The office has been an institutionalised part of business for a long time in some industries.
The confines of an office building have been deemed as safer for data protection. And for data-sensitive industries like finance and medicine, this has always been a permanent barrier to transitioning to a more flexible workplace.
At the beginning of the year, many businesses were still rigidly set working 9-5 and had no plans to alter that.
But like any catastrophic change event, COVID-19 has given businesses the scope to reshape almost institutionalised industries. By force they’ve had to consider a remote workplace and implement necessary data protection measures.
It’s a huge change from the behaviour you’d see before the pandemic. Previously, I remember reading that more businesses were expected to deploy time recorders on employee’s desks. Essentially, it was a modern-day punch card.
But now, this way of thinking just isn’t valid. COVID-19 has swung the focus in the other direction. These office-heavy businesses have had to implement infrastructure that facilitates data protection in remote locations. For some of them, there’s no longer a reason why they can’t continue working from home in the future.
To prevent these businesses from falling back into old habits, there is measurable data that showcases the benefits of what they probably always assumed was a radical approach.
The benefits of remote working
A great example of the positives of remote working is less reliance on real estate. If employees are working from home, there’s less pressure to expand office locations. This reduces the cost of rent and energy consumption in office buildings, and employee fuel consumption on their daily commute. It’s not only cost-saving but environmentally friendly.
This approach can also prove beneficial to attracting and retaining the right people. How many times have you had a colleague come back from maternity leave and not be able to manage the rigidity of 9-5 alongside their newfound responsibilities? It often results in them leaving the position, and the business losing talent.
Being at home showed businesses that we do all have home lives and responsibilities that come with that. There’s no longer disdain at someone on a conference call who has a dog or baby sat on their lap. The classic meme of the BBC interview being interrupted by the child has become commonplace for many of us. And although some will be gasping to get back to the office, many will want to retain the newfound working fluidity.
The split in working ways
There will be businesses that retain some of the flexible practices they’ve developed over this year. But there will no doubt be businesses that will return to the old ways of working.
However, I think it’s likely that those who force a punch-card mentality will fail because it’s not outcome-focused. What’s the point of being at work and being visible, if you’re less productive than you were at home? And equally vice-versa.
Work environments should be flexible to achieve the best outcomes. Management teams need to lead by example to cement this fluidity. What parameters are they setting? Do they show they trust employees? Do they provide support? Acceptance of flexible working will be embedded in culture if it is demonstrated from the top.
Currently, businesses are at a crossroads. They have the opportunity to optimise and redesign their working environment for productivity. Businesses need to consider what they want to retain from our current way of working and use managers to encourage this.
If not, businesses face being quickly blocked off from the competition.