Remote working and the future of the workplace

Remote working and the future of the workplace

 

The workplace of the future could be like something from a sci-fi movie. Robots all around us, artificial intelligence algorithms second-guessing our every thought. Another, more prosaic viewpoint is your future workplace will look a fair bit like the current one: just more productive, happier – and more virtual. 

Let me explain.

If you live in Auckland, chances are you’ve experienced the massive amount of construction happening around the central city. The City Rail Link, Commercial Bay, the International Convention Centre, cycle ways, sewerage works and more. In fact, around New Zealand there is a construction boom driven by demands for better infrastructure and more housing for a growing population.

But with all these works come plenty of disruptions for businesses. Employees running late for work, customers who can’t get to you, and a big hit to productivity.

Remote working is an umbrella term for doing things a different way – rather than working in an office you work… well, somewhere else.

It’s not just ‘working from home’, although that’s certainly common. It can be working from a ‘co-working centre’ of which there are now many. It may be working from another site, for example if you have two offices. Depending on the circumstances, it can even be working from a café or a library. Some people work remotely all the time, while others work from home one day a week, or just on occasion when appropriate.

Around half of the New Zealand workforce (56 per cent of women and 49 per cent of men) would like to work from home according to recent research by Figure.NZ. Global research from American firm Buffer indicates 97 per cent of remote workers would recommend it to others, and 98 per cent plan to keep remote working at least part-time throughout their careers.

Why is remote working so popular?

Some of the benefits of remote working include:

  • Productivity benefits from less commuting time
  • Lower costs for the employer for real estate and services
  • Improved work-life balance for employees and
  • Environmental benefits from less transportation.

The right remote working model depends on the business. It is well-suited to asynchronous work, the kind you can do without close, immediate interaction with others. Generally speaking, it’s also ideal for white-collar service firms such as professional services, media/ entertainment and ICT.

There are a few things you should look out for in planning a remote working initiative.

Firstly, remember the basic ICT needs for staff – a suitable computer, cloud-based software, fast broadband/WiFi in the home, good mobile coverage and so forth.

Secondly, plan to use collaboration and workflow tools to organise and manage your team’s work. Some firms report that collaboration can slow down when staff are not physically in one location, but the right tools can make sure this doesn’t happen.

Thirdly, do leave room for social contact. A successful team often needs social interaction which can be best in person. In the Buffer report, one in five respondents said loneliness was their biggest struggle with remote working. Your business culture needs to foster inclusion of your remote workers. For example, you could plan regular ‘in-office’ days when as many staff as possible gather.

Finally, don’t forget your health and safety obligations. Make sure your remote workers are working in suitable conditions, for example with no trip hazards from IT cables and appropriate furniture.  

A more virtual workplace is one which offers staff and contractors more flexibility about where (and potentially, when) they perform their work. It can help you attract and keep skilled employees, while adding to your productivity and reducing costs.

And it is one where we don’t spend as much time worrying about travel time, parking and traffic cones so we can focus more on what adds value to the business.

Rohan MacMahon is one of the EMA’s IT and Digital Consultants: Rohan.MacMahon@ema.co.nz.

Further reading:

 

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