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10 people to listen to when it comes to the future of remote working

There's no question that telecommuting kept a lot of businesses alive during the pandemic. But, as popular as it's become, opinions on the effectiveness of, and desire for, remote work are far from uniform.

In the wake of the last couple of years, lots of people are swearing by the benefits of remote work. But others are swearing it'll be the death of workplace culture and kills productivity.

So, who’s right? What is the future of remote work?

The stats around remote work don't lie

Before we get into the effectiveness of remote work, let's look at some stats. According to Buffer's State of Remote Work reports:

  • 97% of remote workers want to keep working remotely.
  • 97% would recommend it to a colleague.
  • These stats have remained consistent both before and after the pandemic. 

And in the UK specifically

  • 30% of UK professionals currently work remotely at least once a week. 
  • 8% of UK workers didn't enter the office at all during 2021. 
  • A fifth of Brits want to be full-time remote workers. 

What's more:

  • 56% of remote workers saw improvements in their health
  • There was a 5% increase in productivity during the work from home period of 2020/21 in the US
  • Remote workers were 22% happier than their onsite colleagues

However, it's also true that:

  • 1 in 5 people working from home struggle with loneliness. 
  • 3 in 10 UK professionals find it hard to separate their professional and working lives. 
  • People earning below £20,000 a year have less than a 5% chance of being able to work from home. 

Remote work may be popular. But it's also got its share of challenges, and isn't as universal as some people might think. 

So, is remote work effective or not? What does the future of remote work look like?

Some perspectives on the future of remote working

Remote work has experienced a real surge in popularity lately. Plenty of employers are switching to hybrid structures, with some even going fully remote. Plenty of the people on our list have great things to say about the effectiveness remote work. Others aren't so positive:

1: CEO of Firstbase HQ: Chris Herd

Firstbase is a company specialising in helping businesses set up remote work infrastructures. What started as a homegrown convenience tool during a previous venture turned into the Firstbase we know today.

CEO Chris Herd is, unsurprisingly, as pro-remote work as it gets. But he's also well aware of the challenges it can pose. In an interview with CloudApp, he put great emphasis on tackling these issues:

'Having been a remote team, we just experienced several challenges and obstacles ourselves, around that culture and physical experience placed at home. That was really the reason that we started to think about Firstbase in those granular terms. How can we make sure that workers are safer, more comfortable, more productive at home than they would be in an office?'

The point that Chris is making is that there are real and present risks to the wellbeing of remote staff. As a manager, you've got a duty of care to look after your staff. Challenges can be overcome, but obviously planning and processes need to be in place to get you there.

2: Head of PR at Buffer: Hailley Griffis

As Buffer's head of PR, Hailley Griffis knows all the ins and outs of life for remote workers. In particular, Hailley advocates for a hybrid model. Of course, like any remote work model, hybrid arrangements have their own challenges.

Hailley's solution is to take a remote-first approach to hybrid setups:

'It avoids many of the pitfalls of having employees split between office and remote and puts the whole company on a level playing ground rather than rewarding those who work from the office. [...] A strong remote-first culture will mitigate the inequalities that naturally arise with hybrid workspaces while still allowing employees the flexibility to work from where they feel most productive. For some people, this means not working from home.'

Remote-first communication means everything is more likely to be properly documented. And if managers are also working remotely most of the time, they're less likely to succumb to proximity bias.

3: Chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto: Scott Schieman

Workplace trust is Scott Schieman's major issue with the effectiveness of remote work. We tend to attribute our own actions to circumstance, and those of others to disposition.

'Trust is built by spending time together, not necessarily around work-related tasks. We form and sustain social bonds this way, expressing verbal and nonverbal communication in ways that convey understanding, empathy and shared concern. There’s no way endless Zoom calls can replace the depth and quality of in-person human interaction.'

