Remote Working: Are Offices Dead?

Thanks to the powers of the internet, remote working is becoming more and more common. It helps employees manage their personal and family lives, avoid long commutes and choose comfortable places to work from.

Not only that, but the recent rise in Digital Nomadism – working from a laptop whilst travelling – is helping to showcase how utterly unimportant it is to not only be in the same office, but even to be in the same country.

So does this mean an end to the traditional office as a work space?

Software is helping remote workers

Of course, none of this would be possible without the widespread use of software to manage work, communications and meetings. It’s not usually enough for simply a few people to buy into software, instead the whole company culture should revolve around digital tools in order to make this possible.

And in the 21st century, most companies do! Those employees who are stuck in the dark age with their luddite pen and paper systems find themselves out of the loop with the team in terms of work and social chat.

This is because employees are increasingly relying on software to help them manage their work, all of which subsequently helps with the ability to work offline. Such tools include:

  • Trello
  • Asana
  • Slack
  • Skype
  • Wrike
  • Google Drive/Google Sheets/Google Docs
  • G-chat

And many more.

Project management tools such as Trello and Asana would have originally been powerful just for getting tasks in order and remote working was unlikely to have even been a consideration with the decision to use them.

The main issue that many workplaces encountered in the 20th century was that there was no record of in-person conversations and updates unless you manually wrote them down or typed them up. Project management tools aimed to prevent such messy environments by allowing you to add updates to individual tasks so that everything you needed to know was all laid out there cleanly for everyone to see.

People could be held accountable, updates could be found when employees weren’t around, people could pick up where others had left off and conversations were much more streamlined into task-based conversations rather than veering from topic to topic. As a result, using project management software has become the lifeblood of productivity, collaboration and effective working.

Communication tools such as Slack, Skype and G-chat allow staff to talk to one another or in group chats without ever needing to leave their desks. Less social? Of course, but more productive? Absolutely.

Providing a team update in a group chat is monumentally more efficient than trying to find a time when all staff are free for a physical meeting. Simple updates via in-person communication is now deemed a complete waste of time. This has helped to free up a tonne of time for staff to actually get on and do the work they had planned, free of distractions.

The final hurdle was how to use traditionally offline software such as Microsoft Word and Excel when everything is saved to your desktop or in clunky outdated shared drives. Of course, sending as an attachment has always been a thing, but this hampers scope for collaboration on a single document as well as the ability to edit from wherever you need to work from.

Google Drive, Google Sheets and Google Docs (among other great Google software) has really helped to propel teams into the modern age by offering incredible flexibility to complete projects collaboratively and from anywhere. All staff need is an internet connection.

All of the ingredients for remote working

Whilst these ingredients may not have originally been intended for remote working, the fact is that they now make remote working a completely barrier-free idea. This has also combined with new employer-employee relationships where companies are competing to hire the best talent, meaning that offering flexible working or fully remote working is seen as an attractive benefit.

Furthermore, study after study shows that employee happiness and flexible working arrangements lead to less staff turnover and higher productivity. It’s impossible to think that any employer would be against that.

Remote working started on a somewhat difficult path when the internet was less reliable as it is today and software was still in its infancy. Everybody will remember having online calls with staff members that break up every couple of minutes and having to shout down the computer to let them hear you.

But slowly these issues have begun fading and so remote working is becoming much more barrier-free. And what’s more? There are also huge cost savings to the employer of not needing to look after staff in a physical office – that’s everything from heating to coffee and everything in between.

So is this the end of the office?

Well, not quite. You see, despite remote working offering an undeniable amount of benefits, company culture is still a thing. By which I mean that the ability to make a great working environment internally can help to fuel employee happiness, keep them loyal and ultimately more productive.

Furthermore, there are many office jobs that are incredibly dependent on working together in person, when simple calls just aren’t good enough. Think about creative industries where you immerse yourself in visuals, work together to brainstorm, plan and modify tangible end products. Often staff find themselves needing to have the back and forth types of communications with each other to keep the engine running.

And then of course there is the vast array of personality types to account for. Many of us really do not mind being away from colleagues, in our pyjamas simply getting our work done and keeping to ourselves. But others simply cannot stand to be alone and crave that human connection, which is completely fine and natural.

For many people, even though they do crave some alone time and remote working, ultimately they are happy to have an office environment to base themselves and separate their personal from professional lives.

So what will change?

It’s a fact that more and more companies are discussing whether an office is even a useful asset to have anymore. It has a lot of overheads which can be debated endlessly, and costs will always decrease net income so it’s a great conversation to have. Many companies own their space and so the likeliness is that actual real estate can be sold and renting office space will become much more common.

Companies may look to take advantage of co-working spaces that have their own office spaces to be rented on a monthly basis whilst staff can also work amongst employees from other companies in flexible arrangements. This satisfies the social aspect whilst keeping overheads low.

Of course, many companies will choose to completely rid themselves of an office and choose to rent a space for one day a week or month to get staff altogether in one place. Those companies will benefit from lower costs, many of whom can pass savings on to their customers and can see a growth in business as a result.

In a nutshell, companies have to decide how best to make the balance work between employee happiness, remote working, reducing overheads and efficient working methods. Make no mistake, the next 10 years will see big changes in the way we work and companies will come up with great new solutions to attract new recruits. So keep an eye out for innovation in this area!