“Returning to the office” has been one of the most divisive issues of the post-2020 pandemic era, even taking out of the equation the contrarian commentators who still refuse to accept that there’s ever been a pandemic. The language involved in the debate has often become emotive, with people on one side of the argument saying that their counterparts are “living in fear”, while the opposite side returns fire with accusations of putting “profit before people”.
However, it seems hard to deny that the era of the remote workforce is here – and with workers holding out on a return and seeking out jobs that allow them to work from home, it’s probably time to stop opining on the concept and start figuring out how we deal with it.
Operating a remote workforce has its pros and its cons, and navigating that space is part of the job of any employer grappling with the future. Fortunately, the one thing CEOs won’t be starved of is advice on negotiating those pros and cons. Such advice, along with tech solutions for implementing remote working, will be forthcoming from far and wide. So the important thing to do now is consider how you would get started in transitioning more permanently to a hybrid or remote workforce.
Figure Out Your Remote Working Policies
Many bosses fear the potential loss of control that could come with employees working remotely, and indeed control will be lost if you don’t hammer out a policy for it. Ask yourself what the challenges are that will be raised by having a remote workforce, and put in place mitigations which you can then ask employees to sign up to. Absenteeism, slow working and fitful communication didn’t suddenly spring into existence in 2020, they are not created by remote working – so with some thought, you can at the very least limit them now.
Have Uniformity In Business Tech
One of the attractions of an office-based workforce is that you can know everyone in the office has the appropriate tech in place to do the job they’ve been hired to do. If a stay-at-home order was in place from tomorrow morning, would your remote workforce be able to say the same? A particular concern for bosses in 2020 was to do with data security, as the average family home doesn’t have the same firewall provisions an office does. So it’s a sound idea to rent an iPhone for each employee who needs it – with the proper security provisions pre-loaded. Providing laptops for employees is also an option; while it sounds expensive, money will be saved by not having to support them in the office.
Compile A Plan For Virtual Office Communication
It’s not efficient to have employees WhatsApp information to one another on their own initiative, and it’s also potentially a data security nightmare. As far as remote working policies go, having an agreed system for business communication is absolutely indispensable. If one worker needs access to a spreadsheet, this should be requested via the stipulated channel. If a discussion needs to be had regarding customer data, it should likewise take place where it can be seen by those who need to know (and only by them). Systems like Slack have been used in offices for years now, and can be used remotely without any difficulty.
Decide Whether The Move Is Full And Final
An existing elephant in the room of the discussion on remote working is whether it is financially sensible to retain a working office when there is an alternative. It’s not something that any and every employer can consider, but with the price of commercial rent being what it is, some businesses will be able to save money by ending or not renewing a commercial lease. This is something that can only happen if the whole workforce can and will work remotely, of course, but if it is viable for your business it could be a shot in the arm for financial stability and productivity.
There may be times when it is useful or even essential to get employees together, but this doesn’t mean a fixed office is obligatory. Blocking off hours or even days to meet in a co-working space will still work out as more affordable than keeping an office on the off-chance that you’ll need it.
The pandemic has not put an end to office working, nor has it resulted in a situation where everybody can work from home. It has, however, created a conversation about how the future of work could look, and for any business owner it’s a good idea to be part of that conversation instead of reacting to it.