Half of employers not geared up for remote ‘smart’ working, amid coronavirus fears

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48% of businesses in the UK are not in any way set-up to be able to accommodate workers who may need to self-isolate – should they display any symptoms of a cold or flu.

What’s more, a large proportion of employers are not taking ‘reasonable steps’ to prepare staff to work from home. Top reasons stopping UK employers implementing a remote working policy include:

  • 60% fear employees may abuse the policy
  • 45% state that it would be difficult to supervise employees
  • 41% claim remote working makes it difficult to track staff performance and productivity.

The findings come from a recent whitepaper from global recruiter Robert Walters – A Smart Workplace for the Workforce of the Future.

Whilst flexi-hours (56%) and remote-working capabilities (25%) are some of the top valued perks by UK employees, it appears that these benefits are typically reserved for those in senior positions – with 65% at senior management/board level being able to benefit from flexible working arrangements, compared with just 34% of junior staff.

Chris Hickey, UK CEO at Robert Walters, comments:

“Advances in technology have been changing the way companies and employees work for some years now. With teams more dispersed and covering more time zones, working with others via phone, virtual meetings and video is slowly becoming the norm.

“The business case for smart working is clear; adopting a digital workplace helps to streamline operations, enhance speed of communication, and drastically improve access to information in a much more effective way.

“Flexible working arrangements are no longer considered just a perk for employees; they are a crucial business strategy to help encourage workforce diversity, attract talent and increase employee satisfaction and productivity.”

“What COVID-19 has highlighted to many UK companies is despite companies having ‘all of the gear,’ we are essentially a while away from being able to ‘push the button’ on remote working.

“Work needs to be done to build trust amongst employers and employees, as well as ironing out clear working practices and guidelines for those working remotely. As more Millennials and Gen Z professionals enter our workforce, we can expect the pressure to mount for companies to increase their flexible working practices to be able to accommodate a generation who are more in tune with their wellbeing and health.”

Top reasons employers adopt smart-working practices:

  • 72% – to improve workflow and overall staff productivity
  • 58% – to strengthen collaboration between staff and improve communication
  • 54% – digital transformation is a global trend
  • 22% – to track results & streamline decision-making
  • 17% – to attract and retain talent

How professionals feel about smart working:

  • 85% – productivity is enhanced
  • 80% – feel motivated to work on a tech-savvy company
  • 78% – coordination between departments is enhanced
  • 42% – work-life balance is hindered
  • 22% – fear workplace technologies will replace jobs
  • 11% – difficult to learn and apply new technologies

The Robert Walters report identifies 3 key facets that make up a truly smart workplace; digital infrastructure, flexible working policies, and workspace design.

  1. DIGITAL INFASTRUCTURE

In the white-collar, professional industry over 80% of a person’s role will be conducted via digital means – be it over email, phone or online.

Chris Hickey states: “Digital infrastructure encompasses all the technologies – platforms, systems and software – people use in order to be productive in today’s workplace. It gives employees the tools they need to improve their communication, collaboration and connections with each other and is the bedrock of smart working.

“If a company doesn’t adopt the right digital tools and processes then smart or remote working is not only hindered but unable to be adopted in some instances. What our research highlights is that beyond a mobile device such as a laptop, the adoption of other technologies drops significantly.”

Top 5 remote-working technologies Rate of adoption from UK employers
1 Mobile devices (laptops, tablets, smartphones etc) 77%
2 Company-wide messenger systems 21%
3 Virtual Private Network (VPN) access 39%
4 Virtual meeting applications 47%
5 Mobile apps 12%

Chris Hickey shares how through years of investment in technology and innovation, Robert Walters is our able to deliver an end-to-end recruitment service completely remotely, all from one click remote access:

  • Electronic Shortlist: Utilising an industry-first data analyst team, candidate shortlists are delivered within 24 hours (contract roles) and 48 hours (permanent roles)
  • Video CV: Unique platform allowing Robert Walters to digitalise CV by embedding videos of candidates describing their experience and skills into the CV
  • Testing Platform: Developed a bespoke learning platform enabling Robert Walters to test candidates’ skills and capabilities on behalf of the client
  • Live Meeting Rooms: Ability to facilitate a remote live interview between client & candidate, with full transcript provided afterwards
  • Digital registration: A truly digitalised registration process moving towards best practice, ensuring that there are no gaps in the candidate’s work history or rights to work
  • FLEXIBLE WORKING

Flexi-hours is the top-rated work perk for British employees, with over half of employees rating this as their most valued workplace benefit. 

If applied effectively, workplace flexibility puts freedom and autonomy in the hands of the employees, allowing them to determine their work schedule among other priorities. Research highlights that flexi-hours generates high satisfaction, and allows employees to be more focused, dedicated and productive.

How flexible working policies impact professionals:

  • 83% – higher motivation
  • 80% – better work-life balance
  • 70% – more focussed and productive
  • 69% – higher quality work
  • 35% – fewer opportunities to communicate with colleagues
  • 30% – creates inequality as it does not benefit all staff
  • 27% – encroaches on personal life

Chris Hickey shares his top tips for employers to help overcome concerns around flexible-working arrangements:

  • Changing from behaviour-based to outcome-based assessment: On a day-to-day basis, managing smart working requires a move from behaviour-based monitoring to outcome based mindset. Instead of solely assessing performance according to what an employee is seen to be doing, managers should take their output or other deliverables into account and establish an environment of mutual trust.
  • Devising innovative alternatives to face-to-face communication: Flexible working can create communication challenges, as employees may feel less connection with each other. This can lead to a lower sense of belonging. Apart from specifying a set time of the week when the team can get together, we also advise managers to use alternative tools such as instant messaging and virtual meetings to foster communication.
  • Create an open culture of flexibility: Companies should also create a culture where employees do not feel they will be disadvantaged by flexible working arrangements. Some new joiners may struggle to learn if their manager or team members are not around. Managers are strongly recommended to discuss flexible working arrangements openly with all team members to ensure that everyone is treated equally.
  • Beware of ‘burn-out’: With the use of mobile devices, the line between work and private life is blurring. Managers are advised to conduct reviews to ensure remote working employees are not working excessively as this can lead to high stress level and ‘burn-out’. Signs to look out for are a reduction in productivity/output, uncharacteristic detachment and increased cynicism or complaining.
  • WORKSPACE DESIGN

According to the Robert Walters survey, employees think a smart workspace should have the following qualities:

  • 80% – the design makes it easier to interact with m colleagues
  • 71% – able to easily communicate and access colleagues 
  • 66% – there is ample seating and space to work
  • 63% – adequate rest and breakout areas
  • 61% – design of workspace areas help me to focus on work/tasks
  • 51% – design is innovative and user friendly

Chris Hickey comments: “We’re starting to see some companies introduce “hot desks” and open offices to create an atmosphere that encourages greater collaboration between employees at all levels. One of the advantages of this is that this helps break down barriers and encourages more diverse thinking. The flipside is that noise levels can be a problem for individuals trying to concentrate on their work – as it is important to recognise that individuals all have different styles of working.

“A semi-open plan, on the other hand, provides open space where employees can work together easily, whilst also providing private and quiet places – such as phone booths or a quiet hub.

“Depending on the nature of your company and specific teams, some settings may be more suitable than others. For example, our survey shows that more professionals from technology/innovation and banking space prefer an open plan environment, whereas those from legal/compliance and human resources prefer closed plan.”

Type of workspace that employees prefer:

  • 67% – Semi-Open Plan: a combination of open place and private rooms
  • 21% – Closed Plan: entirely closed offices
  • 12% – Open Plan: with no visual partitioning between the work stations.
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