The Benefits of Remote Working and NOT Returning to the Old Normal

No sooner had we all retreated to the safety of our own homes and remote working in March 2020 than the debate began about if, how, why, and when we would see a return to office environments. Would the pandemic change the way we work forever? Had we collectively been slow to embrace a change that was long overdue anyway? There were and are the ardent work from home advocates and the die-hard fans of returning to the office. So who’s right?

Are we really embracing a new normal?

Until July 2021, this debate was little more than speculation. Now we are faced with actually having to make decisions. For many, the roadmap for this new normal is not quite as clear cut as Twitter debates and newspaper inches made it out to be. The term ‘new normal’ has been thrown around but are we embracing the ‘new’? 
Pre-pandemic, many companies talked about remote and flexible working, patting themselves on the back for their modern approach to employment. However, we all know that (except for the odd few), that ‘flexible’ system was remarkably rigid. Many firms first experience with remote working was when they engaged us at gigCMO. They knew they didn’t need another manager. They were all pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to leverage their business performance by tapping into talent such as a chief marketing officer on a fractional basis.
When we think about a new way of working, we have to start from a different standpoint to what has gone before. This isn’t about transplanting an old way of working onto a Zoom call, and perhaps most importantly, it isn’t about having a one size fits all model.
This is about a multifaceted approach that has to answer questions around (but not limited to):
  • How can we improve employee wellbeing?

  • How can we improve company performance?

  • How can we improve customer experience?

  • What tools do we have at our disposal to make these things happen?

  • Can we make our processes more environmentally friendly?

  • How will these things encourage top talent to come to us?

  • Will this contribute to the long-term sustainability of the organisation?

Remote working and employer/employee relationships

Remote working also necessitates a different approach to employee/employer relationships. Historically, bosses wanted to see someone sitting at a desk for the hours they were being paid to feel they were getting value for money; today, we have such a catalogue of measuring output that seeing someone at a desk seems to be the least important. It also smacks of a profound lack of trust in a team, which begs the question - do you have the right people working for you and is your leadership approach effective?
What if, instead, this was a moment in time that could be used to think of the way we work as an opportunity to empower and inspire employees? After all, if the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that when the chips are down (and sometimes they will be), you want a team that’s with you for more than just the paycheque at the end of the month. You want to be surrounded by people passionate about the company they work for, which includes working practices that support them, their lifestyles, aspirations, and passions.

What are the benefits of remote working?

A lot of the conversation around remote working seems to hinge on efficiency, which is no small thing. The cost of permanent office space, permanent desk space, and the financial as well as the energy cost of travelling into and out of cities, both to the business and the individual. The ease with which you can have back-to-back meetings on Zoom instead of having to leave 45-minutes between each one to travel across the city from one meeting to the next dealing with the variables of traffic jams or train delays - these all add to the efficiency factor. That’s before you get into the opportunities for much easier international collaboration.
However, efficiency isn’t the only question around remote working. Our environmental responsibility is also part of the discussion; it’s our job not to simply recycle plastic bottles but not to create waste and unnecessary pollution in the first place. Could remote working be a key component in making your business part of the circular economy? 
Also, does remote working create more equal opportunities for working parents or those with carer responsibilities to relatives if they don’t have to leave the house so often or for as long? And given that Covid, and pandemics in general, are likely to be an increasing part of our lives going forward, do businesses have an ethical responsibility to reduce exposure to unnecessary risk through a long-term and strategic approach to remote working?

Business strategy and working from home 

This article is not to simply bang the drum for remote working. All of this also means redefining where and when it is relevant for teams to meet in person. We have heard the topic of training come up time and again, most notably in the form of osmotic learning rather than formal training. 
There’s also team building and mental health, as well as personal wants and needs. Some people work better in an office environment, some people don’t have the space to work from home (young children, flatmates), and some people are not in a financial position to create a space conducive to effective working at home. We have also heard many people talk about the value of serendipitous interactions and unscheduled conversations that can happen by simply being in the exact geographical location. All these things need to be considered.
What we’re getting at is that while all the talk about remote working hinges on a seemingly binary set of values so far, what the ‘new normal’ really needs to make it work properly is an enormous amount of self-reflection. It requires employers and employees to be extremely honest with themselves and one another about what they need rather than simply what they want. All of this needs to be brought into a strategic approach for business management with clearly defined objectives, rather than a reactionary approach based purely on today’s circumstances. In short, it’s time to make remote working part of business strategy.
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