In March, businesses across the country were forced to implement remote working protocols - fast. For some, this was a minor disruption. For others, it was a challenge of epic proportions. A challenge they weren’t prepared for.
According to research from Fiverr, over half (51%) of businesses admit they were unprepared for these new working conditions. 34% said they weren’t equipped for remote working, 26% said they didn’t have the right technology in place, and 14% said they didn’t have flexible hours.
Before the pandemic, the only problem facing businesses with a 9-5 office policy is that they probably weren’t attracting many millennials. But when remote working became an order, rather than an option, businesses taking this rigid approach were immediately put at a serious disadvantage.
But, UK businesses are pretty good at thinking on their feet. Despite some initial teething problems, many organisations grabbed the ‘remote working’ bull by the horns – changing how they worked to keep things moving. For example, 58% of SMEs across the UK began working with more digital freelancers and 28% say they will keep flexible hours for staff when work returns to ‘normal – whatever that looks like.
But the way we work together isn’t going to return to normal. And why should it? Prior to COVID-19, 451 Research showed that improving workforce productivity and collaboration experience was IT’s top transformation initiative. A third (33%) of businesses claim their productivity hasn’t been negatively impacted by a shift to remote working and 35% said it had actually increased. For a country that’s consistently lagged behind it’s G7 counterparts on productivity output, business leaders shouldn’t easily ignore these kinds of figures.
41% of businesses also noted that the freelancers they had been working with during the pandemic were more productive than permanent staff. While the stress of a pandemic has impacted the freelance and self employed community in many ways, most freelancers have worked remotely for their entire career. What this means is that a freelance worker is even more of an asset to a team that is remote.
In the short term, how the UK’s 4.8 million freelancers work can inspire remote teams. From looking beyond the 9-5 working day, to self-discipline when the same four walls are draining motivation. But long term, giving employees the opportunity permanently to work remotely is now looking like a much more viable option than ever. A remote workforce clearly has the potential to be more productive but it can also significantly reduce overheads of the physical office at a time when many businesses are looking to streamline costs.
Maintaining culture and connection without in-person contact is a common concern, but as humans, we adapt. If companies continue to invest in the right technology designed to keep teams connected and aligned – such as video conferencing and messaging apps – does a video meeting and a decent internet connection really lack the same quality as an in-person meeting?
A fully remote workforce isn’t the future for every business, and it’s important that businesses prioritise culture and wellbeing, over productivity and pace. There’s no denying that the crisis has accelerated digital transformation, propelling teams into remote work. As a result it has drastically changed the mindsets and opinions about what businesses believe is truly possible.
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