It is becoming increasingly apparent that COVID-19 could change the world of work for good.
As populations around the world entered lockdown in an attempt to stop the spread of this new disease, another movement was taking place: the rise of remote working. This unexpected and enforced remote working experiment has opened our eyes, not only the multitude of benefits on offer, but also the feasibility of this arrangement. It is likely that we might begin to see a ‘new normal’ – one that involves work taken on from within the remit of employee’s own homes, rather than in a traditional office setting.
That said, many businesses have been caught out by this transition, with the lockdown exposing tech gaps within their organisations. Here at Studio Graphene, we recently polled a thousand UK businesses to better understand how they had managed the shift to remote working, and what difficulties it had caused.
How have businesses managed remote working?
The standout finding from our research is that businesses of all sizes were not adequately equipped for this sudden change – from having the right hardware and software in place, to lacking the digital skills needed to adapt, half of UK businesses admitted they were unprepared.
Over a third (39%) of businesses did not already use technology that made remote working easy when the lockdown began, which meant that many were forced to quickly adapt. 72% of large businesses (those with over 250 employees) had to invest in new hardware such as laptops and smart devices so that their staff could work remotely. This compares with just 19% of micro-businesses and 56% of small businesses that had to take similar measures.
Large companies were also caught out by a lack of appropriate software, with almost two thirds (62%) having to invest in new software solutions such as Zoom and Slack.
It is positive to note, however, that many have taken this opportunity to upskill their employees and enable them to work from home more comfortably. Four in ten businesses have offered digital skills training in light of the move to remote working, with this figure reaching 72% across large companies.
Where do businesses go from here?
The steps that have already been taken to facilitate remote working in the wake of the pandemic will help pave the way forward towards more adaptable working arrangements once we emerge from lockdown. However, the research shows that some businesses have uncovered tech gaps that need to be fixed through a long-term digital transformation strategy.
As innovative tech solutions become increasingly ingrained in our everyday working lives, providing employee training that makes a real impact is paramount. As a starting point, this requires maintaining a minimal level of digital literacy across the entire business. All employees should be comfortable and confident using hardware and software that is common to their business operations – whether this is Microsoft Office products or communications software like Slack.
I would also encourage business leaders to tailor digital training based on specific requirements. Rather than pursuing large-scale training for the entire workforce, smaller-scale initiatives could prove more effective at helping employees get up to speed in different areas. For instance, some departments might require higher degrees of literacy; comprehensive training in more complex and specialist technologies such as AI and VR will help those employees advance their capabilities and progress in their careers.
To support a high standard of digital know-how, in-house training however should not be viewed as a one-off. According to Deloitte, employees at all levels expect flexible and continuous learning opportunities from their employer. The digital world is constantly evolving, and successful companies will be those that can adapt quickly and effectively – ensuring that all workers have a solid base of digital skills to rely on.
Another issue that this long period of lockdown has revealed is the importance of maintaining a sense of belonging and engagement. Indeed, our research showed that 29% of employees have felt isolated and out-of-the-loop from the rest of their organisation since working remotely.
Communication technologies have evolved rapidly to offer increasingly more intelligent ways of keeping in touch with colleagues and staying informed on projects taking place across the business. Utilising the latest software solutions is important for supporting new and existing colleagues, but an effective digital strategy also requires managers to constantly review and upgrade their digital systems. The questions to ask here are: are these tools actually useful? Do they effectively allow colleagues to share information and insights, or do they cause more problems than they solve? Regular reviews will allow you to expose platforms that no longer meet the evolving needs of your workforce.
One positive thing to come out of this crisis is that we are likely to see a lot of employers embrace flexibility around working from home and having virtual teams. With that in mind, it is up to business leaders to ensure that employees have what they need to make a success of remote working.
Author: Ritam Gandhi, Founder and Director, Studio Graphene