OPINION

Coronavirus Covid-19 sparks remote working revolution

Donal O’Donoghue, President of The National Recruitment Federation (NRF) and Managing Director of Sanderson Recruitment in Dublin.

Reporter:

Donal O’Donoghue, President of The National Recruitment Federation (NRF) and Managing Director of Sanderson Recruitment in Dublin.

coronavirus covid-19

Working from home

An industry-wide pilot test of new ways of working would never have been planned this way! 

And yet, now into week three of Ireland’s remote working revolution and, anecdotally anyway, people seem to be adapting to this dramatic labour market shift. 

The benefits are even being widely hailed!  Possibly as an antidote to the otherwise gloomy situation we find ourselves in; but benefits none the less.  Including a sense of achievement, and surprise even, that so many of us can continue to function in our house-bound working lives!  And, dare we say it, possibly at a more productive level too?

No lengthy commutes, where the final few miles to our city or suburban office sees traffic at a standstill.   No worries about smart workwear each morning, or the make-up or clean-shaven look we present to colleagues.   Take away the fuel, car or public transports costs, the lunch and coffee breaks and other incidental expenses clocked-up in a working day, and we’re a bit better off financially too!

Streets are less congested, which has to be good for the environment.  With traffic-free streets, the people who must be out and about for work, making deliveries, providing services or securing sales, can deliver their product or service more efficiently, unfettered by commuter traffic.    

At a personal level, there’s more flexibility to get the work done when it suits the individual too.  Whether that’s early morning or late at night, freedom from regularised 9-5 office hours can boost productivity. 

Social Dividend

At the macro level, as a society, a shift to more home working could relieve housing pressures and allow access to affordable accommodation.  Rural living becomes possible if holding down an office job does not automatically equate with being present in a city-based office.

Of course, the major stumbling block for those outside of our cities and suburbs is broadband infrastructure.   At home, we suddenly realise the immense value of the internet and all the sources of information and communication and access to shared resources that our software, gadgets and broadband infrastructure facilitates. 

Any ‘remote working revolution’ would certainly be hostage to the provision of a robust national broadband plan!

Downsides of remote working, apart from connectivity frustrations, can come at a personal and motivational level.   Anecdotally, among the many colleagues in the recruitment sector now working from home, settling into a routine has been easier than expected.

For many, avoiding office distraction and interruptions is better for focus, and tasks are completed sooner.  And that is even with the very unique circumstances we’re all now in; dealing with frustrated kids, homeschooling, frequent trips to the kitchen for coffee and chocolate, and maybe sharing the available workspace with other family members.

More Productive

Instead of being at the whim of incoming phone calls transferred from reception, however, work calls can be blocked into an hour or two, with the phone on silent otherwise. 

Colleagues can’t drop by the desk for a chat which, depending on how you look at it, can be a good or a bad thing!  Of course, you miss the interaction over coffee which, apart from the human and social dimension, can often spark an insight or fortuitous lead that proves useful.  

We all like a degree of social interaction and immediate access to a colleague is useful.  But is it always necessary?

An informal members’ survey earlier this week shows most of our members in the National Recruitment Federation, and their employees, have no problem working remotely. 

Advertising, job specs and CVs are shared digitally, with assessments and suitability testing online too.  Conversations and interviews are conducted over Skype or the phone, and various web platforms facilitate group meetings and interview panels.   

Personally, I feel the drawback of remote working, for recruitment, is that sixth sense you get of a person, in person.   People in recruitment will tell you that being with an employer, and among their employees, and then spending time with potential recruits, gives you an intuitive feel for who is going to fit in here and actually enjoy working with these people! 

On balance though, home-working has a lot to recommend it.  And the fact that we are still managing to work now, in the most difficult of situations, may just encourage more people to consider remote working in the future.  At least partially, with a few in-office days too for team-work and meetings!

For employers who feel they need frequent interaction with staff, or for tasks that require team interaction, it may not suit.   But, basically, if you have tasks to complete or work to submit that can be done remotely, then submission of that task or evidence of the work completed should be easy for employers to assess from afar.  

24/7 Global Trade

Increasingly, the global data we see in the recruitment sector confirms that remote workers are more productive than their office-based counterparts.  Out of the office, they report less distractions and less stress, largely due to greater autonomy.

And, employers with an eye to productivity and overheads may consider the need for less office space and infrastructure for remote workers to be a bonus too!

As international trade and 24/7 global collaboration become increasing factors driving growth, remote working becomes increasingly necessary too, being available to different global clients in different time zones. 

So too, the remote working revolution can support an increasing employee demand for better work / life balance; more time spent with family rather than on stressful commuting.

This current health crisis has taught us a lot, not least the need to focus on what is important; essentially our health, our families and the more vulnerable in society. 

We have also learned that work is something we do, and not somewhere we go. 

We may never return to the exact working patterns that existed before Covid-19 and, in some ways, this may not be a bad thing!