Before COVID-19, the idea of working from home was alien to most businesses. Following the past year of remote working, we’ve all now experienced what working away from the office is like. While some employees are chomping at the bit to get back to normality, not everyone is in such a rush to return to the office. So, what does the future have in store for businesses and how should they support their workforce?
This time last year, without warning we were all ushered away from our offices and told to stay home. No matter the industry or sector, it was a bumpy transition for many companies.
While some have felt that their team and technology has helped them during this time, it’s safe to say that many industries have – and continue to – struggle away from a fixed location. On the other hand, there are businesses and employees that have been working this way and have made it work for years.
There’s a wide spectrum of sectors and workers that have thrived with remote working while others have been unable to shift to a remote operation. Retail, hospitality and local or small businesses have taken a hit with having to close physical stores and locations. In comparison, online services have continued to thrive and impact everyday life. These services include online shopping, entertainment and streaming services, e-learning, cyber security and chat and meeting platforms.
Industries that have also experienced a boom in 2020 – both on and offline – include personal protective equipment, antibacterial product companies and food and parcel deliveries. The general consensus is that people have turned to the world wide web during this time of crisis, and will probably continue to even when shops and offices are back to normal. It’s also no surprise that the top businesses that have grown and profited from the pandemic are leading tech and industry giants. Companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Facebook (to name a few) have profited significantly.
There’s no denying that remote working is here to stay. Many businesses plan to continue operating a remote workforce when the office reopens or to offer flexible working options for their employees. Overall, the modern-day workforce is most likely going to be hybrid – a mix of office and remote workers.
We’ve all experienced what lockdown and remote working is like. Many have enjoyed it, and many haven’t but one thing is clear – one size doesn’t fit all. Putting preferences aside, some businesses and workers need a fixed location or environment to do their work properly and effectively, for example, retail and hospitality workers. On the other hand, many people are more comfortable working and communicating from home.
Offering a hybrid or remote-first workforce not only benefits your employees but your business as a whole. Below are the positive and negatives of a remote-first hybrid workforce.
A remote-first policy is looked at favourably by many companies. Remote-first is an organisational strategy that offers remote working as the primary option for all employees. This flexibility offers employees more freedom and can also cut down on absences. Having freedom and flexibility generally makes employees feel happier and trusted by their organisation. In turn, this means they’re more engaged and motivated within their role and with their work. Overall, it’s been proven that employees that feel this way generally have higher employee satisfaction.
When you feel valued and satisfied within your job and the company you work for, you tend to work harder – whether that’s at home or in the office. In 2020, many employees have worked more efficiently and responded quicker than in an office environment. According to HubSpot, 77% of employees say they’re more productive when working from home and 76% avoid the office when they need to concentrate on a project. Having the option to stay home during a busy period or a time when they really need to focus can guarantee improved productivity, profitability and company growth.
Similar to absences, when employees are given freedom to make their own choices about where and how they work, they’re more likely to feel satisfied and less likely to leave. This massively benefits the business as many statistics and surveys have shown that employees are more likely to stay in the job longer and recommend the company to friends and family. For example, statistics from Small Biz Genius reports that companies allowing remote work have 25% lower employee turnover than those who don’t.
In a 2019 survey conducted in the US, 82% of remote workers said they felt burnt out and take less time off than they would if they were at the office. Mental health and burnout are a huge priority and now more than ever companies are offering help and assistance with this. Working away from the office can result in employees being burnt out and working longer hours that they would on-site. While this can be great for productivity and business growth, remote workers pushing themselves to their limits because they’re away from the office is reoccurring.
Putting burnout aside, remote employees could be at risk of feeling isolated and not part of the company in a hybrid model. This also stretches to less opportunities and the feeling that on-site colleagues are not treating them equally or including them. This is something that business owners, leaders and heads of departments need to focus on to make sure both office and remote workers receive the same experience regardless of location.
With a hybrid workforce, the office still remains open and accessible for employees. However, it can be argued that this is a waste of office space, resources and equipment. Many office buildings are being completely redesigned to adhere to social distancing rules and the ‘new normal’ following the pandemic. But is there a point if no staff are working in the office? Is it a waste of money to keep the office open if only a handful of people work in it? Office space and buildings need to be redesigned to accommodate distancing policies and maybe even shift the focus to primarily meeting rooms, events and collaboration spaces.
Whether you’re implementing permanent remote working or flexible options, you need to have the right technology in place. If businesses are going to make remote working a priority, they need to invest in tools and solutions for their employees and wider organisation. Even if you’re heading back to the office, having software and systems that work from anywhere is a huge benefit to work and business in general. It keeps workers connected and collaborating with the business and its processes.
So, what technology will facilitate work in a hybrid workforce? The first and most obvious is VoIP. Being able to make and receive calls over the internet is invaluable and helps colleagues contact each other, current customers and potential clients. With ISDN being phased out in 2025, it’s time to start thinking about making the move to the cloud and VoIP services massively help with this.
In terms of VoIP, we offer Wave and 3CX. Wave is an affordable hosted VoIP system designed for SMEs. It comes with its own softphone app that can be taken with you wherever you go. 3CX is for businesses that want a fully-featured phone system with customised setup. 3CX offers great functionality, flexibility and reliability across desktop, mobile and conventional handsets, perfect for a hybrid workspace.
3CX has a range of features that help facilitate remote working, collaboration and customer services. These features create a unified communications solution, something that’s essential for every business especially during lockdown and hybrid working. By combining communications channels like chat, calls and emails with external systems, like CRM allows your business to maintain productivity, stay connected to your organisation and provide a consistent experience for your customers and partners.
Unified communication systems have been the heroes of lockdown and in particular Microsoft Teams. At the end of October 2020, statistics showed that Teams was garnering 115 million daily active users to the platform. As one of the fastest growing products in the world, Teams offers true unified communications and collaboration capability. By converting Teams into a fully-fledge business phone system via Direct Routing, you’re combining your business’ internal and external communications into one tightly-knit system, with calling, chat, meetings, file sharing and more in one convenient place.
Finally, a piece of technology that people often forget about is broadband. You might have every platform and system imaginable but if your broadband is lagging or too slow, it can interrupt the flow of your work and ability to get things done. It’s vital to get a dedicated connection for your home and business broadband will keep you connected and communicating while away from the office.