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What's the Problem with Remote Working?





Employer Branding, Operations, Talent Attraction, Careers Insider

Some believe that remote working was a necessary evil to be endured during the pandemic, and that we should all now return to our offices. But can we, and what can employer branding tell us about the future of remote working?

This week, Elon Musk became the latest CEO to take aim at remote working by announcing an end to the policy at Tesla. Responding to a suggestion that office work is an antiquated concept he stated, in his typically caustic and unforgiving tone, that those who do not attend the office should ‘pretend to work somewhere else’. In an email, he informed Tesla employees that ‘if you don’t show up, we will assume you have resigned.’

Similar thoughts have been voiced elsewhere. Sir Alan Sugar recently wrote a Daily Mail opinion piece, bemoaning remote working as ‘ingratiating’ towards employees and reflective of an ‘entitled culture’ in the workplace. Last week, we interviewed Talent Acquisition veteran Tim Sackett, in which he expressed scepticism about the longevity of remote working: “There are some workers that perform exceptionally in a remote environment, but that isn’t the norm.”

In the UK, Boris Johnson, ironically now remote from a great deal of his own colleagues, has added his own contribution by stating that his experience of working from home involved a lot of time ‘getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and forgetting what you were doing.’

He looks like he could certainly do with reducing his consumption of cheese, while reducing his intake of certain other unhealthy products is not something that should be sniffed at. Wearisome attempts at humour aside, the point he so nearly made, was that there are some prominent commentators that would like to see an end to remote working.

A Turning Point for Remote Working

When leading businesses and politicians speak out in such a manner, it is to establish a certain narrative and change the direction of the debate. If they do not see a future in remote working, goes the thinking, then surely there can’t be one?

The truth is that there is not one set answer, and every company needs to assess the worth of remote working within its own employer brand.

What we are witnessing is a fragmenting of approaches. Remote working has transitioned from being demanded of all businesses by necessity, to being kept by choice. Some businesses have already decided that remote working does not have a place in their employee value proposition, because it either slows down workflow or it is not compatible with the culture that the company has fostered.

It is worth emphasising, however, that remote working does not necessarily equal slowdowns. While Elon Musk has suggested that ‘all this Covid stay-at-home stuff has tricked people into thinking that you don’t actually need to work hard’, with Sir Alan Sugar echoing much the same sentiment, the data does not back their assertions.

Bloomberg reports that working from home increased productivity by five per cent in the US, crediting some of that increased output to a redeployment of the energy and motivation usually wasted on commuting. Forbes, meanwhile, points to studies which show increased employee engagement combined with increased profits in businesses who dropped their office-based model.

What Musk and Sugar may be revealing inadvertently is a lack of trust in their employees to carry out tasks outside of the controlled office space.

Their frustration may lie in the change of mindset required to successfully make the switch from the rules-based mindset of an office working experience to a more flexible, accommodating mindset whilst still operating efficiently. It requires a certain amount of trust, empathy, compassion, and respect. Not attributes that either are noted for.

If trust is lacking, what must occur is an active dialogue with employees, one which is empathetic to their needs whilst setting out clear lines of communication and establishing the ‘give and get’ of remote working. If it is decided that remote working is beneficial, what must management, employees and prospective employees do to enable that change? Where there is common ground and a divergence of interest, then X marks the spot for cultivating a good give and get proposition.

Remote working need not necessarily be a burden, nor is it necessarily beneficial. It forms a single part of an employee value proposition and, for it to be effective, it must be cohesive, harmonious, and fully aligned with an employer brand strategy that is also coordinated with long term business goals.

Questioning Remote Working

When considering how remote working affects your employer brand, it may be helpful to consider the following questions:

  • Would remote working be an attractive proposition to your talent, and would it therefore be important to emphasise in your communications with prospective employees?
  • Through speaking with your employees, is remote working beneficial to their work and lifestyle? Have you supplemented your branding with these voices, and made clear the benefits and why remote working matters to them?
  • Does remote working correspond with other elements of your employer brand? For example, if your company is environmentally focused, have you emphasised that the end of commuting aligns with your targets?
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