Flexible work arrangements have been in existence in the ever-changing world of work a long time before the COVID-19 pandemic. Having said this, the crisis has accelerated the mass-adoption of remote working to enable organisations to keep operating in these turbulent times. While early adopters of this trend may have been unphased by the need to work remotely, other organisations have had to put their doubts about reduced productivity, cybersecurity and data protection aside and experiment with a new, and in some cases mandatory, way of working.
We have collected insights on the COVID-19 remote working experience of over 850 workers in Malta to understand whether this will be a sustainable way of working in the long term. Participants ranged from a number of sectors, roles and age groups.
Levels of remote working
The shift to remote working due to COVID-19 has been monumental. The speed of adoption and the significant number of workers moving to virtual ways of working has put the effectiveness of remote working to the test. The majority (71%) of survey participants confirmed that they were working completely remotely. This shows a considerable shift given that from these respondents 61% stated it was their first experience of working remotely.
Effectiveness of remote working
In undergoing this shift to a new way of working, 64% of respondents felt fully supported by their organisations to enable them to continue working effectively. 91% of participants went on to describe communication as being ‘easy’ during these circumstances either due to the effective tools provided or because management and staff have adapted to this new way of communicating. These results link to a key finding that 44% found that their productivity had actually increased when compared to working on-site. In fact, 31% stated that management had become less hesitant on this new way of working after experiencing its effectiveness during the crisis.
The remote working experience
Increased productivity was not the only advantage of remote working highlighted amongst respondents. Spending less time travelling to work, the feeling of making a positive contribution to the environment, as well as, being more focussed due to less office distractions and interruptions from colleagues were the top three advantages of working remotely.
In fact, 69% of respondents described their remote working experience as a positive one. Only 9% appeared to view their remote working experience as a negative one, with 22% being neutral. The remote working experience was viewed most favourably by the group falling between ages 24-35 while it was viewed most negatively by those aged 56 and over. The largest percentage of those who viewed the experience positively were those who lived alone. This could indicate that remote working is more difficult with children and roommates possibly due to increased caregiver responsibilities and distractions.
Despite the benefits, there were also key challenges experienced by remote workers. The most frequent challenge was that many felt pressure to be more productive and prove they are working. Participants also highlighted that feeling lonely as a result of reduced levels of human interaction and social encounters with coworkers was a challenge they were facing. Additionally, respondents also highlighted that blurred boundaries meant more hours of work and reduced work-life balance.
A permanent shift
While some see this new way of working as a temporary shift, others see this approach as a long-term change. In fact, most respondents see themselves working remotely up to 1-2 days a week post crisis with 51% saying their ideal way of working would be to split time between working from the office and working remotely. Only 19% stated they preferred to work from the office or workplace over working remotely. A key highlight is that 22% stated they would like to continue to work remotely post crisis but their employer will not allow it.
All facets of remote working need to be prioritised if organisations are considering a permanent shift to this new way of working, to capitalise on the benefits and address the challenges. Initiatives must not only focus on maintaining productivity while working remotely but go beyond, including a revamp of the organisational culture and technology infrastructure to equip the organisation to effectively make these changes to working practices. Employers must also be well-aware of their legal and regulatory obligations as well as factors impacting the well-being of their workforce in the new working environment. The remote experiment has highlighted key benefits but it has also made gaps within organisations more evident. If organisations are looking to make a more permanent shift to remote working such gaps need to be addressed to ensure success.
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