Remote working has become an increasingly common phenomenon in recent years. In the EU, for example, the proportion of employees occasionally working from home increased from 5% in 2009 to 9% in 2019.
This trend was sent into overdrive in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic created social distancing restrictions that made it impossible for large groups of people to gather in indoor environments. As a result, governments in many countries around the world advised that people who were able to work from home should do so.
The remote working revolution
Research suggests the large-scale transition to remote working triggered by COVID-19 will be an enduring shift. PwC's CEO Panel Survey, conducted in June and July 2020, showed that 78% of business bosses thought remote collaboration was 'here to stay', and 61% said the same about low-density workplaces.
PwC also published the US Remote Work Survey in January 2021, which showed that many executives were convinced about the productivity gains that can be gained through remote working. However, the research also suggested that relatively few corporate leaders were on board with the idea of 'giving up the office' entirely.
When respondents were asked how many days employees should spend in the workplace to maintain a strong culture, the most common answers were:
- Three days per week (29%)
- Five days per week (21%)
- Four days per week (18%)
- Two days per week (15%)
These findings suggest most businesses would favor a mixed model that allows employees to combine remote and on-site working.
This is a strategy that could also appeal to workers. According to the December 2020 edition of the Randstad Workmonitor study, 35% of employees would be happy with a hybrid work schedule that divided their time between the office and home.
While approaches will depend on the unique needs of the organization and its staff, it's clear that remote operations will be a key part of how many firms function in the coming years.
It's important to consider what this could mean for you, particularly in terms of how you manage and support your workforce to ensure your employees stay engaged and productive while working from home.
The time and attendance question
If you were forced to make the transition to remote operations in 2020, you might still have some reservations about the whole idea. One of your chief concerns could be how you can effectively monitor working times, attendance and productivity when you're physically separated from your workforce.
Here are some of the key factors to bear in mind when considering this issue:
Trust is an essential element of healthy employer/employee relationships. If your staff have repeatedly shown their commitment to the organization and the ability to deliver good results without being micromanaged, you can repay them by trusting them to work under their own steam, even if they're at home.
As noted by Tracy Brower, author of The Secrets to Happiness at Work, in a Forbes article, if you genuinely trust your team, it shouldn't matter where they work. If you don't trust them, you might need to ask if they should be working for you at all.
Managing working times
It's undeniably important to show trust in your workforce, but it's also understandable for managers to expect a certain level of insight and visibility when it comes to employees' working times and schedules.
Engage with staff to come up with a clear plan regarding their working hours. You could give your employees the freedom to set their own hours, but you might also want to agree on 'core' working times when you know people will be contactable or able to participate in vital meetings or activities.
Cloud-based time and attendance systems can be useful to track working hours, which is beneficial for the business but also ensures flexible or contract-based staff are properly compensated for their time.
Beware of overworking
People not doing enough work might be one of the most common management concerns associated with remote working, but you also need to be wary of the opposite problem: employees putting in too many hours and burning themselves out.
One of the potential downsides of doing your job from home is a blurring of the boundaries between work and your personal life. If staff in your organization fall into this trap, they could end up working too much and potentially putting their health at risk.
Advise team members on steps they can take to separate their jobs from their free time, such as creating a dedicated space in their home where they can focus on work and sticking to a consistent daily routine.
This will show your commitment to looking after your employees, which will lead to positive outcomes for the business including improved morale and a stronger employer brand.