The rise of the Covid-19 pandemic promoted remote working from being a workplace experiment to working its way towards being the new normal.
The remodelling of the traditional office format was evident on a global scale. Taking a look at the UK, one of the worst impacted countries, data from the office for national statistics show the number of people who did some work at home in 2020 rose by almost 10% compared to the previous year.
Past research by the CIPD shows that the pandemic only sped up this shift, with an 80% increase of people working from home already recorded over the last 20 years.
These results are from a survey from 1999-2019 and display the steady increase in jobs worked mainly from home, with higher peaks due to technology advancements.
Employers are expecting the numbers working from home regularly to double to 37%. Due to this apparent demand for remote working by employees, 44% of employers are now planning on putting additional measures to support home working with the expectation that remote working is here to stay, fuelled by emerging regulations worldwide.
To say that 2020 was a year full of uncertainty would be an understatement. With no clear end in sight, many industries faced an enormous negative impact, particularly those in hospitality who recorded almost no output in April and May 2020, with consumer credit also taking a hit in the financial industry. Those who could work from home experienced the many advantages that came with adhering to social distancing measures. Having said that, not everyone has positively adjusted.
For teams to be fully supported, it is essential to understand that individuals will react differently to remote working. Personality is a great way to break this down, for example, Introversion and Extraversion are the most common split in personalities, and organisations find they are more likely to succeed when both sides of personality are supported and catered to throughout the transition to a more permanent remote working world. Let’s take a look at behavioural impact across communication, collaboration, inclusivity and productivity.
When done correctly, one of the most noticeable benefits of remote working is maintaining effective communication channels. Compared to traditional offices, the volume of communication has increased due to video calls, instant messaging and social networking. The volume increase came as a surprise to those who feared that the lack of face-to-face would negatively impact communication.
The use of instant messaging tools rocketed as a direct impact of the pandemic, with the average number of messages sent by users increasing by more than a third in just a few weeks.
Advancements in technology have allowed teams to manage the differences caused by a lack of face-to-face communication; an excellent example is sharing work-related information in the chat function. The chat function sends instant messages in real-time, which Practitioners can do during conference calls or within our interactive Lumina Qualifications.
Although statistics show that the volume of communication is more significant for remote working, virtual workplace communications lack the usual contextual cues of face-to-face interaction.
An article published in MIT Sloan Management Review in 2009 focused on those who felt a barrier in online communication. A male communications manager stated:
Not being able to run down the hall and get a question answered is a big disadvantage; there‘s a big difference in not being able to see the person’s face, cue in on their expressions and the nonverbal characteristics that really help you understand something more thoroughly and just develop a better relationship.
Many of us may find ourselves in the same boat, indicating that remote working can work well and is often well suited to introverted preferences. However, those with more extraverted preferences may suffer from the lack of shared social experience that creates enthusiasm and motivation in the traditional office format.
Communication levels being higher in remote working teams is primarily due to the evolution of technology. Organisations can only flourish when all team members have access to high-speed internet when not in the office, as video calling and downloading from cloud storage really drains your data!
McKinsey published a report about the future of work after Covid-19; within this, they displayed their key findings from research, indicating that almost 20% of workers in rural households lack access to the internet even in advanced economies.
20% is a significant figure for effective remote working. Without access to the internet, those working from home cannot work effectively in a remote world. Having the right infrastructure in place eg high-speed internet at the place of work, can significantly impact organisations looking to recruit remote workers, and to support the talent they recruit.
This type of statistic may lead organisations to conclude that staying bound to an office location is the easy solution as all team members have consistent high-speed access to the internet. However, having everyone in the same location is simple but it comes at a high cost to both talent attraction, retention and requires heavy investment in a full-time office space. In addition to the infrastructure issues, organisations also need to invest in developing their staff in how to work effectively in a remote environment; it’s a matter of making the most of your budget.
Technology not only improves communication in remote teams but has significantly altered the way that teams collaborate. With nearly 83% of participants of an Alfresco survey indicating they were dependent on technology to collaborate, it is apparent that technology is not just a helpful addition but has now become a cornerstone for organisations to operate effectively.
