Annett Polaszewski Plath, CEO of Interprefy, shares her views on the power of remote working to support fast growing, innovative business.
Remote working is being painted as the end of the world by many business leaders – citing the decline of town and city centres will die and plummeting productivity. Swathes of senior managers have voiced concerns about shifting from traditional office-bound working models, including a loss of collaboration and creativity But employees are voting with their feet.
In response to demands to return to the office for three days every week – with teams that to work in-person requiring a four or five-day week in the office – the negative response from Apple employees received global media coverage and even praise in some parts.These highly talented, sought after individuals have choices – and they’re willing to relocate to companies offering more flexible working environments. And, with the growing number of successful businesses choosing to operate 100% remotely, these individuals can work for companies anywhere in the world.
How many businesses can afford to play chicken with their employee base? Even before COVID-19, European companies were struggling to access and hire skilled staff. The situation is even worse post-COVID. A Manpower report insists the pandemic has created the biggest workforce shift and reallocation of skills since World War II.
One of the biggest contributors to talent shortages includes the struggle to find individuals with the right mix of skills, experience and fit with the company culture. Upskilling and reskilling have become imperative to nurture and retain talent in today’s environment. Remote working opens up an enormous new, global talent pool. Language barriers are being torn down to support this, with technology and services facilitating remote working and global collaboration in employee’s native language. So why are so many companies demanding employees return to the office and cut off any access to this vital stream of skills?
It costs 25% more to hire new people than retain existing staff. For any business experiencing growth and adding significant new hires, a spike in attrition can rapidly have a detrimental impact on company culture and customer experience as well as adding unnecessary costs in additional recruitment. Businesses need to do everything possible to both minimise attrition and offer a more attractive working environment than the competition.
Include Physical Connection
As a business that has been 100% remote even before the pandemic, we’ve recognised the importance of face-to-face interaction. But remote working doesn’t mean people never meet – quite the reverse, as individuals miss the social interactions of the office.
The concerns from senior leaders regarding creativity and collaboration are also fair. It can be tough to foster the right atmosphere for creative thinking, especially with newly onboarded team members who have never had a physical interaction. Even if individuals are spread across the globe – as they are in our company – it is important to consider how to add physical connection into the overall experience. Individuals that have a chance to interact physically and socially bring a different, deeper connection with each other, which will only benefit the rest of the business. It’s important to remember that remote working is also not always working from home.
There are many individuals for whom home working is not an option – for either lack of space or a preference for a busier environment. We also have parents working from home that would not be able to accept a similar role if commuting or their presence in the office was a necessity. Because we can literally work from anywhere now, some people are even opting for the ‘camper van’ life. Remote working has flooded us with choice and provided means for a completely different lifestyle – either out of our own vehicles or relocating to our dream destination across the globe. It’s the reason why co-working spaces have become the new business hubs, popping up in almost all cities, towns and even villages across Europe. From funding staff to use hubs a number of days a week to hosting routine physical connections between teams, these spaces have proven to be a key part of successful remote and hybrid working strategies.
Digital office rotas, virtual reception desks and QR code registrations are also becoming commonplace for those with ‘Covid anxiety’ about returning to the office. Employees are also offered the chance to pick and choose their office working hours depending on when it suits them as well as how many other staff are in the building at the same time.
Collaboration and creativity are not the only issues created by a remote working model. Companies need to consider issues such as onboarding new staff, managing professional conduct and meeting employees’ career development goals.
In a remote working world, individuals do not interact less – we actually require more interaction and communication than ever before. One-to-one conversations online or via video are just as open and measured as they would be in person. This difference demands more proactive management styles to create that trusted environment and ensure people are not constrained by the use of digital communication channels. These rigorous culture processes need to be created or updated for onboarding new employees to ensure they feel part of the business and part of the culture.
Taking the time to thoroughly introduce new remote employees is an important part of a successful 100% remote business. Something as simple as introducing people to the rest of the team, providing their picture, their name, or their role can go just as far as appointing them a buddy/shadower or going for a spontaneous virtual catch up coffee.
Business Has Changed
Business has changed. Expecting individuals to return to the office and carry on as normal is never going to happen. Don’t treat technology as a barrier to change. Individuals have proved they can work, collaborate and communicate remotely. We have all discovered new, more effective ways of supporting customers and achieving new business and partnerships. There’s no longer a need for individuals to travel around the world for an hour’s business meeting.
The office hasn’t become redundant, it’s simply transformed itself. From a city-centre location, where everyone in the company works day in, day out, to a hub where everyone can visit to co-work, socialise, share ideas, or just enjoy a coffee. A return to the office is not inevitable. Companies that proactively embrace remote working and use that flexible business model to tap into global skills will be well placed to reap the rewards of new employee attitudes to work.