Last week, Barclays boss Jes Staley warned that big, expensive city offices could soon become a “thing of the past” with nearly 70,000 of the bank’s worldwide staff currently working from home.
It turns out that the Group Chief Executive is not alone in a serious rethink of location strategy, new research by virtual agency Hoxby suggests that almost three-quarters of bosses (71%) are pleasantly surprised by these new, remote working conditions.
And it’s not just the management teams who are seeing an improvement, employees report that by having more autonomy, they are working in a way that suits them (58%) which has led to 25% wanting to remote work for half the time in future.
But despite Staley’s predictions, is working from home feasible to the greater UK population? An increase in the number of networking apps may suggest so, and despite concerns over safety and privacy, conference calls involving software such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams are currently being used by 48% of those polled.
While 38% are using cloud-based software to store documents and work virtually. Interestingly, more half of business leaders (52%) believe their teams are more productive when working in the current environment when compared to the office.
Yet despite the good intentions, only 12% believe that their working habits will change once the lockdown is lifted. While flexible working is something larger companies have generally introduced e.g. staggering the working day to suit the individual, the concept of completely working from home is more frowned upon.
It is mostly left to freelancers and the self-employed to fit in around the 9-5, which can make freelancers an attractive alternative for employers who need short-term or additional hours projects.
Indeed, Hoxby was created to bring together teams of freelancers who could provide these services on their own work-terms explains co-founder Alex Hirst. He said, “We’ve been banging the workstyle drum for five years now, and with a team of 1,000 freelancers over 43 countries without an office, we know it can improve diversity, productivity, and wellbeing. We’ve long thought remote working is better for society, for business, and for people, and these findings are music to our ears.”
Of course, there are some industries that are better suited for remote working than others. Survey results showed that IT and telecommunications were the most equipped (84%) closely followed by HR (83%) and finance (77%). Legal was the lowest sector to score on remote working suitability at 54%. Conferencing is also something that could move to online more readily, as seen by the successful Blockdown2020 held in April.
However, the biggest issue that businesses will face is not necessarily the suitability for working from home, something which the lockdown has proved that the nation’s infrastructure is ready for, but the idea of presenteeism itself. A shocking 34% of senior management said remote working was something they always wanted to do more of before the pandemic but felt they should be ‘seen’ to be in the office.
It is this idea of what an office looks like that Hoxby is hoping to change. Alex explains: “For office workers at large, bad office habits seem to be creeping in with the ‘death by conference call phenomenon’ and ‘coat on the back of the chair’ expectations of presenteeism. Essentially, organisations need to keep a watch on remote working practices and evolve and better them by gaining a deeper understanding of technology and virtual leadership.”
The company has launched Remote Workmates a community that uses Slack and a buddy system to help employees through the lockdown environment.
One of their clients is Richard Grazier, President and Managing Director at Community Brands UK, an edtech organisation who have developed a range of software to help with the business of running schools. As a company, the staff has been working from home for more than 40 days and now use technology for regular check-ins each day.
He believes that lockdown will bring profound changes to the working environment. Richard said, “We have redefined the word community over the last 6 weeks and quickly figured out ways to be more visible, support each other, and become even better versions of ourselves. Without exception our teams have all pulled together, stepping up where needed and maintained really high standards despite the change of working environment for many of them.”