Should you move to permanent remote work?

'There is no denying that it takes more effort to manage and engage your team members in a remote work environment'

Should you move to permanent remote work?

Before the world was dealing with the chaos of COVID-19, remote working was for many leaders a concept that could not translate into reality.

Back in 1974, Jack Nilles from the University of Southern California led the first major study to investigate the benefits of “telecommuting”. However, in the ensuing years the majority of organisations found working in the office was preferable.

Fast-forward to as late as 2019, and researchers from San Jose State University found managerial and executive resistance was the major perceived obstacle to widespread remote working.

However, since the onset of COVID-19, organisations have realised they must offer flexible and remote working or risk losing talent to companies that do.

So, as infection rates in NZ continue to dwindle, what if you are stuck in a position where your leadership team is keen to get everyone back to the office? 

There are several common concerns that those with a traditional attitude to leadership often have when it comes to more flexible modes of work, according to Alex Hattingh, chief people officer at Employment Hero. 

Hattingh told HRD that some managers and leaders still hold the misconception that people have to be at your desk to be productive and add value to their role.

Read more: HR teams need to step up to employee experience woes

“I know of managers and leaders who simply do not have the trust in people to manage their time and deliverables,” said Hattingh.

“It is such a shame, as studies show that when leaders give people the freedom to manage their time and be more involved in family, such as drop-offs or sports training, it boosts engagement, satisfaction and productivity in the workplace. 

“You need to be organised and disciplined with your communication cadence, such as regular weekly 1:1s, as it is not as easy to simply walk over to your people and check-in. There is no denying that it takes more effort to manage and engage your team members in a remote and hybrid work environment.”

During the second quarter – when New Zealand progressed from Level 4 down to Level 1 – 36% of the working population was operating from home (roughly a million employees).

In that period, the industries with the highest percentage of employees on a WFH status included financial and insurance services (71%), information media and telecommunications (66%), professional, scientific, technical, administrative and support services (59%) and rental, hiring and real estate services (58%).

Given so many employees have become accustomed to working from home, where should HR professionals start when building a case for remote-first work? 

For those wanting to inform and persuade their leadership team to adopt remote and hybrid working models, they should begin by gathering data from their own people, according to Hattingh.

Read more: Is it too dangerous to bring staff back to the office?

In other words, they should survey their team to find out what they want. 

“When we surveyed our people, 92% said they wanted remote working to stay. This is why we adopted our remote-first approach, with the option of office ‘Hubs’ for collaboration and social connections,” she said.

“Our people decide where they work from. We did this because they felt so strongly about having this option available.”  

During COVID-19, there have been numerous studies into employee attitudes towards remote work, and the benefits it can bring to a business. Lean on these resources to make a strong case for your team, added Hattingh. 

“By allowing remote work, you open up a pool of talent that you may never have had access to before. Since going remote-first ourselves, we have hired at least ten people outside of Sydney in hard-to-fill roles,” she said.

“This would not have been possible prior to COVID-19 forcing the change management of 100 per cent remote work. 

“Remember to rely on data and statistics, lead with research, and if you can, provide examples of the success of your own teams being more engaged, productive and happier - that is even more compelling.”  

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