Between 1995/7 and 2013/14, England’s population grew 12% while the total number of annual commuting journeys decreased from 8.5 billion to 7.9 billion. (And that trend has only continued.) Is it simply people working from home more often? In part, yes. And what if companies start to encourage more people not to commute and work from home? What will be the implications for engaging these people?
The drop in commuting is down to a number of things – yes, more working from home, but also more jobs where there is not a fixed place of work (Uber, for one), and also the growth in part-time work and self-employment. In fact, 80% of jobs don’t happen at a desk.
The need for flexibility of workplace is only likely to continue – in part because of property costs for employers and in part through demand. The much-maligned Millennials are very keen on flexibility, albeit the vast majority of them want to work in an office first and foremost. After all, if you live at home or in a small flat, and maybe you’ve even lived at home through university, you’re keen to be in a more social environment.
And here’s the crux. Regular working from home can create a distance between you and your colleagues, even a sense of social isolation (with research finding around 20 percent of homeworkers citing it as a key challenge). If this becomes a default setting for many jobs in the future, there’s a strong possibility that organisations miss out on the collaboration, productivity, innovation and cohesion of strong cultures.
So what are the answers to this?
Face2Face – Rory Sutherland, Vice-Chairman of Ogilvy and champion of Behavioural Science, says that if there’s one technology that can change our future, it’s video conferencing. And he’s not being intentionally old school in this! We haven’t seen the best of video conferencing as yet, but as it moves into the next generation of services (especially with the advent of 5G and the possibilities of AR), this will help to connect millions of people in organisations (whether they are in their pyjamas or not!).
Voice – it will be more important than ever to give colleagues the opportunity to feed back, ask questions, raise concerns, gather knowledge from others and talk to leaders – albeit through messaging and social tools. At the moment, these are often seen as an add-on to email or a social channel (in the Facebook sense) – and leaders and managers aren’t engaged in them in a business sense. That will need to change to create a connected business and get people working in a consistent, responsive and collaborative way.
Team – how do you make a team feel like a team when they are not all in the same space? What are the bonds that will bind people? Yes, purpose and values are important; but they are not what people think about on a day-to-day basis, especially when they are all sitting miles apart. Social cohesion is important as much as work collaboration, even if that means ‘wasting’ the first 5-10 minutes of a conference call on catching up with your colleagues.
Wellbeing – it seems strange to say that remote working can have a negative impact on wellbeing. We so often associate working from home with a better level of work-life balance. But there are dangers – as mentioned, social isolation can be a by-product, so too working longer hours. It’s not unusual for people to work as long as required, at times starting earlier and finishing later.
Fun – we came across a great example of encouraging a bit of team fun, when everyone is in a different place. A recruitment company, with recruiters all working from home and connected through a form of video conferencing, would have a Friday workout that everyone could take part in. Simple. Fun.
Looking even further ahead…
Connected VR – if anyone has seen Ready Player One, you will sense the possibility of VR to bring people together in another world. At the moment, it is simply a possibility. But when it does become a reality, it will allow us to transport ourselves somewhere else and be with colleagues and work together.
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