Remote working has been one of the few positive stories to emerge from 2020, the year of Covid. Devjbs looks at what happened – and what it could all signify for the future of work itself.
Think back to the distant days of 2019. What did remote working mean to most employees and to most businesses? As a working style, it was certainly an exception to the rule. Sometimes companies offered it as an employee benefit, or to help individuals with special personal circumstances. But the advantages of remote working were always considered to be on the side of the employee rather than the business – and it was generally seen as something to be carefully managed.
Welcome to the new normal
Who would have predicted just one year later how dramatically, and also how successfully, organizations of all shapes and sizes would adapt? Who would have foreseen that physical offices and HQs could so seamlessly and painlessly be replaced by collaboration platforms and virtually connected teams? And, as the world shifted to the new normal of remote working, who would have guessed that so many of our assumptions about work and business would be so completely turned on their head?
In a way, of course, the real story at play is a technological one. Without networks that could absorb the huge changes in internet traffic, businesses would have been unable to run their operations effectively. Perhaps the greatest stroke of luck was that most organizations already had the digital collaboration tools to make the transition to remote working relatively frictionless. For many employees, Microsoft Teams was just an unused icon on their desktop – until suddenly it was the platform that made their entire working day possible!
What it could mean for tech talent
For tech specialists in Eastern Europe – and indeed for Western businesses who need their skills – the long-term implications of the remote working revolution could be game-changing. After all, if employees no longer need to be in the same building, why do they even need to be in the same country? World-class businesses in London and New York that previously viewed remote working as a potential security risk have shifted their attitudes and adapted their infrastructure to make it part of their business-as-usual.
Nobody knows for sure what the long-term implications of remote working going mainstream will be. But we’ve gazed into the future and come up with our top predictions:
The office will become a social networking space
It’s been the place of work for as long as anyone can remember. But will the office stay that way in the years to come?
Many companies will be questioning the wisdom of spending huge sums on prime real estate that has suddenly lost its core purpose – especially if, as recent McKinsey research suggests, 80% of employees enjoyed working from home during the pandemic.
The big question for business leaders (and indeed the property industry) is whether a new core purpose can be found for the organization’s physical space. Will it become a sales and new business showcase? Or maybe a dedicated space for collaboration, networking and socializing?
On-the-job training will need to be rethought
It’s counterintuitive perhaps, but the digital natives of the younger generation may be far less happy with remote working than their older colleagues.
Research by Boston Consulting Group in Australia revealed 47% of employees aged 51-60 were ‘enthusiastic’ about returning to the office – but this rose to 66% among the 18-30 age group.
This is partly explained by the fact that older people are more likely to have property with enough room to create comfortable office space. But it also reflects the importance of learning on the job by working alongside more experienced colleagues.
Productivity will remain a hot topic of debate
Has remote working made employees more productive in their jobs? Anecdotally, many people say yes, they can focus better on their tasks without the distractions of the office. Yet a July 2020 report by enterprise software company Aternity discovered the opposite might be true.
Since moving out of enforced remote working, France has seen productivity increase by 113%, Italy by 100% and the Netherlands by 52%. This, according to the report’s authors, is because employees were no longer focusing on non-work activities like childcare and were also able to receive better tech support while working in the office.
Talent markets will become truly global
As with many aspects of the remote working revolution, tech companies give an interesting indication of where other businesses are likely to be in the years to come.
GitLab has been operating 100% remote for some time. Their ‘head of remote’ Darren Murph wrote to the Financial Times in February 2020 explaining how the rise of remote working could bring huge benefits, not just to individuals but to the world as a whole.
“Remote work has opened up a global talent pool for us and new opportunities for dedicated people who may not be in a position to move to advance their career. We believe remote work can reverse rural depopulation, make communities less transitory and spread opportunities to underserved areas.”