Maura O’Hea of Next Generation is smiling into the camera against a dark background, wearing a bright blue shirt.
Maura O’Hea. Image: Next Generation

Is remote working a unique selling point any more?

13 Jul 2020

Can you stay competitive in a hiring market where remote working is a given? Maura O’Hea, managing director at Next Generation, shares her thoughts.

Companies across the globe have been pushed to bring in remote working policies over the past few months, with some already rolling out plans for staff to work from home indefinitely.

But what does this mean for the businesses that were banking on offering remote working as benefit, giving them a competitive edge in the hiring market? I spoke to Maura O’Hea, managing director at recruitment firm Next Generation, to find out more.

‘Having the possibility to work remotely will become a required benefit, just as annual leave is expected’

Has the Covid-19 pandemic pushed remote working to become more mainstream?

We need to be clear that Covid-19 has disrupted remote working as much as it has nearly every other aspect of life. We’re not talking about the same thing when we talk about remote working before Covid-19 and what remote working will be like after the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.

The scramble to get teams set up to work remotely and the ensuing circumstances people have had to take onboard, from dealing with lockdown to loved ones losing jobs or getting ill, is different to a pre-virus scenario where companies may have had work-from-home policies to allow for personal emergencies.

For a lot of companies, remote working was a concept that appeared nice on paper. On the other hand, the reality had many managers shaking in their boots. The lockdown demonstrated that remote working was not only possible, but also that it works.

I say this with the caveat that during the pandemic, workers are working at home in circumstances that are less than optimal compared to working from home in regular times.

I would make a bet, though, that remote working is here to stay, in one shape or another. Companies and leadership teams now have the undeniable truth that getting work done, and done well, doesn’t require 100pc of staff to be on site 100pc of the time.

Will companies that were previously offering remote working as a benefit now suffer because it has become commonplace?

I wouldn’t say they will suffer, but I will say that one of the factors that helped them differentiate their business is now gone.

We’re seeing lockdown restrictions slowly lift, but we know that companies who can run their businesses with employees working from home are being urged to continue this way for a good while to come.

The world of work has changed. Rather than the exception, having the possibility to work remotely will become the norm. As it is, if you look at the various surveys that HR people are running on LinkedIn, you will see that most people want to continue working remotely, at least part of the time.

Having the possibility to work remotely will become a required benefit, just as annual leave is expected. Companies that do not offer that flexibility will be the ones who will be suffering when it comes to attracting new employees.

What are some important steps companies should take to make remote working a permanent benefit?

There are two immediate steps employers can take to navigate remote working. Firstly, communicate clearly on what remote working means for your organisation.

We’re all working at home, and many individuals are also homeschooling and caring for at-risk relatives at home. Does your organisation have an expectation that everyone is available by 10am in the morning? That’s fine, but make sure you communicate how you, as an employer, are being flexible to take into account people’s circumstances, and also what the business needs are.

Clarity around your remote work policy will help both you and your staff. Even if your organisation has offered a remote working policy for years, the circumstances we’re in now are different. Make sure your employees know where the boundaries are.

Secondly, focus on your employer brand. It’s your brand that is going to become your differentiator as you seek to hire top talent to guide your organisation through the recovery. Your employer brand really rests on your reputation and the values potential employees see you as having. While every company right now might offer remote work practices, not every company will be perceived the same in the eyes of jobseekers.

What tools or resources do you recommend for this?

Identifying the tools and resources you need to ensure your team can work remotely in the most productive and healthy way possible is the easy part.

A quick list of resources would include: Mind Tools, LinkedIn Learning, BusinessBalls, FranklinCovey and Officevibe. Collaboration tools include Microsoft Teams, Google G Suite, Slack, Trello and Asana.

The more challenging side of things is to prioritise planning and open communication within your entire organisation. I suggest the following actions to help you do this:

  • Review each role and understand its core responsibilities to know where collaboration and management input or team feedback is needed
  • Create a communication strategy that sets clear expectations and deliverables that your whole team agrees to
  • Give and request real-time feedback
What would your one key piece of advice be to companies facing more widespread remote work across the market?

Prepare and plan for it. The more you have researched what will work and what could cause headaches, the more confidence you will instil in your teams.

Also, make sure you explain the ‘why’. Once people understand the reason why you are changing things – their role, communication, agendas, expectations etc – they can get onboard and become advocates.

Finally, don’t forget to provide social moments. We will always be social creatures, so have regular lunch breaks with your team, Friday evening quizzes or random water-cooler moments.

I think that the pandemic and subsequent lockdown has given us the occasion to experiment with how we work and live for the better. Employers who perhaps were tempted, but nervous, about the idea of remote working have now lived it.  Hopefully, they can now testify to its benefits and introduce it more permanently into their organisations.

This will give them more opportunity to recruit people with the right skills and culture fit, rather than hiring sometimes with a bias based on proximity to the workplace.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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