Management
Opinion Article
December 14, 2020

From the conference room to Zoom: the future of remote working

Telecommuting,or remote working, has been frowned upon by employers for many years, who feared unsupervised workers would be much less efficient. However,developments in teleconference and telework technology and, most importantly,the constraints imposed by the coronavirus outbreak have brought forward a great increase in the remote workers' count. Key takeaways from the situation include a boost in employee productivity and a reduction in fixed costs for firms, which mitigate employers' fears and anticipated a shift in strategic and operational paradigms for firms.

Global crises are historically known to alter societal behaviors,namely on consumption and organizational levels, ultimately altering history's path. The Black Death, the most fatal pandemic recorded in human history, which is estimated to have killed nearly half of the European population in the 14th century, is credited to have dismantled feudalism,as serfs (peasants) searched for higher wages due to labor shortages.

 

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Another example is that of World War II when, due to the allocation of a significant share of the male population to war efforts, women were encouraged to enter the workforce, and such effects persisted in the aftermath. COVID-19 is no different, and while changes in consumption habits may only be temporary,this might be the beginning of a new era for employment in general.

From the companies ’perspective, it is expected, but necessary, an increased focus on reconfiguring the workspace to promote safety and enhancing working-related software, de-risking their supply chains, and raising efforts for crisis preparedness.What’s more, a survey conducted by PwC unveiled that 49% of companies plan to make remote work discretionary for positions that allow them to do so, 40% intend to accelerate automation and new ways of working, and 26% want tor educe real estate footprint. The latter finding means that this transition in work ethic is likely to hamper office real estate,as firms opt for smaller office spaces or none at all as their workforce transits to their own homes.

Regarding efficiency gains, there is no consensus on how productivity is affected at home. Despite some studies suggesting that teleworking leads to a substantial decrease in productivity, sometimes as much as 45%, there is no clear evidence of such, as there are external factors at play, such as the workplace conditions. The impact on productivity depends, in part, on the nature of the characteristics of occupations and the nature of tasks,as more creative duties are likely to experience a positive impact. In contrast, more dull, repetitive ones are likely to be negatively affected.

 

Regardless of the possible impact on productivity, the current crisis changed both employees' and employers’ perceptions of teleworking and its benefits.  A survey conducted during the pandemic showed 82% of employees in offices would like to telework one or more days a week after the Covid-19 crisis (Colliers, 2020), implying the experience has been positive. Furthermore, 74% of companies say they intend to formally implement telework (Gartner, 2020),meaning companies are also satisfied with the new working conditions.

In these times of great uncertainty, it seems as if one thing is certain:

the working experience will not be the same even when normality returns.

According to researcher Christopher Kent, work routines and rhythms will most likely be restructured, shifting from the general workday structures of a 9 to 5 towards a more objective-based workday, managed by deadlines and check-ins.Furthermore, the technological developments that enhanced and allowed companies to continue their operations should not be set aside but integrated and internalized. Now that most companies have already gone through the painful process of adapting these tools, firms must take the most out of them even after the crisis. Lastly, business leaders and managers must be wary of policy and regulations changes in the work environment to prevent future crises like the one we are currently experiencing while ensuring viable forms of staff surveillance shall telecommuting persist.

Students Authors: Lourenço Paramés, Tiago Rebelo, Diogo Alves

This content was originally published in The Awareness News.

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