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remote work

Remote working – the pros, the cons and the law

As employers and employees navigate lockdowns and tier systems, it is clear that there are both positives and negatives to the new way of working. So, what does this mean for employers in reality and, importantly, how might this change how employers start thinking about the future?

The benefits

Now, more than ever, workforces have to be adaptable. Whether this means learning how to use a new remote system, or having to adjust to remote supervision, employers have recognised the huge value in their workforce being open to change.

Whilst there will be a number of employees who had already experienced the benefits of working from home, the majority will now know first-hand why it is an attractive alternative to going into the office. Time that would usually be spent getting properly dressed for work, commuting, attending client lunches and work events can now be better utilised so that employees have a greater degree of freedom in managing their working time and being more productive during their working day.

Trust is a crucial element on both sides of the employment relationship and even more so when managers are not able to see what their team is doing hour by hour. Whilst presenteeism is something that most employers will argue is not part of their culture, it is likely that most managers feel comforted by being able to see their teams at their desk or on the phone to a client. Working from home does present its challenges when it comes to ensuring that employees are still doing their job, but by placing trust in staff to have autonomy over the way that they work is proven to create a positive impact, particularly in relation to engagement and motivation.

The global pandemic has created a number of personal challenges for employees, which may include looking after children, parents or other vulnerable members of family or friends and this can be extremely difficult to manage when also working. One of the considerable benefits of working from home is that it allows employees to have a degree of flexibility over the way in which they organise their work, because the structure of the working day is no longer rigidly confined to factor in commuting and office hours. This is also a benefit for employers because it means that employees are still able to carry out their jobs, whereas they might otherwise not have been able to.

Now that it has been recognised that employees are capable of working in a digital world, there are some employers that have considered it no longer necessary to have a physical office. Some businesses are able to run successfully without the expensive overheads that come with having an office. Employers have assessed where this money can be better spent and appreciate that employees are now also open to working flexibly and, in some cases, this is actually what they want, so it is a key benefit for retaining talent.

The negatives

Alongside the benefits, there are also some challenges that come with operating and working in a remote world. The issue of employees suffering from burnout has been widely documented during the pandemic and whilst the ability to work flexibly can be a real perk to working from home, it can also make it very difficult to stop work and life boundaries becoming blurred. Zoom fatigue, isolation from colleagues, communication issues and IT failures have all created additional stressors in an employee’s life and, unless management are making a conscious effort to ensure that there is a sufficient support network in place, it is easy to see how this can have a material impact on an employee’s mental health.

Junior employees, in particular, are likely to be impacted the most when it comes to communication and supervision. Both managers and juniors will have had to battle adapting to working remotely. There will be some juniors who have not received an adequate amount of communication, supervision and support which can be detrimental to career progression. This can also have a knock on effect on employee engagement and motivation, and managers will not get the best out of their juniors if they are feeling isolated and disengaged. In this climate, it is important not to neglect those who have helped employers through the good and bad times, particularly when the future still remains uncertain.

With the lack of visibility over an employee’s working environment also creates potential health and safety risks. There will be a number of employees who do not have the luxury of working from a dedicated home working space and instead will be working from their bedrooms, kitchen tables or anywhere there is space to sit with a laptop. This means that there is an increased risk of home working related injuries, particularly muscular and skeletal. Also, query how effective an employee can genuinely be while balancing their laptop on their bed, and is it fair to expect them to perform as normal? Managers need to be alive to the health and safety risks, and unfair playing field, that can be created by working from home, which at a very minimum means identifying how employees are working when at home.

Looking forward

With 2021 being the year of hope and change, employers are likely to face further adjustments to the way that everyone works and need to be thinking ahead to how these are best managed to minimise disruption. This includes:

Reintegrating employees back into the workplace: employers will have to put measures in place to ensure a “covid-secure” workplace, so that employees can be encouraged and reassured on their return. The related guidelines are also likely to be regularly changing, as the medical picture develops with the roll out of the vaccine and more and more data becomes available. Assigning clear roles and responsibilities internally, so everyone knows who is keeping up to date with and managing this sort of issue, is a good first step;

Balance: employers will have to strike the right balance to ensure that employees can still continue to benefit from some of the advantages of being able to work flexibly;

Resistance: some employees will be resistant to returning back to the office, because they have been able to carry out their roles effectively from home, so employers will have to equip managers to be able to have these types of conversations

Maintaining employee engagement and productivity: ensuring that employees continue to receive the support that they require, in order to keep the workforce engaged and collaborative.


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