The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the concept of home/remote-working to the fore – and it has been crucial to keeping many businesses functioning and people in work.

Cloud technologies such as Office365 and G Suite, and teleconferencing solutions such as Zoom and Skype have been a huge help to organisations at this time. Indeed without them, many businesses may have struggled to survive.

So is this just a short-term continuity solution that will disappear as the virus (hopefully) does? Or will some organisations look at it as a permanent shift? And how would such a permanent shift benefit/harm the organisation and employees?

Why might it only be short-term?

Many organisations will be used to having offices full of workers, so the re-opening of offices may represent a return to something approaching normality. Having staff scattered across multiple locations is not free of complications so some may want to go back to the ‘simpler’ way things were done before the pandemic. Many organisations will also be paying for premises that are currently sitting empty which will feel like a waste.

Challenges of working remotely

For employers, the challenges of having a dispersed workforce are mainly to do with communication, discipline, technical issues, and collaboration. Many employers mention potential security threats in particular as an issue.

For employees, the main challenges are technological (printers/equipment/slow broadband connections) but also include lack of personal interaction, blurred work/life boundaries (especially for those with children at home), and issues around lack of motivation and feelings of isolation.

Benefits of working from home

For employers, there are three main benefits/potential benefits.

– Cost savings: in the long-term, if more staff are working from home or offsite, then less office space is required, reducing both fixed and variable costs. Some organisations may not need any central office space whilst others may want to retain a smaller central location. Additionally, travel expenses will be reduced and the number of season ticket loans will fall.

– More flexibility: when staff work from home (and have no commute to worry about), they are able to work hours that are not restricted by office opening times. They can choose to work when they are most productive, for example, some may start and finish earlier whilst some may start later but work later. This also potentially gives employers more coverage in terms of business opening hours.

– Productivity boost: many employers who have switched large numbers of employees to home-working have reported increased productivity, although it is not known if this would be permanent in the longer term.

For employees, the main benefit is the potential time and money that they can save by not having to commute daily to a central office. Research from the BBC showed that commuters spent on average just over 10% of their disposable income on annual rail season tickets. The average commute is currently also nearly an hour per day.

There are several other positives for employees including a better work/life balance, less disruption from chitchat and gossip, and a feeling of being trusted by their bosses to get on with their work unsupervised.

So, is keeping your employees working from home a viable long-term opportunity?

This very much depends upon what you are trying to achieve and how much control you feel you may lose from this type of permanent arrangement. Cost savings can make it seem very tempting but there are many other factors to consider – many of which are specific to individual organisations. A full cost/benefit analysis should be carried out before making any significant strategic decisions.