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While the COVID-19 pandemic forced a move towards remote work, with many still favoring a remote-first approach, more recently, the concept of ‘work from anywhere’ (WFA) has emerged as a transformative force in the world of business. It’s still far from the norm, but an increasing number of businesses are empowering their employees to take complete ownership of their locations. 

Often misconstrued as an opportunity for endless ‘workcations’, WFA actually empowers complete flexibility and delivers immense work-life balance. If, for example, you have family all over the world, your partner travels a lot for work and you want to join them, or your kids live across the country, WFA enables you to spend time with loved ones at no detriment to delivering in your role.

If you’re considering WFA for your business, you’ll be wondering about the potential pitfalls that need to be carefully considered. Let’s explore the pros and cons of ‘work from anywhere’ models for your business.

The benefits:

  • Enhanced Flexibility: 59% of employees in the US want to continue remote work long term. The primary allure is flexibility; employees can work from diverse locations, eliminating the need for commuting and adhering to rigid office hours.
  • Improved Productivity: Contrary to fearmongering from those insisting we should all return to the office, remote work often results in increased productivity. In fact, remote employees tend to work longer hours and are 13% more productive than their in-office counterparts. Reduced distractions and the absence of office-related interruptions play a significant role.
  • Cost Savings: For both businesses and employees, remote work equates to substantial cost savings. Businesses have an opportunity to reduce spend on office space as a minimum. For individuals, you lose costs for commuting, work attire, and daily meals. The average employee can save approximately $4,000 annually by working remotely.
  • Access to Global Talent: The ‘work from anywhere’ model expands your talent pool beyond geographical constraints. Businesses gain access to a diverse range of skilled professionals, promoting innovative solutions and ideas.
  • Environmental Benefits: Remote work contributes to a reduction in carbon emissions, and decreased commuting results in less traffic congestion and lower energy consumption. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, energy consumption declined significantly during the pandemic due to remote work arrangements.

The challenges:

  • Social Isolation: One of the most significant drawbacks is the potential for employee isolation: 22% of remote workers struggle with loneliness. The absence of face-to-face interactions has potential impacts on team cohesion and morale, so virtual events and team building sessions are crucial.
  • Communication Challenges: Despite advanced technology, communication gaps can persist in remote settings. The absence of in-person interactions may lead to misinterpretations of written messages. Ensuring clear and effective communication becomes paramount. Try setting processes to manage how teams interact: when is it an email, a slack, or a meeting? Can you replace in-person strategizing with tools like Miro and Notion? Ask for feedback on where the gaps are and work to fill them to eliminate communication issues.
  • Work-Life Balance: The flip-side of the work-life balance remote working affords many comes in a lack of boundaries. For those working from home – or wherever they may be – creating defined working times is more challenging, with figures suggesting remote workers contribute three hours more per day than their office counterparts. Encouraging your team to establish firm boundaries – including when and where you work – are crucial to preventing burnout.
  • Security Risks: Remote work can expose businesses to cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Cyber attacks surged during the pandemic, with phishing attempts increasing by 600%. Robust security measures (a combination of policies and software) are imperative to safeguard remote work environments.
  • Inequality and Disconnection: Not all employees can seamlessly embrace remote work. Lower-income workers often lack the necessary resources and flexibility to create a suitable home office environment, with recent graduates often living in house shares or with parents. This can exacerbate income inequality within an organization.

The right fit?

While the pros and cons of ‘work from anywhere’ may appear balanced, most of the negatives can be offset with planning and support. ‘Work from anywhere’ is a trend that is here to stay, and its potential benefits cannot be ignored. Not least, the access to the best talent globally, without geographical restriction. 

A great way to mitigate several of the associated challenges is through providing professional coaching to your people (via online platforms, naturally!) Coaching provides invaluable guidance on boundary setting, fostering a sense of belonging among remote teams, and addressing the unique challenges posed by remote work. It also enhances communication skills, critical in a dispersed workforce. 

Implementing a ‘work from anywhere’ model requires careful consideration, and it’s certainly not suitable for every business. However, if you can facilitate WFA, you should: with the right support, strategic planning, and a focus on employee well-being, businesses can harness the potential of remote work and adapt to the changing landscape of the modern workplace.

