It’s win-win all-round for businesses which embrace working from home in the 21st century.
Remote working is becoming increasingly common in the UK, and the signs are it’s not a fad. The UK had 4.5 million remote workers in 2018, up from 3.6 million ten years before. The change is steady, measured – the hallmarks of lasting evolution rather than short-term craze. As businesses see the practice paying dividends in other sectors, or among their partners and competitors, they realise the potential benefits of remote working outweigh the risks.
The UK has gone through turbulent economic times over the past decade – austerity dealt direct blows to the retail sector, with knock-on effects to logistics and manufacturing. The higher cost of living, coupled with higher unemployment rates, gave rise to aggressive competition around the price of goods, allowing big players to undercut and undermine small businesses. The 2016 referendum introduced uncertainty and predictive paralysis as the UK ground its way to the Brexit precipice with no post-withdrawal plan on key topics such as labour laws, customs agreements and sector-specific regulations. The conditions demanded innovation.
Those companies who thrived in the conditions were the startups and small businesses who could operate with agility and who incurred low overheads. Digital businesses were born and grown in spare bedrooms, cafes and coworking spaces. They took advantage of improvements in internet bandwidth and free communications and collaboration tools, bootstrapping their way through development to launch products that were consistent with the way consumers merge their digital and physical experiences.
That’s why the trend of evolving business practices is far from a domestic movement. As the evolution of technological capability changes the way we live outside of work, it shapes our expectations of how we operate inside of work. In Europe, 9.6% of people worked remotely in 2017, compared to 7.7% in 2008. In the US, 5.2% of workers (8 million people) worked from home in 2017, compared to 3.3% in 2000. The younger generation grew into adulthood with near constant access to technology and tools that create connection, facilitate expression and enable creative collaboration in their educational and social lives; they expect a consistent experience in the workplace.
The capability of technology and the expectations of employees are together changing working practices. When people can connect, create and collaborate effortlessly from anywhere in their personal lives, the demand for them to do so from a specified location for work then seems petty and anachronistic. The demand for remote working comes from employees seeking a better work/life balance and greater control of their lives – not as a radical overhaul of workplace philosophy, but simply as a continuation of their experience outside of work. Employees who have lived through this period of change have embraced it and are now willing to challenge the status quo in the workplace.
The evolution of workplace roles is also dictating change. Sales, marketing, writing and tech-related jobs naturally lend themselves to remote working. Technology enables many workers to work from anywhere, and the practical benefits such as cost savings, mobility, greater productivity and efficiency make resistance to the shift seem counterintuitive. It’s worth quickly taking a close look at just three of the benefits our clients report back to us.
Sources put the average London commute at anywhere from 54 to 74 minutes; UK workers on average spend 221 hours a year going to and from work. Hours that could be much better spent. While today’s working conditions are greatly improved from those of previous centuries, the requirement to occupy space at a desk between the hours of nine and five (or six, in some cases) is short-sighted at best. Trusted and empowered employees are more motivated and focussed and perform more efficiently.
The obvious example in this case is office space. Commercial space in metropolitan areas can be cripplingly expensive, and businesses looking to reduce costs should be looking at the major expenses instead of the office snacks budget. Besides real estate is the cost of on-premises hardware, which is expensive to maintain and upgrade. Cloud capability makes the investment obsolete, but many businesses cling to the old model and lose money in the process.
Access to talent
This is about spreading the net. You don’t necessarily want to catch more fish in your recruitment process, but you want to increase your chances of catching better fish. Companies with a remote working facility are able to attract candidates unrestricted by geographical location. ‘Fishing’ in the international talent pool greatly improves a business’s chance of seizing the best talent – and the flexible working component of a company’s working culture is an attractive element to potential candidates.
It’s clear to see the results are primarily people-focussed. That’s because businesses are coming round to the idea that investing in less traditional forms of employee empowerment, such as genuine trust, flexibility and relevant productivity metrics, can be the difference between sinking and surfing in today’s fluid economy.
This article comes courtesy of RingCentral, a leading business communications platform providing unified communications, contact centre and customer engagement as a service.