The concept of remote working isn’t new. However, the COVID-19 pandemic expedited a seismic shift to remote working for many organizations and individuals. Multinational companies previously operating traditional office-centric approaches had to swiftly change their ways of working to continue operating during extenuating circumstances.
The world’s working styles and patterns are ever-changing, as are views about remote work. How will the concept of work continue to evolve due to people’s shift in mind-set following the pandemic? While some corporations have actioned a phased return or adopted a hybrid approach, many organizations and individuals have decided to continue adopting the remote working model.
The remote working skeptics
As the global economic outlook turns gloomy, remote working skeptics claim the “trend” could now be in reversal. However, with many people saying they’d take a pay cut in order to continue remote working and with surveys confirming flexibility is one of people’s key requirements for job satisfaction, a complete return to the corporate office for many looks highly unlikely. Companies’ attempts to lure workers back to the office have largely failed. Employers have touted incentives including free meals and barista coffee, the latest exercise classes and dog-friendly days… all - largely to little avail.
In January 2022, a Cabinet Office Minister called for UK Government departments to accelerate the return to office-based working to “boost collaboration”. However, the demand caused outrage amongst civil servants with many claiming “work is no longer a place” (according to the Daily Telegraph). Since the directive, many leaders working across government departments backed motions to continue flexible working.
"Work is no longer a place."
Workers at the American telecoms firm AT&T, claimed that they were being forced to return to the office early and even launched a Change.org petition to make the company’s pandemic-related remote working policies permanent. Apple employees also started a petition declaring that the company’s return to the office policy (for at least three days per week) affected staff wellbeing.
In summer 2022, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan caused further controversy when claiming that a return to the workplace would help to improve diversity. However, Meta Platforms (owner of Facebook and Instagram) has a different viewpoint. Maxine Williams, Meta’s Chief Diversity Officer, highlighted that candidates who accepted job offers for remote positions were “substantially more likely” to come from diverse communities. Sandra Altiné, Meta’s VP of workforce diversity and inclusion, added “embracing remote work has allowed Meta to become a more diverse company”.
Many people have become accustomed to working remotely and have greatly enjoyed the significant benefits that this can bring. When confronted with demands to return to a physical office location, many people are now actively seeking new employment opportunities elsewhere.
Remote working - facts and figures
- The global proportion of remote workers has grown by 140% since 2005 according to research by Global Workplace Analytics
- According to a 2022 study by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 84% of UK workers who worked from home during the pandemic said they planned to continue to do so for at least part of the week
- Pre-pandemic, about 10% of the U.S. workforce worked fully remotely. SHRM findings stated, “by the end of 2024, we believe that the number of fully remote workers will go to about 20%”.
What are the key benefits offered by remote working?
- Improved work-life balance
- Considerable cost-savings (especially in office space)
- Increased productivity (less time spent commuting and fewer interruptions)
- Higher levels of job satisfaction and morale
- Support for a company's “green” targets (less commuting means reduced CO2 emissions )
- More geographic diversity (provides new perspectives and market insights)
- Significant reduction in overhead
- Access to a greater and more diverse talent pool
Meetings expert and international consultant Corbin Ball helps clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity levels. Corbin shares his thoughts about the future of remote work following the pandemic:
“Web conferencing and virtual meeting technologies have advanced far more in the past three years than they have in the previous decade. The innovations and best practices learned, plus the proliferation of many low-cost online collaboration tools forever changed how people work and communicate."
Types of remote working
1. Hybrid working arrangements
The hybrid working model sees employees work partly in their physical workplace and partly remotely (either from home or from another location - often of their choosing).
John Lewis and Prudential are just two of the major organizations that have chosen to continue operating their hybrid models (which were adopted at the start of the pandemic).
- Some people feel the remote vs office approach provides them with the “best of both worlds”
- The chance to frequently meet face-to-face with colleagues
- Cost saving implications - reduced commuting and subsistence costs on remote working days.
- Workplace technology needs to function effectively across all settings. Issues can occur when people in the office communicate with those working remotely using below-par IT equipment or poor internet connections
- Difficulty keeping up with colleagues’ schedules - who is in the office and when can be a complex task to remain sighted on (shared online calendars can be an essential asset here)
A spokesman for Hargreaves Lansdown, the investment platform recently referenced their hybrid-working model stating:
“Giving individuals and teams flexibility is important to our colleagues and we’ve seen through the pandemic that we can operate very successfully as a business in this way.”
2. Dispersed teams
Dispersed teams have become a huge focus for companies wanting to access a greater talent pool and attract both a skilled and, often diverse workforce. Securing remote talent at competitive rates was especially beneficial to organizations during the pandemic when many employees were forced to work remotely.
- Gaining new market insight and fresh perspective from colleagues in different geographical locations
- Working hours - people may have to work non-standardized hours at time to accommodate the needs of their colleagues
- With teams working drastically different hours, communication efforts can get lost in translation. When time zones prohibit virtual meetings, email is less concise than in-person or phone conversations where teams can fully explain certain issues
3. Digital nomads
Digital nomads are remote workers who travel to different (often global) locations on a regular basis often for long periods of time. Often armed simply with just their laptop, smartphone and WiFi access, these entrepreneurial types work from locations including coffee shops, libraries, hotels and co-working spaces.
