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Remote team management and the future of the office

by Steve Preston

How will businesses progress amidst new employee expectations and technology enablement?

The modern workplace has seen an extreme shift towards remote working in recent months due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Many organisations across industries have had to drastically readjust their outlook on the importance of having their staff travelling into a physical office in order to protect them and prevent the spread of the virus. As only industries with ‘essential’ workers and those who cannot work remotely are encouraged to continue to go into their physical places of work, many sectors who have long abstained from allowing flexible working like law, financial services, engineering and many more have had to rethink their position on remote team management. It is very likely that due to the success and the enormity of this en masse movement away from the traditional office during the outbreak, ideas about the importance of a physical office or workplace will change permanently.

How has the workplace changed over the last few years?

The ‘office space’ has seen some change over the last few years, moving away from the traditional concept of coming in every day and working your way up to having your own office based on merit and seniority in many forward-thinking industries. Open-planned offices and more casual approaches have been embraced by many prominent tech firms and startups with Facebook, Twitter and WeWork to name just a notable few leading the way.

With the rise in communication software and technology available to businesses, there has been a general movement towards greater flexibility coupled with better results. Flexible working arrangements have allowed individuals to dictate their own schedules (within reason), and better capitalise on the time when they are most productive and/or where they can balance work and personal commitments. While remote team management has not been embraced across the board in all industries, it is increasingly appealing to many applicants looking for employers who prioritise exceptional work over the traditional, corporate or formal attitudes towards employment. Office attire and strict hierarchies are being replaced by flexible working and dynamic office environments. This has also been proven as an effective means of motivation: according to Hive, 61% of employees are more productive when the dress code is relaxed.

What is currently different:

The creeping change towards greater flexibility over the last few years was very suddenly accelerated in the middle of March this year, and many companies that had previously denied their staff the option to work from home on the grounds of technical or logistical issues, or because they believed remote working would result in a decrease in productivity had to quickly ensure that the majority, if not all, of their workforce were able to work from home.

In order to ensure business continuity, most businesses have had to instigate better communication between managing directors, partners, senior management and staff facilitated by the many different digital communications software available. In-person meetings, business trips and commutes have all been replaced with remote team management via video meetings conducted from the individual employees’ homes. Many companies have paid particular attention to boosting staff morale  and motivating their remote workforce to the point that many employees have managed to maintain their levels of productivity; assignments and projects are being completed on time and the groundwork is being laid for the predicted upturn when lockdown measures are lifted.

The movement towards working from home has been so effective that pollution in many major UK cities, including the famous smog-infested London, has lifted significantly as there is less traffic with fewer commuters.

How does remote team management impact the future of the workplace?

The apparent success that remote working has had during the lockdown for many organisations will force many who have traditionally shied away from offering flexible working to their staff to reconsider their position. Greater flexibility and the opportunity to work from home on a regular basis will likely increase productivity for many, offer greater support to working parents, and further level the playing field for job applicants with health conditions or impairments.

This could mean that the concept of the traditional office space will become redundant – or certainly less important – with companies choosing flexible office spaces rather than permanent locations. The potential financial impact this could have for many companies could be immense as, particularly in big cities, office leases are incredibly expensive. The concept of moving away from the traditional office space is a monumental one, as traditionally an office is a way of presenting your organisation’s prestige to attract the desired clientele based on size, location and décor.

In recent years, there has been a lot of interest in the impact of moveable furniture and adaptable office environments. This could be the key to bridging the gap between the traditional, fixed office space and flexi-spaces. Organisations could incentivise particular days when all or some staff are in the physical office whilst others work from home. Having adaptable space that could be used for different purposes, like conventional office space with desks and chairs that can be quickly and easily repositioned to accommodate a boardroom meeting, would better optimise the space used and minimise the monthly expense of the lease as your requirements would be reduced.

What are the benefits of remote team management?

From a business point of view, the benefits of incorporating more flexibility into your organisation’s structure are entirely financial. Embracing a more digital outlook and flexible working can save business owners money on:

  • Reduced costs of renting office space
  • Reduced costs from business trips that can be replaced by video conference calls
  • Increased profitability from higher levels of employee productivity

From a more generalised outlook, increased numbers of organisations embracing and implementing flexible working will benefit everyone in the following ways:

  • Reduced carbon emissions from commuting vehicles
  • Better work-life balance for staff eliminating or reducing their commuting time
  • Reduced anxiety when interviewing – the reality is that many people have to sneak away from work in order to conduct interviews, introducing more video interviewing from home will allow candidates to be at ease when interviewing and limit the amount of time they spend away from their current job

This is an unprecedented scenario and it has had the positive effect of humanising the workforce to the C-suite and executive-level staff. Huge, industry-shaking measures have been implemented in order to care for the most important asset that any company has – its staff. This across-the-board empathy will have lasting effects on the way that business is conducted, and remote working is sure to become increasingly popular and offered by the majority of organisations.

This is a very exciting time for many industries to reconsider their priorities when it comes to the office. Any office space that is retained will have to be completely optimised to encourage productivity and to be entirely functional. The idea that the CEO should have a luxurious and spacious office will become a thing of the past in favour of a more efficient space appropriate for video conferencing. The new normal could well be founded on better principles of communication between all levels of staff working remotely or even internationally.

It is clear that all will benefit from this new outlook on flexibility and working remotely — businesses will enjoy the financial impact, the environment will benefit from reduced pollution, and staff can enjoy better freedom and flexibility to fit work around their lives and families.

However, working from home is not just a case of one-size fits all, as people have different home lives, house set ups (e.g. some live in flat shares and do not have the space for an office desk etc), children too young for nursery groups, etc. that will affect the plausibility of sustained good work from home. Staff wellbeing will also become difficult to assess or support – how do you know if someone is really OK? Humans are naturally social creatures and it will be important to remember the necessity of peer to peer interaction in some form of office environment, be it once a week, twice a month or every other day. The office is going to change, but somethings will need to stay! This year is going to be an interesting one to watch to see how organisations adapt after COVID-19.

To learn more about how Heat Recruitment can help your business cope with the new realities of flexible working and staffing amidst Covid-19, please contact us or submit your vacancy and one of our recruitment consultants will get in touch.