'You might see a supervisor’s or team member’s facial expression on a Zoom meeting and misinterpret or appraise it in a negative way. You might be completely misreading it – maybe their kid was in the background doing something that annoyed them. In a physical shared space, you could better read those cues and clear them up.'

It's true that even the best virtual communication tools can't match face-to-face interaction. That's why it's essential to build bonds between your hybrid team members however you can.

4:  CEO of Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg is a huge believer in the effectiveness of remote work. And nowhere is that clearer than in how Facebook has adjusted its employment model.

'People are more productive working at home than people would have expected. Some people thought that everything was just going to fall apart, and it hasn’t. And a lot of people are actually saying that they’re more productive now.'

Of course, Facebook is a vast, successful tech company. So it makes sense that they've been able to shift focus to such an extent. In Zuckerberg's own words, 'We’re going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale.'

5: CEO of DocuSign: Dan Springer

As the leader of a company which makes once physical processes virtual, Dan Springer is a remote work advocate. But, along with other CEOs in this interview, he advises caution. 

'Working from home makes it much harder to delineate work time from personal time. I encourage all of our employees to have a disciplined schedule for when you will work, and when you will not, and to stick to that schedule.'

Remote work often gets associated with high productivity. That's because staff feel obligated to put in extra hours. So, we agree with Dan's advice to put a line in the sand.

6: CHRO at IBM: Diane Gherson

Diane Gherson appreciates the spread of remote work. One reason for this is how it moves workplaces away from a top-down approach to sharing information.

'We are seeing acceleration of the trend to democratize the workplace. During these last few months, digital technology has flattened hierarchies, with everyone connected and getting information at the same time, and so many channels for employee input and involvement in decision-making in real time.'

Transparency is often-overlooked as a method of improving engagement. Making communication more communal is a sign of trust, and the best way to earn employee insight.

7: Authors of Lead From The Future: Mark W. Johnson and Josh Suskewicz

According to authors Johnson and Suskewicz, the obstacles we can encounter in remote work are worth the long-term benefits.

'Even if remote work turns out to be less productive on some metrics than others, reducing carbon-based emissions or the improving work-life balance could make up for it. Or not. It’s possible that what works for Twitter and Facebook won’t work for you, at least initially. Your struggles with it may point the way towards deeper changes that you have to make.'

But they also warn against turning remote work into a dogma like the approaches that came before it.

8: CTO at Walmart: Suresh Kumar

Some people wonder what will become of offices with the rise of remote work. Leaders like Suresh Kumar foresee them having value in a slightly different way. He claims that offices 'will be used primarily for collaboration, to sync up and strengthen camaraderie.' 

The effectiveness of remote work means employers can scale back their office costs. But the offices still have value for collaboration, onboarding and engaging with work culture. Employees become less centralised. But Suresh suggests remote work can bring people together on a broader scale.

'Meetings are now more inclusive of people regardless of location, level or other differences. We have great momentum and need to figure out how to carry it forward.'

9: Amstrad founder and Apprentice star: Lord Alan Sugar

One of the most vocal proponents for a return to offices has been Lord Alan Sugar. He made some controversial remarks back in 2020, but also made an interesting point. For all the remote work furvor, let's not forget the value of face-to-face interactions.'My people want to be at work. They enjoy talking to their friends and colleagues to discuss what’s going on with the football, what’s on telly, who’s going to win The Apprentice. All that type of stuff. Younger people who work for me look over their shoulders at the more experienced employees and are trained by them.'

10:Author of Breakthrough Leadership Team: Mike Goldman

In some respects, the effectiveness of remote work is clear to see. But author and leadership coach Mike Goldman believes that many businesses aren't ready for it.

Remote work may come with its share of advantages. But there's also a laundry list of challenges like burnout, distraction, or communication issues. You've got to grapple with these issues and build solutions into your infrastructure. If you can't do that, remote work might not be worth it. For some companies, tech giants like Facebook or Google, this is no problem. For others, it can be a huge uphill struggle.