Remote working: how it works and how it changes work. A real business philosophy, based on flexibility, autonomy, and virtuality.
Definition of Remote Working
According to the definition provided by the Cambridge Dictionary, remote working is “a situation in which an employee works mainly from home and communicates with the company by email and telephone.”
This is achieved through the optimization of tools and work environments, aiming to achieve flexibility, autonomy, and collaboration between employees and the company itself.
Remote Working: rethinking private life and workspace
Remote working must involve a transversal organizational change: from the dimension of people to that of technologies and spaces.
It is a real intelligent rethinking of the company organization, which must be based on phases, cycles, and objectives.
The evolution of business models starts with the definition of organizational policies, behaviors, and leadership styles that must no longer focus on controlling employees, but on trusting their ability to manage time and resources.
This trust needs to be built through the implementation of goal-based working, digital training, and remote staff management.
According to an article written by Tom Spiggle for Forbes, this new managerial philosophy is based on restoring a balance between private and work life to people, while making them more responsible for results.
Clearer and more shared business objectives
Clear and shared corporate objectives must change perspective to open up to multidisciplinary collaboration and focus on the person, rather than the organization.
The adoption of collaborative digital technologies is another key point in the design of remote working. Currently, the most popular technologies in this area are those that support the security and accessibility of data remotely and from different devices, the use of mobile devices and apps, and Social Collaboration services.
Finally, the physical layout of workspaces is also a key factor in the practice of remote working. You don't need a fixed location to work: you can do it at home, on the road, or in other spaces such as co-working, cafes, bookstores, etc., since communication is always made possible by technology.
The office itself can be used as a place for remote working, thanks to the design of environments that transmit well-being to employees, satisfying their working needs.
The benefits of Remote Working
The above data is helpful in helping us understand at least 3 benefits to work remotely:
In the first place, workers, being more autonomous and free in the management of their own time, are more efficient in their results and professionally motivated. The empowerment of individuals makes it possible for everyone to understand the value of their contribution at work and how important it is in their lives.
As a result, focusing on the individual means fostering talent growth and widespread innovation, which also comes from experimenting with new technologies to get the job done. With more satisfied employees and a more innovative organization comes improved brand reputation.
Avoiding the stress of the home-office commute at peak times contributes to both personal well-being and the environment. It is estimated that even one day of working from home per week can reduce CO2 emissions by around 335lbs per year (considering an average of 40 hours per year of homework commuting).
Remote working in the US and the UK
US: In the US, remote working is absolutely possible. However, there are some problems with this system when employees move to another state. The reason is simple: there is no remote workers law, and each state has its own tax regime. Indeed, employers withhold and pay taxes in the state where the employee works, even if the employer does not have an office in that state. If an employee works from home and moves to another state, the employer must withhold and pay taxes in the employee's new state. Because of these complications, many companies are reluctant to give up this level of flexibility to their workers on a permanent basis.
UK: However, in the UK, an employee’s tax position will generally not change if they are working from home and move within the UK... unless they move to or from Scotland. Indeed, the Scottish government has the power to set a different income tax rate from the rest of the UK. Therefore, if an employee lives in Scotland, they will be subject to Scottish income tax. However, it is the employee's responsibility to inform the tax authorities of this, as the employer does not have to take any action in this case.
Statistics on Remote Working in 2021
In the US, the workforce peaked at 164.6 million in February 2020, just before the pandemic was in full swing. Today, more than 4.7 million people work remotely at least half the time.
According to a study by Owl labs, 16% of companies operate entirely remotely, about 62% of workers between the ages of 22 and 65 say they work remotely at least occasionally, and 44% of companies do not allow remote work.
According to Upwork's Future Workforce Report, 32.2% of hiring managers said productivity has increased since their employees began working from home in 2020.
The Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago surveyed 10,000 U.S. employees. About 30 percent of them told researchers they were more productive and engaged working from home.
According to a Stanford study, their performance increased by 22% when employees were allowed to work from home.
Remote working: some considerations
The healthcare emergency has made two important aspects of remote work evident:
It’s a work mode that fits a high percentage of occupations;
A lot of countries around the world, even some of the richest ones, were not technologically ready for such a change. Indeed, according to a research project funded by the Mastercard Impact Fund and administered by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, much of the state members of the EU, with some exceptions, suffered from “middling robustness of the platforms and vulnerable Internet infrastructure.” This was particularly the case in the Southern state members, such as Italy.
Despite data attesting to the potential of remote working, some companies, particularly in countries like Italy, continue to prefer face-to-face working. But why?
Lea Rossi, labor lawyer and partner of the Milanese firm Toffoletto De Luca Tamajo, explains this in an interview with Il Post: “Italian companies often have owners and employees of a certain age, who do not know how to use technology and often there is also a cultural problem, because they are used to having people in attendance and because they have no idea how to ‘dematerialize’ work, for example by managing business plans or the calendar of attendance on apps, or making video calls. Many small companies have immediately made employees return to the office and few have organized themselves, also because it takes investments in time that are not made in a year of crisis.”
In addition to this, there is still a widespread belief that if an employee cannot be controlled, they will produce less. That's why so many companies force professionals, who could do their job in remote working, to go to the office.
Microsoft has carried out a study, involving over 600 managers and employees of large Italian companies, to find out how work has changed following the health emergency and the results obtained.
The data collected report benefits in both productivity and efficiency: 87% of respondents experienced equal or greater productivity than before the lockdown, and 71% believe the new hybrid work modes result in significant cost savings. In addition, six in ten respondents (64%) believe that securing remote work modes can be an effective way to retain top employees.
A glimpse of the future
The year 2020 has set the stage for new innovations related to work and its modes. And on future scenarios, we think about a hybrid solution, which can maintain the benefits of remote working, accompanied by a limited portion of time in presence, thus allowing to reduce costs and environmental impact.
According to an article in The Guardian written on June 21st, 2021, the UK government could make working from home “default option”, by giving employees “the right to request it.”
Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said a flexible working task force was examining how best to proceed: “What we’re consulting on is making flexible working a default option unless there are good reasons not to.”
What will the future bring? According to the fourteenth edition of Fjord Trends, an annual report published by Accenture, 2021 was supposed to be a year of innovation. Can we say that it was pretty much the case?