Learn more about maintaining engagement in remote and hybrid settings.

Over three years on from initial lockdowns, the global corporate landscape continues to evolve in response to learnings from the COVID-19 era. Whatever your views on the remote vs return-to-office debate, the data indicates a wider preference for hybrid work models, blending remote and office work. 

The rise of hybrid work is found to aid in enhancing employee efficiency. This supports the idea that office environments still play a vital role in harmonizing workflow, without the need to enforce in-office roles 5 days a week. For employees, work-life balance is a major factor, with companies who champion flexible work favored by 89%

Where some companies had existing hybrid models in place before March 2020, they were rare. An advancement of technologies over the last three years, coupled with a shift in attitudes, have played a crucial part in this transition. Organizations are now able to quickly adapt and thrive amidst changing workplace norms. 

The role of Artificial Intelligence in HR

Prominent among these notable technological advancements is an increasing global reliance on artificial intelligence (AI). We’re seeing signs of a stronger commitment to AI, such as with the UK government’s ‘Frontier AI’ taskforce. Focused on innovative AI applications, they aim to discover new uses for AI, and address safety risks associated with AI. The implications transcend industry boundaries, expected to make an indelible mark on HR and the management of people. 

The benefits of AI for HR are multiple, and still largely unexplored. The power of AI is already being harnessed to help automate aspects of talent acquisition, including screening job applications and identifying non-inclusive language in job adverts. Not only does this expedite the hiring process, it also lays the groundwork for more equitable hiring practices and more inclusive cultures. 

An area expected to leverage AI imminently is Learning & Development (L&D). According to the Learning Performance Benchmark report, only 50% of L&D teams have achieved ‘level one stage’ of Organizational Learning Maturity. In a world where half of the workforce must re-skill or upskill by 2025 in order to keep up with shifting demands, this is clearly problematic. Initiatives that focus on state-of-the-art learning technologies and cost-effective training initiatives are necessary for accelerating organizational learning maturity, and emerging technologies will play a pivotal role in this. 

How flexible working supports diversity and inclusion

The rise of technology continues to support a move towards flexibility, and as always we should assess everything through the lens of balance. 

The global shift to hybrid and remote work is paving the way for our future: 

  • Research suggests that three days a week in-office is optimal for career growth and idea generation
  • Recent reports indicate remote and partially-remote roles are a great way to reduce carbon emissions and slow climate change
  • Diverse employees – particularly neurodiverse colleagues – find working from home hugely beneficial

Yet, only a quarter of businesses currently offer fully flexible hybrid working. This discrepancy presents a pivotal area for development and change, and highlights the need to embrace emerging technologies. 

On the subject of diversity and inclusion, many neurodiverse employees feel AI tools could further their career progression, underscoring the importance of technology in shaping breakthrough L&D practices. It’s clear that companies must strive for inclusivity, not only in hiring processes, but in their professional development initiatives too. 

In the face of technological advancement, HR and ERP software integration promise to streamline operations, boost employee engagement, optimize business processes, and enhance decision-making capabilities. By promoting adaptability, particularly in the technological domain, businesses can foster long-term innovation and growth. 

The benefits of AI for HR: looking to the future

The broad consensus is clear: as we navigate workplace transformation in the post-pandemic world, embracing hybrid work models, championing diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging, and continually reimagining and bolstering L&D initiatives are the driving forces pushing us toward a brighter, more inclusive, and collaborative future of work.

Looking towards the future, the drive towards automating distinct operations hints at an increasingly predominant role for technologies like AI. This necessitates the cultivation of a culture valuing continuous learning, skill-building, and flexibility. Businesses are striving to adapt their workspaces and working styles in accordance with the pandemic-induced changes. Their focus must remain on fostering an environment that nurtures growth, empowerment, and adaptability in the face of unprecedented challenges.

The work environment post pandemic is becoming increasingly likely to be a hybrid between remote and office working.

In a recent PwC survey on remote working, less than one in five employees say that they would like to go back to the office as it was pre-pandemic. In addition, Gallup’s research shows that nearly 65% of US workers who worked remotely during the pandemic would like to continue to do so.

