Amid the global pandemic, a revolution is taking place: the flexible working revolution. Businesses are waking up to the reality that it is possible for their workforce to work remotely. And after months of working from home, many employees are realizing that they may prefer this new set-up.
As offices around the country begin to reopen, there is one question on everyone’s minds: how do we plan for the post-Covid world given that some parts of the workforce might not actually return to the office, at least on a full-time basis? Indeed, having become accustomed to performing their tasks remotely, there is no doubt that flexible working arrangements will be in high demand.
If we are to build on this momentum and support employees who want to exercise greater control over their professional and personal lives, we must work together to pave an effective way forward. This starts with investing in technology and improving digital literacy across the workforce – two issues that have drawn much attention throughout the recent period of lockdown.
How have businesses managed the transition?
Here at Studio Graphene, we recently polled a thousand UK businesses to better understand how they had managed the shift to remote working, and what difficulties this change had caused.
Most notably, half of those surveyed admitted that they were not adequately equipped for the sudden change. This was true across businesses of all sizes, with four in ten businesses stating that they previously did not use technology that made remote working particularly easy.
As a result, many have had to invest in new hardware, such as laptops and smart devices, so that staff could easily work remotely during lockdown. At 72 percent, large businesses were the most likely to have had to take such measures to ensure operations could continue as normal. This is compared with just 19 percent of microbusinesses and 56 percent of small businesses.
Large companies were also caught out by a lack of appropriate software. Almost two thirds (62 percent) had to invest in new software such as Zoom and Slack.
While it appears that many companies were caught out at first, these large-scale investments into technology are positive, further breaking down the barriers to remote working. It is also promising to see that companies are investing more heavily in digital skills training for their staff: 40 percent of UK businesses have offered such training in light of the move to remote working.
Where do businesses go from here?
The pandemic has enforced a global working from home experiment which has accelerated long-term underlying trends. However, if flexible working is to be viable in the long-term, further investments of time and resources are needed to support this transition.
In the first place, employees must be at the heart of any business strategy, and must have the skills and tools they need to thrive in the workplace. Employees must be confident that their digital knowledge is up-to-date with wider industry trends, and that their skills will continue to be competitive in the face of the evolving labor market.
Once resigned to just a handful of occupations, digital literacy is now critically important for the vast majority of workers. Employers must invest in upskilling employees and ensuring that they have the necessary skills to thrive in the digital landscape. This starts by assessing the workforce and determining what skills already exist, and which need to be advanced.
The ability to use productivity software such as Microsoft Office products is already a minimum requirement for most occupations, so firms must ensure that their employees, from entry-level staff to executives, are comfortable using programs that are fundamental to business operations today. Given the recent rise of applications like Slack and Google Meet, this also extends to popular communications software.
Many workers will also require additional specialized skills and knowledge which may relate to a key task of their job role. For instance, some might require further training in more complex technologies such as AI and VR to help them progress. Tailoring digital training based on the specific requirements of different groups will give employees the knowledge, skills and tools they need to reach new career milestones.
Raising the digital intelligence of a workforce, however, cannot be achieved through a one-time initiative. According to Deloitte, employees at all levels expect flexible and continuous learning opportunities from their employers. The growing demand for specialized skills as the digital world becomes more complex means that organizations must provide continuous employee training that makes a real impact.
One final point to note is the importance of good communication. The unprecedented scale of remote working over the past few months has highlighted the importance of having the right tools in place to enable employees to feel engaged and supported. This is something that some businesses continue to struggle with: according to Studio Graphene’s study, 29 percent of workers felt isolated and out-of-the loop from the rest of the organization while working remotely.
There is no shortage of communications platforms to choose from, but businesses must choose wisely. Technologies evolve rapidly and using the latest communication platforms to support new and existing colleagues lies at the core of any effective approach. This requires constant review and upgrades to existing digital systems to ensure that workers can collaborate effectively; it also means seeking out regular feedback and abandoning outdated platforms that no longer meet the evolving needs of the workforce.
The proven success of remote working means that businesses will naturally lower their resistance to shifting working habits within their teams. Rethinking how and where we work will bring benefits to employees and businesses alike – but business leaders must work hard to ensure their teams are able to work comfortably from beyond the office walls.