Some define what we’re going through as the biggest experience of remote working in history, but the truth is the notion isn’t new: it was conceived and normalised during the oil crisis in the 70s. Since then, due to a rapid evolution of technology, it’s become more and more common.
Big tech companies, that were generally already promoting some sort of flexible working before the pandemic, were the first to adopt new ways of working that will last past the pandemic. Twitter , for example, is allowing their employees to permanently work from home. Other smaller companies, such as Spotify or Shopify, followed the trend.
Google, Facebook and Microsoft, who’ve all definited provisional dates for the partial reopening of their offices this summer, will continue to allow their employees to work from home at least until the end of the year. And it isn’t just the tech giants that are making changes long-term: last month, the law firm Slater and Gordon announced they’ve made the decision of permanently closing their offices.
They are not alone: a study by the Hitachi Capital Invoice Finance found this could be a trend for small and medium companies in London and in the rest of the UK. When Boris Johnson asked office workers to go home, 52% of SME leaders had a positive outlook on remote working. In London, the number rose to 72%.
Currently, out of all SMEs working in London, about 50% has their employees working from home. However, over a third (34%) had to create a working from home policy to react to Covid-19.
The investment required to make this shift will certainly mean companies that embraced remote working during times of social distancing will realise this works whenever normalcy returns. To this, one can add the possibility of employees not wanting to return to office, now they’ve realised they can perform the same tasks at a distance.
If this becomes the norm, internal communication must be the number one priority for companies in this transition phase. It will be easier for employees to be isolated, so it is fundamental there is a strong internal communications team ensuring everyone received the right information, at the right time.
Without the luxury of time to prepare effective measures, a lot of organisations had to adapt with few resources, hoping normal office life would this. Because of this, employees face massive challenges, and many need additional support from their employees to be able to navigate these uncertain times.
Companies must acknowledge not everyone is in the same situation. In an office, working conditions are the same: employers need to make sure they buy the right chairs, that there’s enough light, etc.
At home, there is no way of enforcing those standards so it is impossible to ensure equal working conditions. How can we guarantee some people are not suffering because of this shift? There are many practical aspects that need to be taken into consideration in terms of equal opportunities, structure and communication.
There is no way this is a great opportunity to manage our time flexible, but we must acknowledge that working remotely from a high-rise flat is certainly not the same as working remotely for someone who lives in a home with a garden, and find ways to ensure the transition is fair and smooth for all.