The virtual workplace has completely transformed how we share data with colleagues. Cloud-based storage allows people to share access to documents and files to keep the team in the loop regardless of geographic location and without the need for paper copies as you would require in a traditional office format. The invention of the Cloud has been significant in creating the ideal working conditions for collaboration, transforming information sharing into a more structured and accessible layout.
Although newfound access to technology has eased the transition to remote working and collaborating as a team, sharing information in a remote world needs more discipline driven behaviours. Virtual communication can be very fleeting, whereas to collaborate effectively some documents need to be enduring. Having the systems and processes in place and the discipline to follow them is essential to effective remote working. Being too Inspiration Driven in collaborating online can be a recipe for disaster.
The views from the MIT Sloan Management Review revealed that those who felt that online collaboration was not as effective believed brainstorming was more effective with face-to-face communication.
Fear of not collaborating well within a virtual workplace may affect those who rely more on social cues to understand physical language regarding how they represent themselves.
Looking at both sides of personality, Introversion and Extraversion can negatively impact remote working. Those with more introverted personalities may become withdrawn or detached during online conversations. Likewise, more extraverted people may struggle with a lack of ability to use their body language and physical expression. After all, there is only so much you can show on camera.
Collaboration is something that teams cannot afford to lose out on; this statement is amplified in the results that 75% of employers rate teamwork and collaboration as necessary.
Although not being restricted to one geographic location can be an advantage, it can also be a downside when working with teams in different time zones. Having remote workers operating within different time zones makes collaboration much more challenging. However, where it is possible, it encourages the valuing of diversity which can have a very positive impact on collaboration and the co-creation of results. Maintaining a flexible approach can be helpful, ensuring all options are explored before being ruled out.
What’s the impact when this does go wrong? 86% of employees and executives cite a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures.
When choosing to merge teams across different time zones, it’s vital to be realistic with the geographic locations you pick to ensure collaboration is possible without significant barriers.
Inclusion in the workplace can come in many forms, ethnicity, nationality, gender and psychological outlook, just to name a few. Not to worry, we’ll be covering many more prominent factors in future posts. When we look at amplifying inclusivity across any of these, the advantages are clear.
Migrating to a virtual workplace means no longer being bound to a central location; this is particularly advantageous for recruitment. Expanding worldwide allows teams to tap into a wider talent pool and create a more diverse and inclusive environment.
A report published by McKinsey in 2018 showed that companies with the most ethically diverse teams had a higher chance of outperforming the competition. In 2014, those with a broader mix of representation outperformed their peers by 35% compared to the 33% outperformance reported in 2017. These are both significant figures showing a correlation between having a more inclusive and diverse team to a company’s overall performance and profitability.
Remote working provides the opportunity to attract a wider pool of candidates, particularly for working mums with the challenge of balancing family and work responsibilities. Findings from our research paper on ‘The feminine advantage in leadership’ show that women tend to be more People-Focused while men tend to be more Outcome-Focused. In a remote working environment, it seems likely that there will be a positive effect on gender inclusivity as women who are more People-Focused can share their approaches without being overlooked or overridden by their tougher male counterparts.
We know when organisations act on increasing gender diversity, particularly in leadership roles, they tend to outperform other organisations due to adopting a more empathetic strategy. Increased levels of empathy lead to a greater understanding of how organisational issues relate to people and how to make people part of the solution. Remote working conditions open up the space for these People-Focused qualities to shine through in a more controlled environment.
The virtual workplace moves at a different pace with more time for reflection and being vigilant before communicating. Our research (read the full report here) found that Introversion increased throughout the pandemic, with more people being reflective and vigilant. Written messaging played to the strengths of introverted personalities who may not have felt as confident in a face-to-face environment and benefitted from the structure and purpose of online messaging.
Post pandemic, as organisations look to recover from the crisis they will find it hard to ignore these figures, particularly in improving profitability. They will feel encouraged to go remote and reap the benefits of expanding worldwide rather than being tied to a physical office’s constraints on inclusion and diversity.
It’s true what they say; with great reward comes great risk. Remote working can sometimes be challenging, with companies stating they have felt a loss in organisational synergy.
