With many workforces now up and running remotely, senior teams are debating what work will look like in a month or even a year? Returning to ‘normal’ may at first glance be the ‘sunny uplands’ we’ve been dreaming of, but should we return to our old ways?

It’s likely we will take many lessons from the pandemic. For some, this will include re-evaluating their outlook on life and the way they work. So, how can we address our work-life balance better, and how should businesses adapt and change post-pandemic?

There is already strong research that demonstrates people are more productive when they have a better work-life balance. Research by YouGov in 2019 revealed that a fifth of HR managers believed that staff work to a “slightly higher” standard at home than they do in the office, and a further 7 percent believe they worked to a “much higher” standard. In a Stanford study which monitored 16,000 homeworking employees over several months, they saw a 13 percent performance increase, including more minutes, worked and more work done per minute.

Now companies are finding out for themselves the benefits and the problems of remote working. From our experience, the benefits far outweigh the difficulties. Although we don’t have hard stats yet around the increases in productivity we’re experiencing; there is strong anecdotal evidence that businesses have seen good increases in productivity.

The Stanford study also found that home working leads to 50 percent lower employee attrition, and we know those employees who can work from home are 52 percent less likely to take time off work. Combine these employee wins with the reduction in office overheads, rents and travel expenses and the reasons for continuing remote working look good. And the positives in terms of reducing your carbon footprint should not be overlooked either.

Remote working has not come without its challenges – from having to work whilst home-schooling or working from less than favourable home situations like the end of your bed. However, once children are back to school and with the right support to create suitable ‘workstations’ within homes and the ability to connect with colleagues face-to-face at times, there is much to be gained from continuing working remotely, and Ultima is looking at continuing to do so after the pandemic. We have looked at structuring ourselves into two parts – with one part of the company working from home 50 percent of the time and rotating this or having a drop-in centre or office hub that staff can go to for face-to-face time on an ad hoc basis.

 

Old versus new

Many boards are grappling with what the new normal should look like for their companies. It’s all up for debate, with the modernists challenging the need to return to the office. I’ve found that my team is more productive. Some are still working at 7pm to complete tasks that need to be done – but then they have the flexibility to do personal things they have to do at other times of the day (which is mostly home-schooling now). I want us all to be striving for an excellent work-life balance.

As a company, we’ve seen massive benefits from remote working. Collaboration tools have seen our team and interdepartmental communication improve with greater visibility of concerns and issues across the business. For example, IT has found where once people might have asked for help verbally, they now log a problem, so the team has better clarity of all queries arising, and our CEO is still able to hold his ‘coffee catch-ups’ with all staff. Cisco Webex and Microsoft Teams are enterprise-grade collaboration tools that work – without them, we would not have been so successful in our remote working.

 

Technology that enables

As they haven’t done it before, empowering departments like finance and HR to work remotely has been more challenging. We needed to educate less technical individuals on how to access and use the technology remotely – from how to connect their devices to Wi-Fi to how to use the increased security measures in place to access relevant business systems. We’re looking at a new learning management system that will address the issues of user awareness that home working is creating.

Some enterprises have been surprised that today’s technology can support all their staff working remotely. Systems aren’t falling over as 70,000+ global employees access collaboration tools and business systems. And the use of the latest desktop technology like Citrix Zen means that businesses can still use various legacy business applications in the cloud, enabling them, for example, to use finance and CRM applications as usual.

The latest cloud and automation technology have made remote working for all departments a reality. By automating the hefty maintenance, security and support requirements of the cloud, organisations can now migrate their critical business apps to the cloud with all the management and security issues addressed much more effectively. The automation technology currently available is set to change the market by simplifying cloud ownership and operations. It finally makes the cloud an option for businesses of all types and sizes.

 

Further change required

It’s been a knee jerk reaction to get people working remotely, but we need more change if we want people to work remotely permanently. Technology companies need to offer end-to-end customer-focused management – where the company’s end users are the customers, and not the IT or procurement departments or technical heads. We need to look at it from the perspective of the individual customer and make it a good experience for them.

A fully managed service can support you working from any location – even the beach. There will, of course, always be a point at which hardware fails so companies need to think about innovative service offers to solve these issues.

Where companies once signed-up to complex, inflexible contracts, IT needs to be provided on a flexible, consumption-based billing model. As people have been furloughed and companies need to keep cash in their businesses, we have had to be flexible in our billing, not charging for services that aren’t currently being used. If a second phase of the pandemic comes, then this pay-as-you-go model will be even more critical for businesses to survive.

One-off large procurement will be a thing of the past in terms of tech investment as businesses move to a cloud-based SaaS model. Procurement departments will need to be reshaped, as will IT departments as they support and enable their users in a different way. Automation and remote working will see businesses shift to a cloud-based user model where you effectively pay for what you consume.

 

Personal wellbeing

Technology aside, the key to enabling permanent remote working is good personal wellbeing in the home workspace. Businesses will need to give staff the means to work effectively from home – from offering the right desks, chairs and potentially clever workstations that can be installed in homes to make working from home comfortable and unobtrusive. And we will need to offer some form of personal face-to-face time too to ensure good mental health for remote workforces.

The pandemic has seen changes to the way we work which would have taken five or ten years to embrace. It’s shown companies that the technology for remote working works – employees can be more productive, and businesses operate successfully. The pandemic has forced digital transformation on a global scale, post-pandemic we mustn’t lose the benefits of this change.