remote working

One of the major disruptive influences on the 21st century organisation over the last two decades has been the increase in remote working. This is not surprising, given the shift away from physical work towards more administrative based functions which has ensured that individuals no longer need to be in a single place to undertake their work. 

In addition, advances in technology has made it easier for employees to work together on a range of tasks and projects without having to be in the same room or at the same location. Demographic changes to the workplace, such as the increase in the number of women within the labour force, has also meant that there is increased demand for flexibility both in the home and at work. 

And, more importantly, there is increasing evidence that remote working actually increases productivity and wellbeing in the workplace, reducing commuting time (and potentially increasing working time) and enabling employees to fit their work around their lives and vice versa.

The phenomenon of remote working has been examined in detail in a recent report by IT company Lenovo, which has produced some fascinating results that should be of interest to both employers and policymakers in the UK. 

For example, it has examined how many of today’s workforce could actually switch to remote working within their jobs and has estimated that as many as 15.2 million people (or 57 per cent of the labour force) work in roles that are sufficiently non-physical as to be eligible for remote working. 

More relevantly for the UK economy, this could provide a boost of around £20 billion per annum if, instead of spending time doing little in their daily commute by car or train, they could be working remotely or at home instead. 

It may not be a shock to find that the part of the UK that would gain the most from this is London (£7.4 billion) given that workers in the capital city not only commute more than those in any other region but also have the highest salaries. According to the study, the estimated boost for Wales would be far less at £604 million but would still represent 1 per cent of current economic output.

But it is not only the quantitative economic impact that is important as various research studies have shown that remote working can boost job enthusiasm and overall job satisfaction whilst giving workers a better work-life balance. In fact, flexible working practices can cause less stress for employees and higher levels of commitment to their employer. It also reduces costs to the organisation because of fewer absences, fewer days late, and fewer missed deadlines. 

More relevantly, with the research showing that one in ten workers saying that their most productive time of work is outside of typical working hours, productivity can be increased considerably through flexible work.

Despite these advantages, the real question is whether flexible working is seen as being attractive to the existing workforce in the UK. 

According to the Lenovo study, offices are no longer seen as the place where workers undertake their daily business but as places where they come together to network. 

This suggests that fewer employees need a designated workspace and working remotely was the most popular workplace setup chosen by UK workers. Indeed, 26% of employees stated that they would opt to increase the flexibility of their working hours if they could whilst 22% of people would choose to work from home more frequently.

Whilst this could reduce the cost of office space for organisations, there could be increasing pressure on them to invest in the best systems possible, especially as many millennials would expect for their work-based technology to be as good, if not better, than what they use at home. 

Not surprisingly, the largest driver in changing work patterns has been technology with nearly four out of ten workers who now work more remotely than they did five years ago stating that this was down to improvements in communication technology. 

Of course, remote working may not be relevant to everyone within an organisation and different generations of workers may have different priorities at different stages of their career. Given this, it is critical that organisations try to understand the needs of all of their employees before implementing any changes. They also need to ensure that workers are fully trained in the technologies used to support remote working so that its full potential is realised for the organisation.

Therefore, not only can remote working enhance the modern workplace for those organisations that embrace this concept but it also presents a considerable economic opportunity to improve productivity in the UK economy by both reducing commuting time and improving wellbeing amongst employees.

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