For a lot of us, remote working is here to stay. That's good news for Millennials and Gen Z who place more value and significance on having the option to organise their own working time. It's also good news for enabling more flexible working patterns, which can extend the working life of older, more experienced staff by offering job shares. But there may be a downside too. Surveys show there’s a social cost, from overworking to a feeling of disconnect from the business, which impacts productivity. New technology is the key to helping remote workers to reconnect and restore a healthier work-life balance in the wake of recent worldwide events.
Even before recent events disrupted working behaviours across the world, a trend towards remote working was underway. From now on, the International Labour Organisation estimates that in high-income countries 27 per cent of workers could work remotely from home. As many countries are beginning to lift their restrictions on movement and re-open physical workspaces, the question is: do we really want to go back?
Remote working can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, many businesses have adjusted to the new normal and are embracing the benefits remote working can offer. For example, employees can now have extra flexibility in terms of hours worked, where they can live and buy property, more time spent with families, less time commuting, a reduction in carbon footprint… the increased flexibility also creates an opportunity for job-share arrangements and, from a business’ point of view, it opens up a much wider pool of talent for either recruitment or specialist assignments.
However, there’s also a downside. For some people, mental health issues have been made worse due to isolation. In late February, the Lancet medical journal published a rapid response article that reviewed the effects of quarantine on people’s mental health, based on previous studies. This review found that people who are quarantined are very likely to develop a range of symptoms including low mood, insomnia, stress, anxiety, anger, irritability, emotional exhaustion and depression[i].
Even after lockdown restrictions are lifted, remote workers could remain susceptible to feelings of isolation. Some people may need to redefine their sense of identity and status once they’re removed from a social setting. Others may find, without the support of a team, they no longer feel the same satisfaction in their work. There are also other factors at play, for example it’s common for people to find themselves working longer hours with fewer breaks, which contributes to an overall increase in stress.
It’s important for businesses to recognise these potentially negative aspects of remote working, and take appropriate measures. And in terms of the wider social impact, it’s also important to recognise that remote working is not available for everyone. Many lower-income jobs cannot be done remotely. Currently, due to the disruption caused by recent worldwide events, many people have lost their jobs and will be looking for something new, which could flood the job market. Societies across the world will have to consider how to address that inequality, which might come in the form of governmental support, strengthening workers’ unions or investment in innovative technology.
Whether it’s creating new jobs, solving existing problems or bringing societies closer together, technology has a hugely significant role to play. IoT, automation and innovative apps are already helping to limit the risk of infection as communities emerge from lockdown. At the same time, technology is enabling businesses to adopt more agile working styles and to offer younger workers the flexibility they’ve been demanding.
Finally, technology is helping to limit the social cost of remote working by connecting people to each other; enabling communication, collaboration and productivity. Lenovo have pulled together a collection of articles, infographics and videos that show how businesses and individual workers can get the most out of working remotely. For more information, you can visit this page.