Has remote working skewed employee expectations and affected innovation?

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Written by Lukas Vanterpool on 21 May 2021 in Opinion
Opinion

Lukas Vanterpool has reservations about the plan for long-term remote working.

Are companies facing increased pressure to offer long-term remote working, when it could not be the best thing for their business?

Whilst of course, this paradigm shift in the way we work has played a key role in the control of the virus, I can’t help but feel that it has skewed the expectations of the current workforce, as well as the next generation.

Over a year has gone by since the World Health Organisation declared coronavirus as a pandemic. Whilst many countries around the world are well on their way to resuming everyday lives, and the UK is following the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown restrictions – the future of returning to a post-pandemic working routine seems to be something with the most questions surrounding it.

It’s clear that work as we know it will never be the same, but what the future of work will look like, is largely unknown - leaving a lot of employers feeling unsettled.

The UK media has slowly but surely created an expectation for employers to be offering WFH as an option moving forward, leveraging the long-term remote working announcements from corporations such as Twitter, Salesforce and Capital One to cement the point.

It has not gone unnoticed that some employers are expecting their teams to be available at all hours, and there are cases of individuals working longer and harder simply because they’re working from home.

It is my understanding that employers are feeling obliged to offer remote working, even if it doesn’t quite work with their business model and culture.

A 2020 survey from Slack found that only 12% of office workers want to return to the office fulltime, further highlighting the resistance that employers may well face.

That’s not to say that working from home hasn’t presented benefits for both parties – for employees, it has provided an opportunity to truly understand how work/life balance can be achieved and reassess what they want from their careers. Whilst for many employers, it was the catalyst needed to modernise their infrastructure and outdated working practices.

Whilst personally I don’t believe that employers should be bullied into submission when it comes to long-term working from home, I do believe that they should be introducing flexibility and taking into consideration the unique needs of their workforce.

In a world where personalisation and customisation are key – employers should be embracing the benefits that flexibility offers.

I am a huge advocate of flexible working, and it allows us to support each of our team in a way that suits them and their lives. However, our business and culture are built on the office environment. We have spent a long time cultivating a working environment that is fun and high energy, and something that people want to be a part of.

 

The nature of the business is high energy, and to be able to give support when it’s needed most and maximise the expertise of the senior team being physically around each other is key. We worry we couldn’t do the best for our team in a remote environment.

There is no denying that working from home has opened our eyes to a new way of working – I can’t help but feel that it’s not all positive. From personal experience, and speaking with other business leaders, there have been negatives.

One of the main points that has been identified is the lack of social contact. This has been a known factor in the declining mental health of many, especially when it came to associations with work, and causing feelings of isolation.

A report by the Royal Society For Public Health found that 67% of people say they felt less connected with their colleagues and 56% find it harder to switch off.

With this in mind, it’s important to note that the sudden move to working from home has led to blurred boundaries between work and home life. It has not gone unnoticed that some employers are expecting their teams to be available at all hours, and there are cases of individuals working longer and harder simply because they’re working from home.

I fear there’s been an undercurrent of these questionable habits taking place as a result of the unregulated changes in workplace coupled with the underlying fear of people losing their jobs because of the landscape.

As much as the traditional 9 - 5 was considered to be rigid, there is a lot to be said for the ability for employers to monitor employee wellbeing that could be noticed through their working habits.

The future of the FMCG sector, like many others will rely heavily on AI and technology – not only do we need team collaboration and communication to foster the creativity and innovation required to make this a reality, but my worry is without making physical interaction a priority in the workforce, we will be facing social regression.

Leadership, management, even simple interaction between people and teams - which is absolutely key in the world of manufacturing - is going to have considerable challenges if we continue down this path.

I don’t claim to have the answers and can only look at this in relation to my business and sector, but I will say I’ve got major concerns over the immense pressure that businesses are facing to offer a one-size-fits-all approach when in reality it’s just not possible.

 

About the author

Lukas Vanterpool is director at The Sterling Choice 

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