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Speak about remote working and the first impression many people have is one of working in your shorts at home or taking power naps in between meetings via a webcam.
While that may be true, not everything about working from home is rosy and desirable. For instance, there is still a deadline to be met even though you are out of the office. You still have to collaborate with fellow workers to get things done.
In other words, the whole process of working remotely has to be viable. Yes, today’s broadband links, affordable laptops and cloud-based e-mail have made it possible to access files and connect to colleagues while on the go.
What about truly collaborating, though? This means having not just the tools to connect with one another but also to meaningfully work together. Not just working as if you are in an office, but possibly even more effectively than in an office.
Can software tools that make it easy to share and edit a file enable this? In a word, yes. Today’s digital tools can make a teleconference more effective than, say, a face-to-face meeting where everyone is struggling to connect to a meeting room’s Wi-Fi netwok?
Conference calls that have an interactive screen for everyone to share, say, their business plans, event schedules or calendars will let workers go about executing a plan rather than discuss it all day.
So the effectiveness of remote working boils down to how well run the process is. Fortunately, there are digital tools today that enable people to get together virtually and produce real results.
Dozens of studies analysed by scholars at Penn State in the United States have shown that remote working actually boosts productivity, performance, job satisfaction and overall life satisfaction.
A separate study at Stanford University found that people working full time from home are 13 per cent more efficient. The performance gains rise to 22 per cent if they get to choose between remote working and office work based on their needs.
That should be the goal of businesses seeking to enable workers to work from home, a cafe or a hotel room. Rather than use remote working as a backup, say, for business continuation, the technologies on hand today can be used to offer more options for workers so they can in turn enhance a business.
Besides direct business outcomes, there are many other practical reasons for encouraging remote working.
An important one is to retain staff who value the control they have over their time, at a time when work hours have already become fluid and many people don’t really get off work at designated hours.
A vast majority of workers and business leaders feel that employees’ expectations for flexible, autonomous work; better work-life balance; and remote working, are among the top new developments affecting their businesses, according to a 2019 study by the Harvard Business School.
As this study shows, the argument for flexible work styles goes beyond the oft-mentioned millennial or young talent that organisations wish to retain. This applies to talents of varying ages.
According to research from Global Workplace Analytics, 95 per cent of employers stated that remote working increases employee retention. The reason is simple – they have more autonomy and control, making them feel more empowered.
Remote working can allow organisations to add to their talent pool as well. Mothers who may have left work in the past to take care of their children can return to the industry by taking advantage of the flexibility offered by remote working, for example.
In a disruptive economy where job roles are changing, the flexibility is useful to keep businesses always ready to adapt. It also brings improved business outcomes that old office work styles do not.
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