The Present and Future of Remote Working

Persona escribiendo en el ordenador mientras teltrabaja.

During the past months, remote working has been a blessing and a benefit for many and a punishment or an imposition for others.

Before we continue, I would like to state that, while we will take this opportunity to develop some concepts and definitions around remote working, it will be a much harder task to talk about its advantages and disadvantages.

Why is this? Because, whilst the concept was coined and put into practice at the dawn of the millenium (especially with the spread of technological infrastructure and the connectivity improvements of the last decade), the pandemic acted as a catalyst to give it prominence at a massive scale and, on many occasions, in a compulsory manner, in a context in which (almost) no one was prepared or was mature enough to interiorise, face and hold up this situation — not the people neither companies.

Before COVID —that is, before March 2020—, approximately 5% of Spanish workers worked remotely in an organised and official manner. But we must also bear in mind that there are different penetration levels in the different industries; one only has to think of the difference between the tech sector with the banking, retail, agricultural and many other sectors.

With that in mind and adding each personal context —both in the professional and the personal level as well as family and location—, we can understand how remote working has affected each and every one of us in a different way. That which has been a benefit for some, for others has been nothing but problems, setbacks and an annoyance.

It’s not for Everyone

Before delving into its current situation, I think it’s important to know that this modality is not for:

  • Every industry or professional: This is because, due to its inherent qualities, there are tasks that require full attendance.
  • Every company since they do not all have the same structure, technology or culture to be able to carry out typical remote working initiatives.
  • Everyone. Plainly and simply, we’re not all professionally, technologically or personally (family space and time) prepared to embrace the possibility of working remotely.

The Pandemic’s Impact in our daily work

As we’ve mentioned before, the impact that the pandemic has had is undeniable. So much so, that talking about remote working has become a common topic in every conversation as well as a very important topic for the heads of departments such as ICT and Human Capital (HR).

After we’ve experienced lockdowns/isolation and seen how everything came to a standstill, the emergence of remote working gave us a feeling of hope, of wanting to keep each other close by, or simply starting to build a “new normality” as soon as possible.

In order to take some distance from feelings and personal bias, we would like to bring some numbers to the table —numbers that emerge from surveys and studies— and analyse some key points.

But, let’s bear in mind that the majority of these impact studies on the “new” organisational methodology lack the capacity for historical revision that other processes have, since these analyses don’t have more than one or two years of research and follow up, and today’s context is very different.

If we think about the frontline economies, approximately 25% of workers could or used to work remotely (at least once a week). This number tripled during the pandemic. In Spain, we went from around one million people with the capacity to work remotely in 2019, to more than three million in 2020.

Before COVID, in the Central America and Southamerica, more than 50% of the companies didn’t have remote workers and hadn’t even considered the possibility. Since the pandemic, 95% of them have come to have at least 1 out of 4 employees working remotely.

Principal benefits of working from home

When we asked —placing special emphasis on those who were not used to it— these were the most relevant benefits that people brought up:

  • The possibility to bring flexibility to the personal/professional schedule.
  • Working from anywhere you choose.
  • Little or no commute
  • Having more time to spend with the family.

If we want to take a look at the empty half of the glass, it’s true that there are problems that can really complicate the workflow, team coordination and, mostly, emotional stability and employee commitment for those who work hard within this format.

In studies that started being carried out in cycles, from 2020 to the present, we can appreciate how some feelings towards remote working have evolved, whether due to maturity and acceptance, or due to annoyance and built up tiredness.

If we compare 2021 to the first months after the pandemic, we can appreciate an improvement regarding:

  • The incapacity to shut off or disconnect. Better time management regarding the company and personal time and a better management of the workers’ schedule.
  • Home distractions.
    • This modality has been integrated in many households, even as a benefit.
  • Procrastination.
    • Better organisation and coordination of tasks and projects with more flexible and agile technology, tools or methodologies.
  • Lack of motivation.
    • A lot of teamwork, some face-to-face meetings, the arrival of hybrid work.

On the other hand, there is still a long way to go regarding the approach to some situations that have intensified, such as the following:

  • Team and project coordination with different time zones. Asynchronous work.
  • Collaboration and/or communication difficulties, task repetition, reports, cyclical meetings.
  • Solitude or lack of participation with the team, lack of commitment or not identifying with the corporate culture.
Nicolás Bezek durante el rodaje de Historias que comienzan en EAE.

Nicolás Bezek

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Human intelligence as the best technology

We can’t continue without making some remarks on one of the most characteristic features of remote working: online meetings — maybe one of the most important strongholds to keep up the “everyday nature” and trying to have the most possible coordination among people and/or projects. However, carrying them out, in all their variations and quantities, can be quite the challenge. From the answers we got from the survey, we quickly came across the most common problems:

  • Technical or connection problems.
  • Too many meetings.
  • Distractions from the surroundings or the family.
  • Annoying noises, both internal and external.
  • Difficulty to give your opinion or participate in multitudinal meetings.
  • Arriving late, schedule mistakes, superpositions.
  • Sharing screens, files or emails during the meetings.

All of us who are part of a project or activity that can be carried out remotely (whether partly or completely) have a series of challenges, at least, that we need to think about:

For companies:

  • New ways and strategies to hire.
  • A culture that’s focused on the collaborator and ways to boost both the remote contexts as well as the office.
  • Breaking with old paradigms based only on professional studies or academic journeys in which attendance control is the main axis for productivity.
  • Re-defining channels, methods and clear contact hours.

For employees:

  • Constantly internalising new knowledge and skills.
  • Being open to re-inventing themselves, embracing new roles, using new technology and embracing new work distribution and organisational methodologies.
  • Reconfiguring relationships, spaces, teams and work groups.
  • Time management, both for individual and group work.

Hybrid work: the real challenge

One of the most powerful answers that came up on how to face this situation in the short term was that of hybrid work: a flexible approach, establishing some days a week or month in the office, coordinating meetings and team work.

This is believed to be the best way to take the best of both worlds and to try and reduce to the minimum the impact caused by the lack of human contact; ultimately, we’re still people, programmed to coexist and relate to one another.

It’s also a way to develop autonomy and personal organisation based on goals, without forgetting to make every single member of the team feel part of the company.

Both for companies and for those workers who seek to delve into these types of contracts, the hybrid model presents them with the possibility to think about:

  • Increasing access with reserves of talent, contacts, suppliers, etc.
  • Reducing personnel rotation and adjusting quickly.
  • Generating economic benefits:
    • Reducing the cost and time of commuting. The workers manage themselves.
    • Renting office space: reorganising and renting only what will be used.
    • Internet, energy and equipment spending; although there will be a need to invest in software.
  • Growth atomiser or business development all together.

What about you? Have you had to work remotely all of a sudden? How was that process for you? Have you developed new skills? Do you think you’re currently prepared to face this situation?

Have you had to work from home suddenly? How did you live that process? Have you developed new skills? Do you feel you are currently prepared?

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