2020 has become the year of remote working, pushing companies large and small into adopting radical new ways of working and use of new technologies, whether they were ready for them or not. For businesses in certain sectors, switching to remote working has provided them with a means for surviving the crisis.
Prior to COVID-19, SIRO was already well-positioned to manage the transition to working from home. Since our launch five years ago, the SIRO culture has encouraged us to embrace remote working as part of our work lives. In March of this year, like many others, we were forced to make immediate and far reaching changes to our work practices. However, the pre-existing openness and experience of remote working has certainly helped the company, and those of us who work for it, adapt to this new reality.
While the new reality may have forced companies into taking a more digital approach, now that we have all experienced remote working and know that it’s possible, there will be no return to the status quo; remote working for many of us will remain a significant part of our working lives. As an indication of what might be waiting for us post-Covid, the recent proposed Government Programme indicates that remote working could be a more permanent way of life as “all public sector employers will have to have 20% of staff working remotely or from home by 2021”
However, if this crisis teaches us anything about our work practices, it is that remote working requires more support than just grabbing your laptop and taking it home. If we are to successfully embrace the opportunities remote working offers, it’s important that we are conscious of our colleagues’ needs and aware of the inevitable challenges working from home can bring.
Working from Home: More than a Perk of the Job
With a head office on the edge of Dublin and workforce distributed nationwide, SIRO has always sought to facilitate remote working where possible. Prior to Covid-19, this opportunity to work remotely was embraced by 84% of SIRO employees. We knew from our annual workplace surveys that our flexible working approach was highly rated by our colleagues, however, we wanted to know how the SIRO community felt about the possible benefits of remote working in particular.
The 2019 Government report on remote working found that 43.5% of remote workers were primarily motivated by greater flexibility and 40.5% by a reduced commute. The average SIRO employee commutes 58km to their place of work, much of that can be spent sitting in traffic on the M50. It’s not hard to image the improvements to quality of life that remote working, even just a day a week, can bring.
Better work-life balance, reduced commute time and more time for family life all scored over 60% in the survey; comments included:
“It is possible to work and meet a family obligation from time to time without feeling additional stress/ pressure.”
However, more time for community and voluntary activities, scored an impressive 40%. Anecdotally we know that many of our colleagues spend a considerable amount of their free time on the side of sports pitches training their local teams and volunteering for many good causes. Spending time with family and enjoying and contributing to our local communities adds to the richness of our lives but can often be sacrificed when we fail to get the work-life balance right.
Getting the work-life balance right also brings benefits to our work. Higher productivity and improved morale (80% and 68% respectively) were considered to be benefits of working remotely by SIRO respondents. This is turn was thought to make SIRO an attractive company to work for (77%).
“When I get the chance to do work at home I can work faster with less distractions and complete a lot more work”
“Contributes to SIRO as a talent-retention mechanism”
This is not only true for SIRO employees, a 2018, Stanford study found that those who telecommuted worked a full true shift more than those who worked in the office.
“Overworked or Remotely Working?”
While remote workers can experience an increase in general productivity, it’s important to be aware of the risks that remote working can have on an employee’s general wellbeing. Digital Ocean reported that 82% of professionals who work remotely feel overworked and a further 61% feel disconnected from their in-office co-workers.
Overworking was a growing concern among employees who regularly work remotely who took part in a study conducted by Buffer, which found that 22% of remote workers have trouble unplugging after work. By removing the daily commute, you are removing the transition between the individual’s home and the workplace. Instead, the home becomes the workplace, making it difficult to “switch off” at the end of the day.
While the onus is on the employee to establish a healthy routine that signals the beginning and end of each workday, it is imperative that a company provides support in managing their employee’s wellbeing. There are tools designed to provide support that can prove useful, such as Microsoft’s ‘MyAnalytics’. This feature analyses a person’s use of Outlook, Calendar and active email hours to identify patterns where workers “quiet hours” are interrupted and identify how much “focus time” (hours outside meetings) employees have to complete tasks. This can help people identify unhealthy patterns associated with burn out quickly and create effective boundaries.
Managing Relationships – Making Remote Working Work for your Company
Just like in the office, regular communication is key to effective management. But even managers need support, our line managers have a dedicated weekly Teams channel that provides support and advice for managing teams remotely. In an office environment, we’re often more casual and use social cues and tone of voice to communicate, but when we work at a distance, this is harder to manage. We may need to be more explicit in our written communications and be clear and transparent in our schedule, such as updating our status when taking a break to signal to team members that we are unavailable for calls.
Isolation remains a risk, but by maintaining regular, casual communication with teammates we can help mitigate it. At SIRO, we encourage our colleagues to meet online regularly both for work and social purposes. Each day, we open a channel for everyone to catch up socially, simulating our lunch culture in the office. In addition, we established a virtual SIRO book club, where colleagues across different departments can interact in a relaxed, non-work-related environment. Our twice weekly yoga classes on Zoom have proven popular, giving people the opportunity to practice mindfulness during this stressful time.
Remote Working – The Future of Work is Finally Here
For many years working remotely was an option available only to the few. Its many benefits obvious to companies and policy makers but often held back by fear of change and inadequate infrastructure. Now we are all remote workers and finding ways to overcome challenges that seemed insurmountable in the past. We at SIRO have always known the benefits of working remotely, it’s one of the reasons that we’re so enthusiastic about supporting regional digital hubs. For those companies such as SIRO, who were already open to remote working, the transition has been easier.
Regardless of the challenges, our staff survey shows that employees appreciate remote working options and believe that they bring benefits to themselves and the company; time with their families and communities and a focused environment to complete tasks that offices cannot provide. Post Covid, remote working will remain popular, but it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, a flexible approach, such as that offered by SIRO can reap rewards for both company and employee.