Remote working has evolved from a fringe benefit offered only at the discretion of a superior, to a global requirement for all information workers in a few short months. As a result, 81% of workers now work from home, and 68% of those are doing so successfully. It seems as though spending the majority of our time in a monolithic building one hundred per cent of our working life will now become passé.
On the face of it, this all sounds marvellous, as there are a great many benefits to be gained from working remotely. The absence of a commute, greater flexibility on working patterns, and the decreased travel costs all combine to increase the overall happiness and productivity of workers.
However, there are challenges in bringing this new reality to light successfully. According to digital workplace experts, and employees themselves, the success of remote teams depends as much on overcoming technical challenges, as it does support for the development of new skills fit for a virtual, flexible talent pool.
The technical challenges that come with enabling millions of workers to remote systems would have been largely straightforward. Recent analysis has shown that between February and April 2020, the use of remote working tools has increased by 133% but overall, people are more productive, spending approximately 32% of our day on email and communication apps (37% in the office), and 67.8% of our time spent on core work (63.1% in the office).
Impressive numbers undoubtedly; they also underscore the potential productivity gains in a remote environment optimised for focus and wellbeing. Research from Forrester outlines that a strong impediment to successful remote working is technological distraction. While information and operations professionals have to remain competitive in providing employees with the latest collaboration and productivity tools, they also have the potential to cause “rampant workplace distraction”. The solution, for I&O teams, is to create a workplace that strikes a balance between connectivity and focus, so more time can be spent on high-value activities. Outlined by Forrester, the four elements required by employees for an effective remote working experience is an outstanding user experience, continuous experience monitoring, and working with business peers.
Creating a remote working experience largely free of distractions and overly fatiguing practices rely strongly on the interplay between technology and culture. Technology in this sense acts as an amplifier of cultural norms and expectations in the workplace. As the line between the workplace and the office becomes more blurred, both positive and negative behaviours become reinforced in the home.
However, putting in place strategies and tools for the successful management of the workplace and the employee are essential to the long term success of the company, and the individual.
The move to a remote working environment optimised to enhance employee digital wellbeing will involve regulation at the state, national and supranational levels, primarily to ensure that companies do not take advantage of the rights of employees. Examples of regulators in France, New York and Germany abound, with the creation of Right to Disconnect Bills prohibiting companies from mandating employees working unduly long hours, and to protect employees from unlawful tracking of their data.
While remote working technologies have grown in sophistication additional questions about the associated mental health of employees are now being considered seriously.
With the potential for spoken and unspoken precedents that employees should be always-on and always-connected, the potential for the unintended consequences of technology to impact the lives of employees, come to the fore.
The use of workplace technology to capture and utilise workforce data has great potential to enhance and humanize the remote working experience. According to Accenture, six in ten companies use workforce data to help unlock the potential of their employees. Workforce data equates to approximately $3.1 trillion in global value when related to elements like productivity, agility and innovation. However, collecting such data through wearables, workplace applications and other online activities have not been received well by employees, understandably.
The pivot to remote working may appear like an extraordinary opportunity to gain greater efficiencies and more granular insight into employee performance. However, in order for initiatives like this to be deployed successfully, enhancing the employee experience, through responsible innovation practices, is essential. Completed this way, businesses will experience long-term benefits in their relationships with their employees – from greater trust to increased productivity. If, however, this move is implemented poorly without consideration for the wellbeing of employees then, according to Accenture, companies can expect to lose approximately 6% of future revenue growth.