This loss of synergy can result in some employees feeling additional pressure or stress, leading to overplaying their strengths and losing touch with how their style may come across to others. A typical example of this is the case of Extraverted and Outcome-Focused personalities dominating zoom calls (Zoom domination!) due to the lack of social cues to pause them and open up the space for more Introverted and People-Focused individuals to share their opinions. Similarly, those who are more Introverted when stressed may shut down with no one to read the room and the situation.
Another impact on personality is that those who prefer to work in a much more Inspiration-Driven environment with openness to adaptability and spontaneity can find the highly structured calendar-driven world limits working on new opportunities to motivate them.
Mann and Holdsworth captured the negative impact of remote working in their research paper published in 2003; results suggest a negative emotional impact of remote working in terms of such emotions as loneliness, irritability, worry, and guilt.
Our research team found results that supported Mann and Holdsworth, nearly 20 years apart. Both suggest that remote working damages a team’s emotional well-being with reported feelings of isolation.
Our graph indicates that for employees who felt isolated or excluded, the figures were higher in those who work remotely occasionally or all of the time. Those who worked 100% within the office had fewer feelings of isolation and exclusion.
This negative impact reinforces reservations about virtual workplaces, with research indicating that employees who feel isolated have lower job satisfaction, lower organisational commitment, and increased staff turnover.
As great as remote working is, many have their reservations, and rightly so. Most obviously, the lack of seeing what employees are doing when not supervised. Let’s put some minds at ease with the breakdown of the data collected in our research with Henley Business School.
These results indicate employees feeling more productive as one of the top four reasons they wanted to work remotely.
It is not surprising to see that those who work remotely feel more productive, as this has been a reoccurring theme in past research by Capgemini and CIPD.
Research carried out by Capgemini indicated that in the last quarter of 2020 alone, remote working boosted both productivity and cost savings by up to 24%. These findings are consistent with the results from a survey conducted by the CIPD, which revealed that 28% of employers believe that productivity or efficiency has increased with the growth of home working.
Higher productivity is crucial for businesses through the midst of a pandemic; it impacts business continuity and growth, reinforcing the trend that remote working is a good decision for the future of organisations.
Remote working can give staff more autonomy, which can drive productivity, but this can sometimes lead to Overextending their natural strengths and neglecting hidden talents. Those with more introverted personalities work well on their own and may overplay this strength, believing they can handle the responsibility and do everything alone; this leads to separation from the team and a lack of communication. Without effective communication at different stages, there could be misinterpretations of the end goal, harming overall productivity at its most crucial point.
Exploring which strengths people are likely to overplay when under pressure and stress can help them manage these. By managing these Overextensions, individuals, teams, and leaders can build self-awareness skills to overcome remote working challenges, as seen in the Lumina Spark model (you can join a free live experience here). One of the solutions of Lumina Spark we have developed is Journey to Composure, creating a personalised 5 step plan that helps people understand their behaviours and how to be their most effective happy self at work, limiting their potential to Overextend in the workplace.
A survey of over 1000 employers conducted by the CIPD initially showed positive impacts on productivity from remote working, with 28% believing that productivity or efficiency has increased with the growth of home working.
The same survey also revealed that 28% believe that productivity decreased with home working, and an even more significant figure of 37% stated they had not observed any difference. When observed together, the results show no apparent correlation between remote working and an increase in productivity.
A novel effect suggests that the radical change over time may be due to burnout in people. Before teams can reap the benefits of a remote working policy, it is crucial to have a development solution that encourages people to be their best and have the skills to support themselves when they notice their performance drops.
There is a good, bad and ugly when rolling out a remote working policy. It’s all about striking a balance.
The demand from employees to create flexible remote working policies is increasing, with 30% of employees stating they are likely to switch jobs if they returned to entirely on-site work. The high demand makes it essential to cater to the changing views of employees as this will be important when attracting and retaining new talent.
The benefits are now clear; remote working is here to stay and offers considerable advantages to organisations. The recipe for success is tailoring to the individual needs to unlock the potential.
If you’re looking to create a successful remote working policy tailored to your organisations individual needs and talent, check out our top tips based on our latest global research.
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