COVID-19 has reshaped the way we work. Most business leaders now accept that the pandemic was a catalyst for significant change, which included challenging traditional office setups and prompted businesses to embrace the world of remote work as the new normal.
With the widespread adoption of technology, organisations have realised the potential for improved employee wellbeing, enhanced productivity, and increased creativity even when working online and remotely. Instead of returning to the past, this article sets out five reasons why an ‘office-first’ mentality is being replaced by more nuanced positions, and where pioneering businesses are leveraging new technologies to change the way they operate.
Andrew Jackson and David Tinker are Co-founders of Rethinkly.
1. Flexibility and work-life balance
Technology enables employees to achieve a better work-life balance and gain the flexibility they, and their families, prefer. Remote working has eliminated commuting time, allowing individuals to allocate those hours towards personal pursuits or engage in activities that promote their overall wellbeing. Technology-powered collaboration tools and project management software empower teams to collaborate effectively regardless of their physical location, promoting work-life integration. This flexibility enhances employee satisfaction and morale and contributes to increased productivity and creativity.
2. Enhanced employee wellbeing
The mental and physical health of employees is paramount in creating a thriving work environment. Technology facilitates the provision of resources that support employee wellbeing in the remote work setting. Virtual wellness programs, meditation apps, visualization tools and online fitness classes – all enable employees individuals to prioritize self-care and manage stress more effectively. Digital communication platforms have enabled new social connections too. Sure, the flipside is also true – back-to-back video meetings are not good for our wellbeing, and so the forward-thinking teams are working out how to plan their sessions, making them more engaging and interactive, and finding ways to use technologies which provide for unplanned, unstructured conversations. It is increasingly common to see remote meeting entries entitled “Coffee and a chat”.
3. Improved productivity and efficiency
Contrary to what one might believe, remote working can significantly enhance productivity. Technology plays a crucial role in this transformation. Collaborative project management tools, cloud-based document sharing, and video conferencing platforms streamline communication and collaboration across geographic boundaries. By eliminating time-consuming meetings and optimizing workflow processes, employees can dedicate more time to focused work, resulting in increased productivity levels. With the jury still out on how machine learning will shape the future of work, it is increasingly clear that artificial intelligence and automation will significantly remove the need for employees to undertake more repetitive and less engaging tasks.
4. Unleashing creativity
The remote work era, coupled with technology, has unleashed the creative potential of employees. With the freedom to work in personalized environments, individuals can tap into their creative zones and explore innovative ideas. Virtual whiteboards, brainstorming tools, collaborative design software and virtual- and augmented-reality technologies are shifting the emphasis from the written word to the visual, bringing in new ways of working. These technologies support collaborative working and creative thinking and allow teams to co-create and share ideas in real-time. Working with these new technologies has enabled businesses to tap into diverse perspectives across a global talent pool – bringing in new ideas to propel innovation. And technologies like these are increasingly being used to tackle the seemingly intractable people and culture challenges, in domains such as diversity, inclusion, mental health, bullying and harassment.
5. Cost savings and environmental sustainability
Finally, fewer employees in offices lead to reduced office space requirements, which translates to lower overhead costs, rents, utilities and maintenance costs. The reduction in commuting results in reduced expenses for employees as well.
With the increasing attention on our climate, many businesses are also questioning the role which offices play in our travel patterns. According to one study, daily commuting amounts to around 5% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions so this area is gaining increasing importance for many businesses and employees.
Whilst companies and sectors have different needs and preferences, our research suggests that many organizations have already dropped an ‘office-first’ approach and continue exploring how technology-supported remote working will be their new normal. The pioneers also recognize the importance of in-person meetings and social activities, so bring employees together for these purposes. Finding the right balance is the challenge HR teams are currently facing in ambitious companies. Adding the right tools and programs that provide the space for deep thinking and unlocking the communication challenges that come with all working patterns. But being proactive in supporting your organization is more powerful than deciding on a one size fits all for your employees and returning to the office will fix all problems. It’s just not a forward-thinking strategy for businesses in today’s new world dynamics.
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Andrew Jackson is a Co-founder of Rethinkly. Founded in 2013, Rethinkly powered by ProReal is a unique development and coaching visualisation tool that provides a safe digital space for ambitious teams to explore problems, relationships, conflicts and dynamics.