Despite the fact that the two terms have been used interchangeably since last March, working from home and remote working are two different things. Both employers and employees need to be aware of the differences between the two in order to come up with models that will work in the ‘new normal’ – and protect our overall health and wellbeing for the long-term.
Working from home, full time, was not optional for many of us – it was enforced due to the pandemic – which meant that, for a lot of people and businesses, there was very little thought or forward planning put into it initially. We just did it and got on with it because that was the only way we could continue to do our jobs safely.
Remote working, by contrast, is often a choice – you have the freedom to work at home, in your employer’s office, in a professional shared office space, in a café, in a log cabin in the woods, in another country whilst travelling … (remember when we could do that?)
You would never in a million years opt for this version of working from home, long term, if you have a two bed house, three kids all needing home schooled, and a corner with an ironing board next to the laundry basket as your office. So, for me, remote working – long term – is a definite choice because your work, your means and your lifestyle facilitate it.
Many employees are still working from home and doing their very best to “do the day job” as normally as possible, whilst maintaining (or, in some cases, exceeding) productivity levels. But this is in the context of having all other aspects of our life on pause, too. It remains to be seen how much we will all like the current status quo of working from home when the world opens up again and we have more on offer to us.
For long-term remote working or any blended arrangements in the ‘new normal’, we need to instil good, healthy habits. This involves learning from those agile businesses and employees who have been winning at remote working for well over a decade now.
There is more to it than a laptop, desk and a good internet connection. The bigger picture of company culture and staff training and development for a workforce who have been rushed into a long-term working from home set up has yet to be fully contemplated and explored by employers who are, on the whole, in survival mode and don’t have the time or space to consider this fully yet.
Employers can’t assume everything is okay and our wellbeing or morale is still intact because we are all getting on with it in our makeshift arrangements. No employer can be naïve to the fact that there is every possibility we could find ourselves with a mental health crisis in work if proper attention isn’t given to facilitating remote working in the ‘new normal’ as opposed to this weird Groundhog Day situation that we are all just getting on with.
Don’t get me wrong, some people, especially those with children are revelling in the flexibility afforded to us right now whilst working from home. And quite rightly so, because it means they have more time with their children and a perception of better work/life balance owing to a lack of commute or company events. Similarly, there will be lots of people who have made the transition very easily who are now considering the option of working remotely, from their home long term as it better suits their lifestyle needs.
And really, so many of the working population have begun to ponder why our jobs have to be done in certain locations between certain hours …
It is right that we don’t go backwards to old work models but embrace what has been learned so far, embrace the benefits and make the best version of blended models for the masses now as opposed to the fortunate few.
Ultimately, the onus will lie with employers who really need to say, we now need to teach new skills/redefine existing skills in this context for those who will be able to work remotely going forward. These skills – both technical and soft – could include things such as managing time and productivity, leading training sessions remotely, managing a team who all work in different spaces …
And blended working models, in turn, can cause their own operation headaches. What happens if some employees are in different time zones? What happens if some people attend a training session remotely whilst others log in? Are presentations to key decision makers as effective via Zoom call?
If employers think that just giving people the choice to work from a location (or follow working hours) to suit themselves means that no further effort is required, that is a potential recipe for disaster and may, in fact, see employers’ years down the line saying well that didn’t work, everyone back to the office.
Employers need to look inwards now at themselves and ask what more they need to do and how they will support employees to continue successfully working remotely and flexibly, from their home or elsewhere if they so wish in our new equilibrium post-COVID 19.
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