The future of remote work

Work practices have changed dramatically in the last decade due to technological advances and, more recently, the pandemic.

Ten years ago, remote employment basically meant a telemarketing or customer service position paying very low wages. It was rarely connected with full-time careers. A landline phone, a pager or just a fax machine were the essential tools to work from home.

Not so long ago, employers believed their workforce would be too easily distracted at home, where their managers could not keep an eye on their team.

With the onset of COVID, most employers realised that the ease of use of teleconferencing and telework technology could help them mitigate the unavoidable disruption that threatened their business.

Still, not all workers have adapted well to this new form of working. Findings published recently by EU agency Eurofound show that, in Malta, 73 per cent of those whose job is partially teleworkable and 33 per cent of those whose job is entirely teleworkable never do so. Workers in most other EU states appear to embrace teleworking more enthusiastically.

Business surveys confirm that the advantages of teleworking are undeniable.

Airtasker is a Sydney based Australian company which provides an online and mobile marketplace enabling users to outsource everyday tasks. In one of their surveys conducted in the US about how work habits and productivity were being affected by remote working, they came up with some revealing conclusions.

Remote workers work an additional 1.4 more days per month than in-office employees.

Office workers are unproductive for an average of 37 minutes a day, not including lunch or breaks, whereas remote employees are unproductive for only 27 minutes.

These advantages may still not be convincing enough for some employers to encourage their workers to work more from home.

Malta Employers’ Association director general Joseph Farrugia believes that several local companies are going through an experimental phase before they commit fully to more teleworking practices.

Maltese businesses seem not to be as keen to free up office space by encouraging workers to work from home, as are employers in other European countries. 

The local environment may eventually encourage more workers to work from home. Travelling by car to and from work is a stressful chore for many who understandably find traffic gridlock, especially in peak hours, quite unbearable.

Live video facilities help out-of-office workers to see and speak to one another in real time, anywhere with an internet connection.

The risk of another pandemic is an added justification for embracing new forms of working for those who do not need to be physically present at their workplace.

While the modern workforce is increasingly mobile, collaborative and dynamic, some business owners may fear a lack of productivity in their employees.

Other employers have dipped their toes into the remote workforce by creating a work-from-home policy for one or two days a week.

Even more advances in remote work software, like mobile work tools, artificial intelligence applications and virtual reality conferencing, might make teleworking the preferred form of business communication.

In the long run, fighting the change may do more harm than good.  

Instead of resisting change, organisations should improve their remote work policies and capabilities. Ultimately, working remotely is effective but it has to be put into practice properly, even if it may not be the best option for every employee or every business.

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