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It’s time to start preparing your permanent remote working strategy

19 Oct 2020

When it comes to remote working, the genie has left the bottle and there is no going back. Time for employers to start granting the wishes of workers who want flexibility, writes Elaine Burke.

Dropbox and Microsoft are the latest major companies to reveal their long-term remote working strategies, following the likes of Twitter, Siemens, Fujitsu and Indeed.

These companies and many others are adopting a hybrid approach to work, blending remote and in-office hours with extensive flexibility. And it’s hard to imagine how other companies will be able to resist widespread adoption of the same considering how Covid-19 has impacted the way we work forever.

‘There’s pretty much uniform consensus now that the pandemic has permanently shifted the way we work’

Dropbox’s remote working strategy includes the establishment of Dropbox Studios in key global locations. These collaborative, communal spaces will allow remote-first teams to get together in person on occasion. The company has also designated core collaboration hours to ensure a flexible, distributed workforce can still work effectively across fractured timelines.

Fujitsu’s Work Life Shift strategy will see it halve its office footprint in Japan, with employees given access to hot desks instead of their own fixed stations. This side of hybrid working can mean significant savings for employers, but costs and support for remote employees must also be taken into account.

For example, Fujitsu changed its support for commuting expenses and now offers additional support for employees’ remote work environment. At Indeed, a work-from-home reimbursement gave employees up to $1,000 to create a “comfortable work-from-home environment”, and Twitter also gave employees allowances to buy home office supplies such as desks and chairs.

Employers adapting to hybrid work must also consider how to manage employee wellbeing with measures such as a right to disconnect. Then there’s the added challenge of cultivating company culture across a distributed workforce.

Employee demand

Now is the time for companies to tackle these challenges head on, or risk being left behind as the world of work becomes more flexible around them.

Stanford University economics professor Nicholas Bloom explained that “radical extremes” of full-time office work and full-time remote work are not the ideal for most people, and that recent hybrid moves from companies such as Microsoft are likely to become the norm.

“The Microsoft statement is completely in line with everything I’ve been hearing,” he told BBC News. “There’s pretty much uniform consensus now that the pandemic has permanently shifted the way we work.”

Closer to home, Prof Alma McCarthy from the J E Cairnes School of Business and Economics at NUI Galway said that the recent remote working experience under Covid has presented “a game-changer for how many organisations will manage their workforce into the future”.

McCarthy was speaking in response to the results of the latest National Remote Working Employee Survey conducted by NUI Galway and the Western Development Commission. Even in April, when some workers were struggling with a sudden shift to remote working coupled with school closures, the benefits of this approach were still clear to employees and 83pc of respondents said they would like to continue with remote work after the pandemic. As of this month, that figure has risen to 94pc.

The new normal

While polling and survey data consistently points to a majority in favour of hybrid work with increased support for remote working, employers may not yet be ready to face that reality.

Globally, the recent PwC CEO Pulse Survey found that just 15pc of CEOs ranked remote working as their highest-priority business model change. Among Irish CEOs, prioritisation of remote working was much higher, with almost a quarter (23pc) of company leaders saying they were committed to developing a more flexible and employee-oriented workforce. However, this is still a small fraction when you consider the considerable demand from employees.

“The survey also highlights that the shift to more flexible ways of working has many benefits, but not without practical implications for how companies approach benefits such as employee wellbeing supports and development,” said Ciara Fallon, director of people and organisation consulting at PwC Ireland.

“CEOs know that how they treat employees goes to the heart of what they represent and feeds their reputation. And we could see this emerge as a new distinctive platform for companies – building their brand and reputation on how they attend to employee safety and wellbeing – in a way that it may have been taken for granted before.”

Indeed, those companies implementing remote work strategies now have already realised that this is as much about recruitment and retention as it is about productivity.

“The new normal will also strengthen our ability to recruit and retain the best talent for Siemens and to increase diversity on our teams,” declared Siemens’ head of industrial relations and employment conditions, Jochen Wallisch, when the company’s New Normal Working Model was revealed over the summer.

Roland Busch, deputy CEO and labour director at Siemens, reinforced this idea. “With the new way of working, we’re motivating our employees while improving the company’s performance capabilities and sharpening Siemens’ profile as a flexible and attractive employer,” he said.

‘The new normal will also strengthen our ability to recruit and retain the best talent’

Even for companies that have allowed flexibility and work-from-home options pre-Covid, the shift to long-term remote working presents its unique challenges. But with so many well-established organisations publishing their strategies, the blueprints are now there for others to follow suit. Dropbox’s virtual-first toolkit is publicly available and includes guides on shifting mindsets, time management, wellbeing and effective communication.

The tech sector has long been the one for employers to imitate in a competitive recruitment landscape. But this is more than just adding the gloss of a modern office fit-out or a well-stocked canteen. Shifting to remote working as a permanent option represents a huge culture shift for employers everywhere, and even the most innovative brands will continue to face hurdles in its implementation.

But this is clearly a time of flux as we prepare for what the post-Covid world of work will look like. The flexibility of remote working might have been adopted faster by the tech contingent but its widespread adoption across many sectors is inevitable, especially in the post-pandemic working world. Because there is simply no going back from here.

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Elaine Burke
By Elaine Burke

Elaine Burke was editor of Silicon Republic until 2023, and is now the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. Elaine joined Silicon Republic in 2011 as a journalist covering gadgets, new media and tech jobs. She later served as managing editor before stepping up as editor in 2019. She comes from a background in publishing and is known for being particularly pernickety when it comes to spelling and grammar – earning her the nickname, Critical Red Pen.

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