Remote Working: The What, Why and How of Remote Work
In a break with tradition (appropriate given the subject matter), we thought we'd bring you not just a single hit blog post, but a full-blown series on just one topic. We considered Britain's favourite cakes, the impact of topsoil erosion on invertebrate colonies and Eurovision winners from the seventies, but in the end, we've settled on the hot topic of remote working. Here in part one, we look at some of the key terms and processes along with the employee-centric benefits of remote working.
By 2025 more than 70% of the UK workforce will consist of remote workersThe Guardian
Remote working & culture
You might have been involved in casual chat around remote work, with phrases like "œI work remotely now" or "œI now get to travel and take my work with me" often overheard both in social and corporate settings. You might have even nodded along as a friend or colleague has waxed lyrical about the virtues of their new flexible working lifestyle, but you may still have questions, starting with the obvious:
What is remote work?
Remote work isn't exactly a new phenomenon. For decades travelling salesmen racked up thousands of miles on the M6, freelance journalists typed on their typewriters from battlefields or scenes of political scandal and back in the 1940's midwives rode out to patients on their trusty two-wheelers (or so television would have us believe) to deliver little bundles of joy well away from often ill-equipped hospitals. However, the remote work revolution really began in the early 2000s as technological advances and work philosophies (particularly in the always innovative, always sunny locale of Silicon Valley) opened up the possibility of a whole new way of working for historically office-based staff.
Put simply, remote work (also known as "˜distributed working', "˜telecommuting' or somewhat flippantly, "˜working from home') is a working style which allows for employees to carry out their usual job function but away from the traditional corporate office. That can be working from home, or it could be something a bit less obvious, such as a co-working space, local coffee shop, client location, or even a hammock on a sun-kissed beach (providing the Wi-Fi packs the required punch!).
Remote work allows employees to escape the traditional 9 to 5 working pattern, offering up the flexibility to their day allowing room to manage family, pets, shopping and other general tasks of life. It can even free staff up to travel and see the world without impacting their ability to work.
It is all about empowering staff to find a pattern of work that suits both the business and importantly themselves, improving employee engagement and experience along the way.
How prevalent are work from home jobs?
Well, it depends where you look, but let's take the world leaders The Netherlands, who see as few as 47% of their working population still working in traditional offices any given day of the week. In the USA, the trend points to 50% of traditional office jobs being shifted to remote work roles within the next 12 months.
Closer to home, in 2005 1.3 million UK workers classed themselves as having a remote work lifestyle. 10 years later this had more than doubled to 3.8 million regular remote workers. The practice goes from strength to strength with current suggestions that there are nearly 5 million employees working away from the office in 2019 and with remote employment job sites such as weworkremotely.com signing up users by the hundreds there is no sign of a slowdown in this cultural paradigm shift. In fact, trends suggest that by 2025 more than 20% of the entire UK workforce will consist of remote workers.
How does it work?
There are a variety of ways to work remotely and no one approach is going to suit every company and its employees. Some staff will work remotely just one or two days a week, while other remote workers will work away from the office the majority of the time, with a weekly, monthly or quarterly trip into the office for face to face meetings and updates.
Others rely on co-working spaces to act as their local office-like spot for getting work done. Coworking spaces comprise of large open plan office spaces that act as hubs of productivity, creativity, and tech for anyone to pop in, for as long as they need, and use anytime they wish (usually for a small monthly fee). They are somewhat of a halfway house between the traditional office space and working from home, offering the structure of the workplace (desks, connectivity, phones, etc.) with the flexibility of working outside of base. We'll look at co-working in a little more detail in our next blog post in this series.
How does remote work benefit employees?
As mentioned already, flexibility is key when it comes to why an employee might initially seek the option to work from home. When not restricted to 9 to 5 working in a set central location, parents can overcome childcare difficulties, doctor appointments can be accepted without fear of having to reschedule, dogs can be taken for a 15 minute leg-stretch, fitness fans can grab a quick 20-lap swim over lunch and delivery woes become a thing of the past.
One of the huge boosts of remote employment comes to employee wellbeing (be that physical, mental or economical) and we'll be shining a light on this area in next week's post, with a focus on:
- Decreased stress
- Higher morale
- Fewer instances of illness
- Elevated levels of happiness
- Monetary savings
- Renewed passion and pride
How do remote jobs benefit businesses?
While the initial reaction of many non-progressive senior leadership managers may be that a reduction in time in the office, with staff working from a space of their choosing (including that beach scenario), can only be bad for a business, the data simply doesn't support this view.
Our third post in this series will look at the (SPOILER: generally positive) impact upon performance and engagement, so we won't dwell now, but some of the highlights include:
- Cost savings
- Increased discretionary effort from staff
- Reduced attrition
- Improved productivity
Are there other benefits?
Yes! One of the huge areas in which positive returns of remote work is most clearly seen is the environment.
With 36% of the UK population being daily car commuters, and a further 26% using buses and trains daily to get to and from work, Great Britain has a huge daily carbon footprint linked directly to our working lives. An increase in remote working means a reduction in these numbers and thus, less daily pollution!
Monster carried out some analysis on the environmental impacts that doubling the number of remoter workers between 2018 and 2025 could have on our environment. Some of the key highlights included:
- Reducing the number of daily London Underground users from 3.90m to 1.85m
- More than halving the number of daily commuters in Greater Manchester from 1.38m to 658k
- Cutting road congestion in Edinburgh by 82,699 cars (or 52 football pitches)
- Reducing the CO2 emission of people in Wales by 1,548kg per person/year.
These improvements to our roads, rails and air bring obvious health and economic benefits, some of which we will look at further into this series.
So, we've started our series with a high-level look at the remote working revolution that is occurring globally right now. We've discussed the what, why and how's with a focussed view on some of the environmental boosts that can be achieved through the practice.
Working from home might not be for everyone, but with these blogs we hope to shine a light on some of the key considerations that impact you whether you are an employee, progressive team leader, HR manager, or Elon Musk. Our next blog will look at the employee wellbeing benefits offered up by working away from the office.