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2020 will be known as the year of remote working. But is a virtual office the future?

Remote workers on a video call, taken from iHASCO's Effective Remote Working training course

In April this year many companies were forced to embrace remote working as a result of the unprecedented lockdown. In what was dubbed ‘the biggest homeworking experiment in history’ many organisations faced substantial change overnight but successfully rose to the challenge and helped workers set up home offices around the country. Many reported that remote working increased productivity, improved work-life balance and produced happier & more engaged employees. These successes resulted in some well known technology companies offering their employees permanent or prolonged remote working opportunities. The pandemic was disproving the common misconception that homeworking was ineffective. 

Rapid change

In fact, in April, the UK saw 49.4% of employed adults working from home. Suddenly team meetings happened over video calls, along with staff coffee breaks and team lunches. Organisations were relying on a virtual office to operate and keep teams engaged and motivated. Those businesses that already exercised a degree of flexibility and had an established office culture have fared better in adapting to a virtual office environment. However, you don’t have to look far to find stories of employees struggling with homeworking. Video call fatigue, stifled creativity and even burnout as a result of a demanding workload and a blurring of the lines between home and office have been named as just some of the pitfalls of remote working. There have clearly been some different outcomes of homeworking but what leads to a more successful experience? 

Technological solutions

Technology solutions have made it possible to allow businesses to connect their employees and create a virtual workplace. Many companies have quickly set up IT infrastructures to support secure remote working and used software to facilitate meetings and messaging to aid employee communication. Embracing communication through a variety of ways has been crucial to keep the workforce connected.   

Agile leadership

For many managers the prospect of leading a remote team has been quite daunting and required a different approach to pre-pandemic times. Those who have successfully mastered communication with a remote workforce and adapted to this virtual way of working will have consolidated their team and helped them adapt more easily to a virtual environment.  

Employee training and wellbeing

The shift to homeworking meant that suddenly companies were required to provide support to employees in areas of health & safety, compliance and wellbeing. DSE assessments were vital to protect employees from musculoskeletal injuries as a result of improper setup of their homeworking ‘office’. Cyber security became a must to protect systems and data from threats and GDPR still applied to every company regardless of where their employees were situated. On top of that the nations mental health was at a tipping point and businesses had to find a way to promote wellbeing and support their employees in these difficult times. Providing online training has helped give staff the confidence to continue with their roles, as well as arm them with vital information to remain safe and productive at work. The increase in demand for online workplace training shows the commitment of many organisations to staff safety and wellbeing. A virtual office can still offer essential workplace training. 

What is clear to us is that an overwhelming number of businesses have risen to the challenge of continuing to operate and support their employees.

Some of our online courses have seen an 800% increase in usage, such as Mental Health Awareness Training, which demonstrates that employers are very keen to support their employees not with just the logistical aspects of working from home but also their general wellbeing.

Nathan Pitman, Director at iHASCO

But what next?

The government is looking to introduce legislation to allow employees the right to request flexible working from the first day of their employment. Currently, to be eligible to make a request for flexible working an employee must have worked for the same employer for 26 weeks. Whilst a request would still be able to be rejected if there is an operational reason, this would be a real milestone in recognising flexible working as the norm. Employers will have to wait and see what happens, but those that have embraced home working during the pandemic are likely to be one step ahead.

Many companies realise there is a future in more flexible working, with employees having the opportunity to work remotely and come into the office when needed. This remote working revolution will undoubtedly bring with it a wave of improved technology and software to help companies further create an improved virtual workspace. But as it stands, remote working has been successful for many, and if employers can balance the benefits of a virtual and physical office it will have a positive impact on productivity, inclusion & diversity, talent acquisition, employee wellbeing and business success.

iHASCO's online Effective Remote Working training course