While remote work has its challenges, the advantages seem to have certainly surpassed its shortcomings. Perhaps the most important shift has been in people’s expectations of what work means to them. The blurred lines between work and personal life have also highlighted the growing importance of how work influences wellbeing.  

There are a few ways organisations and leaders can make a hybrid work environment a success:

Set clear expectations
In order to navigate this successfully, managers need to set clear and fair expectations about when people are expected to show up, either individually or as a group.

For example, when on-site presence is required or favoured, and when it is not, who gets access to what information and who needs to be in on certain decisions. Managers need to be honest with their own expectations too. When people are not expected to be in the office, managers need to ensure that team meetings are conducted uniformly on the same communication platform (such as zoom) even when part of the team is in the office.

Be fair
Building a culture of fairness in a hybrid work environment can be tricky. Remote employees may feel that their colleagues in the office have more opportunities to learn about what is happening in the organisation, and have an unfair advantage when it comes to being recognised and rewarded.

Managers need to be sensitive and inclusive about how they treat people. Blocking out time for one-on-one check-ins with all team members, regardless of where they are, is important to ensure fairness.

Make it fun
Many people miss the informal team bonding sessions, fun conversations and water-cooler time of the pre-pandemic work life. Find ways to bring back some fun and playfulness at work.

Set out times where there is no agenda, and teams can come together remotely to talk about their lives and interests outside of work. It is also important to make sure that these activities are open to all, regardless of their location. This helps people feel connected and have a sense of belonging, which enables them to be themselves at work.

Organisations should think of how they can leverage the learnings and experiences of remote work to intentionally plan for the future of work. The steps taken today will guide how work will be carried out in the future.

As organisations settle into new norms, they need to anticipate the shift in people’s expectations and priorities and consider how to adjust. This will be paramount to building a healthy and successful work culture.

In response to the uncertainties presented by Covid-19, organisations have transitioned to remote working. As a result, many companies struggle to find ways to maintain a cohesive culture and engaged team.

Gallup’s 2020 study showed that only 36% of employees in the US are engaged. This means employees “show up” at work but are less motivated or creative. Companies now must adapt to this new work environment to increase employee engagement.

With teams being remote, employees have limited opportunities for off the cuff interactions. This makes it harder to stay connected and engaged. However, there are a few creative ways to help remote teams get excited and motivated to perform at their best, even during tough times.

  1. Emphasise Connectedness
    One-to-one check-ins and free flow team discussions can pave the way for social interactions and bonding times. This builds collaboration and engagement. To truly increase connectedness, these check-ins are opportunities to acknowledge employees and help create a space where they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, ideas and concerns.
  2. Appreciate and recognise efforts
    Every employee deserves to feel valued and appreciated at work. When employees feel like they are cared for and their efforts are being recognised, they feel more motivated and engaged.

    Not being in the same location means that there is less non-verbal communication which conveys most of our appreciation. This is why everyone has to make extra efforts to share their thoughts and express appreciation, even if it sometimes feels like over-communicating. Here, more is better!
  3. Work-life balance is not a nice to have, it’s a must have
    Glassdoor 2017 survey found that 87% of employees expect their company to be supportive of their efforts to balance work and personal responsibilities. The sudden transition to remote working has left employees feeling anxious, concerned and stressed. It is important for employers and leaders to empathise with these struggles. Teams should be encouraged to take breaks and pursue their personal interests alongside work.
  4. Embrace transparency
    In times of uncertainty, communication is key. Don’t talk only about wins, but also share vulnerabilities. Sharing information with employees and teams and being transparent about developments at work helps build trust and commitment.
  5. Avoid working in silos
    A 2017 Stanford study found that employees who worked collaboratively stuck to their tasks 67% longer compared to their peers who worked alone. They were also more engaged and successful. Remote working can be isolating. It makes collaboration and building relationships with team members difficult, and working independently seems easier in comparison.

    However, this affects information sharing and priorities get misaligned. Creating opportunities where teams can have informal discussions and conversations helps reduce feelings of isolation and promotes a sense of belonging.

Remote working is the new normal. Organisations need to make it their mission to continuously adapt and respond to the changing needs of their teams. Prioritising engagement is a sure way to achieve growth, productivity and success.