When COVID-19 struck in early 2020, employers were unprepared for the forced transition to remote working. They have been even less ready to address the reluctance of many to return to traditional working formats as digital technology facilitated the establishment of home offices across the USA. In fact this got traction faster than anyone imagined, and has simultaneously created a massive cybersecurity problem. However, the benefits are not to be ignored.
Remote working significantly saves time in terms of commute, while also empowering increased flexibility. Since people are not limited to official office hours, they can start well before or after nine am and knock off earlier or work later than five pm (i.e., conventional office hours in most industries). In addition, staying at home creates conditions for closer family connection and sharing leisure time more than ever before.
So, has the trend got legs – the stamina to endure over the long term? And to what extent is management sustainably behind the changes? Are the leaders coping with, embracing, or rejecting remote working as an HR dynamic?
Some enlightening stats around remote working
- Global Workplace Analytics calculates that 22% of the workforce (i.e., 36.2 million Americans) will work remotely by 2025.
- In a University of Chicago survey across 10,000 employees, the majority affirmed that working from home didn’t obstruct job effectiveness. On the contrary, nearly one-third claimed they were more productive.
- Another report (by Owl Labs) agreed with the results above from a different angle: over half of the respondents stated that they’re getting more done in a home office than on the company’s physical premises. Moreover:
- Over 30% were so elated with the switch to remote working that any shift back to the old ways would trigger them into joining the Great Resignation.
- Conversely, a minority (36%) favored returning to the traditional corporate office environment.
While this looks like a strong case for remote working as a permanent model, it’s not so cut-and-dried.
The dividing lines get a bit blurry as one digs a little deeper. For example, the same studies show:
- Around 44% of companies forbid remote working and will not hire anyone who wants that option.
- On the other end of the spectrum, only 16% of corporate hirers are onboard with 100% of their staff working remotely.
- So, that leaves us with 40% of businesses in the US that back a hybrid system of remote/traditional employment conditions. Within this middle group, it may involve:
- Some employees working entirely remotely alongside others in-company.
- Or the same individuals working both ways.
Indeed, the Owl survey uncovered that:
- 80% of the respondents expect to spend more than half the working week in their home office after the COVID-19 scare settles down.
- The same percentage believe that their employers will continue to uphold remote working permission post-pandemic.
- 59% of respondents wanted to work for employers favoring remote configurations versus those that don’t.
In fact, Mercer, an HR and workplace benefits consulting firm, in their survey of 800 employers, found that almost all of them (i.e., 94%) saw no downgrade in productivity after employees moved to home offices, and many applauded the change for improving job effectiveness.
Going by the above, the shift to remote working hasn’t created disadvantages and, if anything, has improved employee retention!
The freelancer advantage – an effective support option in chaotic HR times
The gig economy is not only kind to permanent employees who enjoy the move to a home office. No, it’s been on the side of freelancers who have been professional remote workers for many years. The latter has developed into a legitimate competitor to full-time employees by being effectively ready and able to take on company projects.
CEOs learned that the immediate cost benefits of employees at work in their residences were the reciprocal savings that came with downsizing office accommodations. However, when management discovered freelancers, they found a double-barreled resolution that bolsters the bottom line even more emphatically:
- Freelancers are an effective stop-gap to continue projects left hanging by departed employees.
- It leads to overhead reductions that go beyond reduced rental expenses. For example, there’s no need to pay:
- Leave pay
- Or any other fringe benefits.
In summary: Given that rehiring, orienting, and retraining is a stubbornly slow process and costly, contracting freelancers to bridge the problems can be a groundbreaking and cost-effective solution.
A remote work obstacle that can catch CEOs on the wrong foot
The Owl Survey conveyed a particularly worrying message. Despite there being a groundswell of company support for the hybrid or pure remote working models, consider the following:
Only 20-25% of companies are footing the bill for home office computerization and all that entails.
It brings us to the subject of cybersecurity. It’s no secret that data protection, malicious hacking, selling trade secrets to competitors, and content encryption are currently crucial concerns for upholding brand and corporate integrity. When devices are in-office, they’re much easier to protect against malware attacks and data theft. IT department or outside cybersecurity advisors routinely control and monitor these protocols within company confines.
However, people in their residences generally don’t have anything close to company-grade technology fortification. As individuals, their tech abilities to reconstruct things are ‘iffy” at best. As a result, one would think that businesses are helping employees to digitally upgrade their home offices as a priority. According to Owl – apparently not. It calls for substantial investment, and their survey reflects that at least 75% of companies don’t see it that way.
Following stringent IT protocols should be a vital remote working aspect, not home-grown affairs with inadequate passwords – an open-door opportunity for hackers in foreign localities to walk through at will. Also, what happens when remote workers go to a Starbucks for a change of scenery? Are they logging on to a public network – a leaky virtual environment, if ever there was one? How much of the companies’ crucial data is moving out with resigning employees or to bad actors in the cybersecurity arena? All these considerations are an urgent necessity under the new HR circumstances.
Indeed, businesses should go beyond passwords with:
- Two and three-tier document and app entry.
- Stricter access to documentation.
- Accurate records of people drawing files from the cloud.
- Doubling up on encryption protections, especially in public internet situations.
The cybersecurity picture painted above can have devastating consequences for all businesses. Put it up against the fact that most are stinting on this budget, and there are stark implications. In our view, this is a severe pressure point that is largely ignored.
CEOs are embracing remote working in one form or another, and the evidence shows that it’s supporting their efforts to thwart the Great Resignation. This is further bolstering their efforts to restore stability in the post-pandemic era. With open-mindedness, the remote working option can tilt things in the stakeholders’ favor.
However, as pointed out, cybersecurity is the flaw in the fabric that demands immediate remedy and renewed attention. Reach out to Sogolytics for assistance if you deal with any aspect of the remote working scenario. Its resources are ideally suited for dealing with the recent changes and the domino effects it can have on organizations in the future.