Why employers will have no choice but to embrace remote working

Most company owners would agree that the most important asset is their employees, and one of the biggest challenges of building and growing a business is recruiting and retaining a high performing team. Those companies that plan to force their teams to return to sitting in the office 9–5 every day or plan on waiting before they adopt remote working, might just end up putting that asset at risk.

Here’s my thoughts on why:

Employees have spoken

Let’s face it, the most recent experience of remote working has been the worst example, with many not having felt the real benefits. Adoption was forced, we’ve been locked down at home and kids are off school making noise and stealing bandwidth…

Yet even with this poor man’s version of remote working, of the 55% of UK employees who had never worked remotely pre-Covid, a staggering 91% wanted to continue post pandemic (YouGov survey Sept 2020). It’s clear that employees have spoken.

So what? I am sure if UK employees were asked whether they wanted a salary increase, 91% would say they do, but that doesn’t mean that employers would provide it. If the market will dictate the salaries, supply and demand, then likewise the market will dictate the adoption of remote. The only difference this time is that the market is no longer limited by geography.

Early adopters will win

Companies that adopt remote working quickly and effectively will have a massive first-mover advantage in being able to present it as a benefit. These early adopters will have first pick of all the best global talent as employees make their initial move from full-time office work to a remote or hybrid option.

The pandemic has essentially created a one-time ‘fire sale’ of talent who now have the possibility to design their life around how and where they want to live, rather than it being dictated by their job. For employees that are forced back into the office this is a pretty big incentive to change roles, but it is a one time motivator — once they’ve made that initial move to an employer that allows remote, it’s then gone.

Even if large numbers of employees aren’t motivated to change roles solely because of the opportunity to work remotely, the fact that some organisations have already committed to embracing remote working means increased competition for employers.

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In the above diagram you can see that remote companies have access to the entire global workforce, which includes the limited talent pool available to the local company. As the number of companies embracing remote increases, the talent pool available to local companies will reduce further, eventually leaving only B and C players available for hire and making local recruitment even harder.

This will lead more local companies to ‘give in’ and adopt remote hiring, which in turn will create even more competition for the remaining companies still only hiring locally. By this point, the A players will all already be working remotely and the companies that are late to the party will have to find other ways of attracting them from their already remote roles.

Tools and ways of working will catch up

The most common reasons leaders seem to give for resisting the adoption of at least a hybrid approach to working, are centred around productivity. The thought process being that the productivity benefits of staff being in the same office every day, outweighs any risk of losing existing employees or recruiting from a decreasing quality of local talent.

It may well be that some roles, teams or organisations were more productive when they were in the office, than when working from home during lockdown. However, the recent remote working experience was an unfinished prototype version, a proof of concept. It was forced upon employees and employers at short notice on the understanding that it was a temporary situation. Home working environments were not optimised, people had to learn how to use a whole new set of apps or figure out effective ways to share information, and long established practices and ways of working had to be revised on the fly. Add to that the pressure of a killer virus and yet it still worked — for me this well and truly proves the concept.

The ‘production ready’ version of remote working; kids back at school, employees travelling, socialising and truly working from anywhere, will amplify the benefits to the employee. Any perceived productivity gaps for certain tasks will be reduced as tools and ways of working improve further over the next few months and years. If the recent experience of remote working is the most inefficient it will ever be, then it will only get better.

Conclusion

Most employees already want some form of remote working post-pandemic. This desire is only going to increase as the remote working experience gets significantly better when other Covid restrictions are lifted.

Companies hiring from within only a local talent pool will have to compete with those hiring remotely for the best people. The more companies that hire remotely, the more competition and the smaller the available local talent pool, eventually forcing the local companies to adopt remote hiring to fill their vacant roles.

Explore this with me

Each week I’m going to do a deep dive into a different area of work that has been permanently altered by our collective experiences in lockdown. I want to look into the direct benefits and challenges these changes could bring to both employers and employees, as well as imagine some longer term second and third order effects.

Throughout this process I hope to get ideas, not only of how to re-design Meetupcall as a place to work post-lockdown, but also identify opportunities for products, features or companies we could build to tackle some of the inevitable new challenges that organisations will face.

If you re interested in exploring ways I which we can re-imagine the way we work, learn, live and interact in a post-lockdown world then then please follow me on Medium or Twitter, connect with me on LinkedIn or sign up to my Substack newsletter. New content will be published every Tuesday.

CEO @ Meetupcall. Working to improve the way organisations interact remotely.

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