Job flexibility has also accelerated people’s desires to blend the boundaries between work and travel and often in some highly-sought after and exotic locations.
People have even been using home swaps as a means to trial the digital nomadic lifestyle. Home swaps allow people to attain the kind of globe trotting lifestyle they dream of - albeit at a significantly reduced cost.
- Experiencing new cultures and landscapes often leads to increased productivity and enhanced creative thinking
- Provides people with a global outlook
- Expense - post-pandemic, prices for hotels and flights have skyrocketed
- Uncertainty - a destination might appeal on paper, but “living the dream” might not materialize for everyone.
The pandemic proved the catalyst for many individuals to make the leap from full-time employment to consulting. Many consultants operate on a remote basis, with just key business and client meetings taking place in physical spaces.
For example, take the rise of law “consultancy” firms in the UK. Many innovative law firms are now appearing in the “Lawyer’s” prestigious “Top 200 Law Firm” lists. In recent years, this forward-thinking approach was often dismissed by many traditional legal practices. However, these consultancy firms are actually challenging many of the large traditional firms - both for market share and talent acquisition.
Setfords is a UK-based law consultancy firm that attracts talented and experienced solicitors with the lure of remote working and improved work/life balance.
“As a consultant solicitor with Setfords, you could rebalance your life, with fulfilling work, appreciative clients, and time to enjoy the rewards you earn."
- Higher earning potential
- The opportunity to broaden your experience by taking on new projects of your choosing
- Greater choice of companies to work for
- Consulting can be a high pressure working environment - projects often come with strict deadlines and consulting can involve long hours.
In 2021, major accountancy firm Deloitte told its consultants that they could decide “when, where and how they work”. The company currently has no plans to renege on this offer.
5. Virtual companies
A virtual office gives businesses a physical address and office-related services without the overhead of a long lease and administrative staff. With a virtual office, employees can work from anywhere, but still have access to a mailing address, call answering services, meeting rooms, and videoconferencing when needed.
- Work “from anywhere" culture
- There’s no commute
- Employees are often given the freedom to manage themselves.
- Lack of face-to-face interaction
- Loneliness can negatively impact performance
6. Gig workers
In recent years, many freelancers have thrived in the “gig economy”, especially since the pandemic accelerated the need for readily available workers. No standardized definition of what constitutes being a “gig worker” exists. However, the general consensus is that gig workers are members of the labor force with contingent or alternate work arrangements. The gig economy is sometimes referred to as the “flex economy”.
PWC is an example of a company that supports this type of work. PWC’s “Talent Exchange” is an online platform that links freelancers with PwC projects.
- Work-life balance - people can manage their own schedules and priorities on their own terms
- Independent contractors can work from any location
- Gig workers can work for companies in different countries and with colleagues from different cultures
- People that rely on gigwork as their main source of income must now compete with added competition (from previously full-time employees who have been forced into gig work as a result of lay-offs)
Freelancers are self-employed and hired to work for different companies on particular assignments or on an "as needed” basis. Freelancers also aren't committed to a single client - they have the freedom to choose the projects they'd like to work on and the clients they'd like to work for.
- Better work / life balance
- Flexible work schedules
- Greater autonomy
- Economic uncertainty from inconsistent work flow and cash
- Juggling multiple clients
- Lack of benefits (including paid leave and a company pension)
UP pioneered the e-ployment® model, and remote workers and digital nomads alike are embracing it.
- Employment was the first way.
- Self-employment was the second.
- Now, there's a third way. We all call it “e-ployment”.
- The model provides members with the support of employment, albeit on their own terms
- The freedom of being an individual worker rather than an employee
- Easy-to-access cloud-based tools and shared processes are readily available
- A bespoke app designed to foster camaraderie and aid creativity
- No regular paycheck (Members are accountable for generating their own work)
- As Julian highlights in the video, “it’s not for everyone”, some people “need” a boss
Julian often used to spend three hours a day commuting to work and the tireless traffic led him to thinking “there has to be another way”...
“It's not employment. It's not freelancing. It's something else.”
There will always be a proportion of employers demanding an office presence — take Goldman Sachs for example. The bank’s Chief Executive reportedly described working from home as an “aberration we are going to correct as quickly as possible.” There will also be people that need a standardized routine and those that enjoy the hybrid approach. However, if recession fears prove correct, companies cannot expect to rely on presentee-ism alone – productivity and employee engagement will be key.
A huge proportion of the global workforce has now experienced remote working and have adapted both physically and mentally as a result. People have become accustomed to their new ways of working and greatly enjoyed the positive impacts that this had on their lives.
“The COVID-19 lockdown forced many people to work remotely. In doing so, many realized that they liked the flexibility and did not miss the hassle of commuting. Employers also often saw increases in productivity and job satisfaction. Other workers found new jobs working remotely. These changes will likely be permanent, with a substantially larger segment of the workforce using these options for more efficient and effective ways to work.”
- Corbin Ball, Meetings Expert and International Speaker
Remote working is undoubtedly here to stay, and the options for doing so are only set to increase.
For more inspiration about the benefits of living and working in the cloud, read a FREE chapter of e-ployment® by UP's cofounder Julian Stubbs.
Please contact UP with any questions about the benefits of e-ployment®.