One of the most significant effects that the international health crisis has had upon businesses is operational. Despite a developing culture of remote and flexible employment being established before 2020, its widespread adoption had been met with resistance by many. Centralised workplaces and fixed schedules took precedence, largely due to their preexisting effectiveness and the established advantages they brought to teams.
The international health crisis, however, placed even the most reluctant business owners in a position of compromise: either enact flexible hours and remote working practices or shut down operations during periods of lockdown. Aside from a few anomalies, most businesses engaged in the former, embracing technology and continuing their business.
Now, as we transition from periods of lockdown and are supported to bring employees back into a centralised and shared workplace, there is a growing demand to remain as we were during the new normal. While certain discussions might lead businesses to believe demand is solely arising from employees, those who prefer the work-life balance advantages of teleworking, it actually receives support from managers and business leaders too.
A significant part of this is due to the increased productivity of remote working. Previous negative press has painted a dismissive image of employees being able to work from home, with reduced productivity and staff drawn in by distraction. Early studies demonstrated that not only was the opposite true, with employees tending to be more efficient, but some employees were working more than their allocated hours. The risk of remote working is, in fact, often due to employees burning out and not becoming lazy.
These risks can be managed, mitigated, and often altogether avoided with adaptive and forward-thinking management systems, which can include the reworking of employee contracts to support individual needs, including allowing for short-term employment and temporary contracts. Deenu Patel, CEO of ID Medial, in conversation with People Group Services, stated that “As we now move out of the post-COVID world, we recognise the need for temp staffing. It’s going to be one of the highest it’s ever been.” This is not only because of an increase in demand for workplace flexibility from the employee side but also because certain workplace infrastructures are struggling to both operate and transition from lockdown operations.
Demand for non-remote jobs rose a little over 2% in 2020, while demand for remote working positions rose over 200%. Now, as businesses adapt to accommodate new styles of operation, even as a mixture of fixed location and remote, they are meeting demand and discovering the benefits of doing so, supporting employee preferences and utilising technology that will allow them to continue operation more readily, even in the event of another lockdown or international health crisis.
Some employers are maintaining that centralised workplaces have benefits and should be kept entirely, or at least partially, in employee schedules. Certain technological limitations support this notion and, while general support may lean toward a remote workforce, there are still hurdles that necessitate shared office spaces. Additionally, studies regarding remote working are still ongoing. So, while the short term benefits seem to favour flexible hours and remote positions, we are yet to see the long term effects, which may yet prove to support more conservative business leaders.