Home sweet office sweet home
The remote working bandwagon may have reached warp speed at the height of lockdown but it’s fair to say the momentum is starting to flag as we open up again. Some businesses are adopting a fluid approach to the issue of home or remote working but others are keen to get employees back into offices and company buildings.
Nevertheless, it seems inarguable that more people will be working (or hoping to work) remotely or from home for more of their time than they were before Covid-19 arrived. Remote working has been a trend for quite a while but the rapid scale of adoption during the pandemic has taken it much further and faster than anticipated.
In this context, it was interesting to read about the formation of a remote working alliance by social enterprise Grow Remote with Vodafone, ESB, eBay and Liberty Insurance. All four businesses in the Remote Alliance have pledged to embed remote working within their organisations on a long-term basis.
The Alliance also seeks to encourage other companies to commit to long-term remote working with a forum to help address the challenges and opportunities it presents. Grow Remote will develop a playbook and other resources to reach a broader range of employers of all sizes and help them adopt remote working.
Joanne Mangan is employers lead at Grow Remote. She has experience of working with channel partners in her previous roles as EMEA manager for partner service delivery at SAP and channel enablement manager at Mathworks.
Asked if there are many channel partners involved with Grow Remote at the moment, she mentions Cloud Assist which has “been very supportive of our mission” but there is no formal partnership. There aren’t many other examples but she stresses “we are very eager to connect with organisations of all sizes, sectors and industries, those that are already remote-first and those that want to make the transition to remote or hybrid working”.
Remote work is clearly an attractive proposition for technology companies, especially as many of them are “often in a war for talent”, Mangan says. “It is critical that they pay attention to where the market is moving as they risk not being able to attract and retain talent if they return to the office-first model.”
There are challenges too. Employers need to keep employees engaged, foster a collaborative environment in a remote world, build a remote company culture and mitigate the risks of having a two-tier workforce, with some working remotely and some in the office.
“In order to encourage technology companies to adapt remote working in the long term, we need to address these challenges head on,” Mangan says. “It’s not enough to highlight the benefits, we need to provide practical advice, training and guidance to companies, both large and small, to help them overcome these challenges.”
So why are there no IT companies in the Remote Alliance? She argues that having household names that are not technology companies “is a great way to encourage other organisations to follow suit”. There is a perception it is easier for technology companies to implement remote working, that they had already widely adopted it before the pandemic and it was more a part of their DNA than for ‘traditional’ industries.
“In our experience, both the perception that remote work is easier for tech companies to implement, and that more ‘traditional’ industries will simply move back to the office are incorrect,” Mangan states. Grow Remote would like to have some of the large technology companies come on board as the Alliance develops. “Many of them are implementing remote, hybrid and flexible working practices and are undoubtedly facing similar challenges and identifying best practices that would be hugely beneficial to share.”
What about smaller companies? Grow Remote already works with many smaller Irish companies in the technology sector that are fully remote, including Glofox, Zyte, Axionista and Nearform.
“We are also approached every day by small companies interested in working remotely or in a hybrid model post-pandemic and are looking for advice and guidance from us,” she reveals. The benefits of remote working are the same for smaller organisations as for larger ones: access to a wider talent pool, better employee engagement, lower costs such as rents and rates, lower attrition rates and less sick days.
But implementing remote work can be a challenge for smaller companies that may not have the same resources in-house as larger businesses. “They may also have had a bad experience during the pandemic if they were not used to this model of working previously,” Mangan adds.
While many eulogise about the ability of remote working to allow employees to work for large companies without having to live in more expensive commutable areas, this is not always to the benefit of smaller local businesses.
“I think we need to be careful not to make broad sweeping statements about remote working being purely a force for good,” Mangan says. As with any dramatic change, there are unintended and unforeseen consequences. For example, house prices in rural areas are increasing as demand from people seeking to relocate from cities rises.
“It is important that the benefits of remote work are not just felt by large enterprises and employees in high-skilled, high-paying jobs,” she acknowledges. “We must not forget about the local businesses who are competing with larger employers for talent and the local people who are potentially being driven out of the housing market.”
Mangan says “it is critical that there is a multi-faceted approach to remote working, including supports and guidance for small businesses and programmes for the upskilling and training of people in local communities”.