With smart offices on the rise and over 50% of workers stating that working away from their office would increase their motivation, many employers are looking at new ways to optimize ‘the office’. Remote working is becoming increasingly popular - more than half of UAE employees work remotely every week, with 50% doing so for at least half the week.
Naturally, entrusting employees with workloads away from management’s overseeing eye, there are anxieties about the millennial expectation of freedom. The flipside is that, world over, companies that allow remote working are reporting significant increases in staff retention and productivity.
In the interest of running a successful business, what are the considerations, tools and benefits that need to be understood in order to provide a flexible and functional remote office?
Despite concerns, a global survey recently revealed that a staggering 85% of respondents felt that their productivity had increased in their business, as a result of greater working flexibility. Being away from visual distractions, such as co-working lounges, break out rooms and brightly decorated offices (only recently considered to be great for staff retention) could actually lead to greater levels of productivity. Distractions like water cooler gossip, impromptu meetings, and loud colleagues are a non-issue with remote working. Meaning that periods of productivity last longer and yield better results.
How can we know that remote workers are being productive? 77% of high performing projects use project management software and there really is a software for every part of the business. In terms of remote working, customer communications solutions can track everything from campaign progress, to automated customer on-boarding. These cloud-based innovations are the workhorse behind the worldwide increase in sustainable remote working - allowing managers to keep a close eye on progress, without sitting on the metaphorical desk of their employees.
Another key benefit that is driving the future office out of ‘the office’, is the potential cost-savings associated with a digital workspace. Most prevalently, the lack of physical office space results in a huge cost-saving on business rate rent or commercial property purchase. Even if staff are provided with company laptops, desktops or mobiles, the saving is still attractive when compared with canteens, toilet facilities, cleaners and services bills.
Document digitization is one of the other primary ways in which the future office is saving companies millions. An average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper a year, according to data cited in Entrepreneur. By using document digitization software and other cloud based information sharing platforms, the remote office is set to save businesses millions and ensure the sustainability of the planet at the same time. Waqar Mohamed, managing director of First Select Employment, FM and Aviation at G4S UAE, states that organisations in the Middle East should take advantage of technological advancements as “new business trends, like remote administration, cloud-based project management and video conferencing, are extending the effectiveness of remote work”.
Finally, the cost benefits extend into the workforce itself. With greater productivity comes more sales, higher turnover and quicker project turnarounds. Worldwide, more than 50% of people who work remotely admitted that they wanted to increase their remote hours. If remote working is producing an increase in not only morale, but also willingness to work - could it be the future for more businesses?
A study conducted by MEED revealed that companies saw a return of investment by 300% on the amount spent on employee wellness programs. As part of a fully conscious business, the option of working from home is considered to be a well-being benefit for many. Remote workers take fewer sick days, because they feel they can still be productive from their bed - or have the ability to take a nap, wrap up warm and feel nurtured.
Fully remote workers benefit from the ability to seek out appropriate workmates in co-working spaces or through their digital communication platforms; maintaining a level of communication whilst having control over their distractions. Online UAE marketplace giant, Dubizzle, conduct an annual culture and engagement survey, which showed that its employees favour a flexible working environment, where they are able to balance work-life commitments. As a result, they have also given employees the option to choose their work hours: 8am to 5pm, 9am to 6pm or 10am to 7pm.
Whilst there are an unquestionable number of benefits to this futuristic shift into the remote office, there are real concerns which need to be mitigated at conception. Ruth Scott, regional HR director for OLX Middle East & Africa, commented that “the recent bout of cyber-attacks requires employers to take extra caution… nearly 1.4 billion data records globally and 45.2 million data records in the Middle East were lost or stolen in 2016”. An alarmingly high figure that will undoubtedly keep industries within the finance, data and security sectors well within their ‘in-house’ model.
However, the implementation of proper infrastructures may be the saving grace of remote working’s security concerns. Office security packages that mitigate risk, ensure compliance and prevent security breaches are widely available. Secondarily, remote employees should be given purpose built training in the importance of good cyber health and regular security check-ins.
Overall, if managers and directors can build a firm reporting process that encourages high levels of communication, a rigorous HR process and even higher levels of security education - they’re set to gain a higher-company turnover, higher levels of staff retention and a colossal cost saving on office spaces and utility bills.
Perhaps the future office is, really, no office at all.