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Settling the debate: Is remote working here to stay?

As we learn to live with the coronavirus, the jury is still out as to whether we should return to the office. From mixed emotions to confusing regulations, we are here to discuss it all, iron some things out, and maybe even settle the debate on whether remote working is here to stay.

Long live the office

On one side of the argument, the office is an institution we have all become accustomed to and it will long continue. Even a blip as monumental as a pandemic is not about to shut it down.

Working at the company office isn’t about supervision or control. Businesses have been forced into trusting employees to work from home through the course of the pandemic, and in most cases, staff have proven themselves reliable and trustworthy. Rather, the return to office life is about reuniting teams, and reinstating all the things workers have missed.

An office is a hub. It offers a social life, and an unrivalled sense of comradery. It is optimal for collaboration, keeps people and projects on track far more seamlessly, and even gives employees a sense of purpose and fulfillment that working from home cannot rival. The office is a working environment that inspires, enables, and facilitates productivity. Free from the distractions of home life - and all with a more reliable internet connection!

In terms of COVID-19 precautions, we have all become accustomed to boosted hygiene practices, social distancing and regular handwashing. All practices that can be put into place simply in an office environment. Workplaces have established guidelines for safe working, and it is in their best interests to look after their employees.

As we go forward into a future where we live with this pandemic, and any others which may follow, we must learn to adapt and react. This is something top firms such as Google are shooting to achieve, as they reopen their offices. Google is getting more people back to the office by implementing a staggered approach. They understand that the instant switch to remote working came as a culture shock to employees, so are tentatively rolling out a staged program for returning to the office.

Whilst we may feel apprehensive about the return to the office, many are tired of working from home, the cabin-fever that accompanies it, and having to overcome the challenges of spinning the plates – work, kids, housework, virtual meetings, pets, life admin, distractions, etc. Even those who established a work / life divide are finding that as time rolls on their boundaries are becoming more and more blurred. As a result, workers are suffering from burnout and a host of mental health issues at the hands of remote working.

Remote working is the new normal

The flipside of the debate is that remote working is something that so many of us have embraced over the last year, and we’re not about to give it up without a fight!

Working from home has been on the agenda of many professionals - millennials in particular - long before the pandemic reared its ugly head. Companies have had their hand forced to trust employees to work from home, and workers have proven that goals can still be met, and even exceeded, when working remotely.

A recent article on Bloomberg highlights that employees are quitting instead of giving up working from home! Whilst an improved work-life balance is a factor, the desire to continue to work remotely goes beyond preference. From health concerns to the logistics of childcare, returning to the office presents insurmountable challenges and unnecessary stresses for employees.

A return to office working is going to have a huge impact on parents, shaking up their lives all over again. In the first months of the pandemic, 65 percent of mothers who had been furloughed said lack of childcare was the reason. One way or another many parents have prevailed, but childcare situations remain erratic at the hands of the pandemic, and remote working offers a means and a flexibility to overcome any obstacles.

In terms of health concerns, COVID-19 is still very much active. Every commute presents the risk of infection, as does contact with other people in the workplace. For vulnerable people, this is an unnecessary risk, one that could easily be avoided by allowing staff to work from home. For others, hesitancy to return to the office comes from anxieties and/or mental health issues. Numerous reports of mental health issues have hit the headlines over the past eighteen months, and there is no denying that employees’ mental wellbeing is something all businesses must address before making decisions regarding the futures of their workers.

From a business point of view, there are a number of reasons why remote working is favourable for the long term. For one, organisations benefit from a broader talent pool. With remote employees, companies are no longer restricted by the geographic location of their workers. For those happy to master working across different time zones, a worldwide pool of talent opens up! What’s more, not having a large, fixed office will save businesses thousands in rent and associated costs each year.

Finally, many would argue that remote working is the new normal. Logistically, technology, protocols and procedures have been put in place, and hurdles have been overcome. We have accepted remote working and it is now an established habit in our lives.

And the winner is…

It is apparent that as we move forward companies must do what is right by their organisation and the people within it. If the pandemic has offered any lesson for us all, it is that we must continually adapt, react, and adjust our practices in order to stay ahead of the game.

Finding the right solution for your workforce may require out-of-the-box thinking. To refer back to the aforementioned example of Google’s approach, perhaps we could all take a leaf out of their book in terms of innovation. Their approach of transitioning employees back to the office three days a week, voluntarily at first, and taking individual circumstances for remote working into account is one we can all learn from.

Companies may find that they transition to a mixed workforce of remote and in-house workers. This in itself will bring about new challenges, and so innovation and strong leadership will be paramount. A good leader is not necessarily one who gets it right every time, but is one who actively listens, communicates change, and inspires a team who are able to ride out changes.

In the debate of office working vs. remote working there is no defined winner or one size fits all resolution. The real winners are those companies who can adapt smoothly and act with their employees’ best interest at heart.