Chief Sales Officer, Dave Rees, reflects on how the outlook of remote working has changed this year, and what this means for wellbeing and culture.

At the end of last year, I wrote an article for TALiNT International about wellbeing in the future of work that focussed largely on how tech could enable a more flexible work life – providing that it doesn’t create an ‘always on’ culture.

I don’t think any of us could have foretold that, in the few short months since that piece was published, the world would look so significantly different.

Businesses worldwide have rapidly adopted new ways of working

I’ve heard plenty of anecdotes about how effectively the current COVID-19 pandemic has broken down barriers that once stood in the way of flexible or remote working. Many organisations that had previously dismissed home working on the grounds of security, voiced genuine concerns about the impact on welfare and wellness – even ones with outdated views of how it would impact performance – have found a way to adapt.

At SThree, one of our biggest challenges in enabling a remote workforce was a logistical one – of physically deploying thousands of laptops. What should have been a 12 to 18-month project was delivered in days.

Getting the infrastructure in place was the easy bit. What has been far more complex is ensuring that people have training to use the tech effectively. That leaders have the skills to support our people rather than ‘manage’ them. Updating processes to translate them for a virtual workplace. And importantly, empowering people to switch off their newfound connectivity.

Protecting wellbeing is absolutely critical

It’s difficult in lockdown. The office environment creates natural breaks, whether it’s chatting to colleagues while you make a coffee, walking between departments and meeting rooms, or actually leaving work at the end of the day.

In my December article, I mentioned the tech firm who had created futuristic zones that enabled people to be contactable anywhere, anytime – but hadn’t thought about the impact this might have on wellbeing.

If the physical environment doesn’t offer organic pockets of downtime, and considering people’s ability to switch off isn’t built into the development of tools, then how do leaders place wellbeing at the core of remote working behaviours? Especially when the line between work and home life is more blurred than ever before.

Build trust, and care then act are two of our three operating principals. As an organisation, we’ve whole-heartedly embraced these as working hours become fluid to adapt to personal commitments, and kids, partners, pets and parents become regular ‘guest stars’ on video calls and team meetings.

Work-life balance has always been a top priority to us, and this topic has been put under the microscope since many of our people are still in lockdown. In fact, it was the core focus of a virtual roundtable event hosted by SThree last week where we were joined by some of our clients in the US to discuss how leadership will need to adapt to meet the needs of their team, and their business, in the future.

From the conversations we’ve been having with our global customers, adapting at pace is a common challenge. And one that many of the people we work with are asking for us to help with.

Will flexible and remote working become a long-term trend?

The demand for increased flexibility and autonomy over working hours, and location, has been a growing trend for years, particularly within younger generations. It feels like COVID-19 could be a catalyst for changing the way we all think about flexibility.

Again, insight from our clients across the world shows that most of them believe the working from home requirement won’t be a passing phase.

Some organisations have already committed to a long-term view by making all roles ‘remote’ or pledging to stay away from their physical office space for good. Others are starting to scope a move from large scale city-centre operations to more flexible hubs. Whatever the approach, it’s worth keeping in mind that while remote working opens all sorts of doors (a subject that we’ll be discussing more on 20th May), it’s not going to suit everyone.

The current situation is a false reality. Yes, many office-based businesses have successfully engaged remote and flexible working practices. But I’m not sure all organisations are ready for an in-between state – when half your team want to be in the office, and the other half are potentially spread around the globe.

There are still unknowns ahead of us. But smart businesses will already be preparing for what’s next.

We are continuing to connect businesses with skilled professionals during these difficult times. If you’d like to get in touch with us, click here.

You can browse upcoming virtual events from SThree and our family of brands here.