequent and video conferencing an option, where possible, but the same medium should be used for more casual and fun interactions, which can break-up the sense of isolation.
Getting Advice & Assistance
With the productivity issue having now been revealed as largely a non-issue and the required technology being more obtainable (with a little help, guidance and investment) than any time before, it is perhaps the practical aspects associated with this new way of working, which present the sour-coating on a pill or three. These are the capsules for the modern managers of the ‘20s to bite into and wash down, in the face of what is likely to be a drastic cultural shift in the workplace, over the next several years.
UKCZ is a Veritate company, with packages available to help Micro/SME businesses assess and build a roadmap for transforming organisations from a commute-to-static to a mobile-remote working model. All enquiries can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.