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Lockdown lessons

As businesses prepare for the return of professionals to the office, recruiter Robert Walters shares insight gathered from 2,000 global firms and 5,000 professionals on what the key outcomes and learnings have been from the last few months of remote working

Companies all over the world acted fast to initiate remote working programmes. For most of them the transition was seamless, with a global average of 47 per cent of firms moving employees to a remote work environment within two days and only 61 per cent taking more than a week.

The UK experienced an even more drastic change – where just 11 per cent of businesses stated their workforce were able to entirely work remotely pre-lockdown. This sky-rocketed amid COVID-19, with 70 per cent of firms being able to push the button on remote working in less than a week. Of the 70 per cent, over half were able to transition their staff to remote working in less than 48 hours.

Tech is not our strong point
Remote working has relied wholeheartedly on technology and internet connectivity. Despite a smooth transition overall, it seems the main sticking point for most companies has been in the IT department.

Getting the required IT hardware – such as laptops – in place (59 per cent), IT infrastructure and security (28 per cent), and technology software such as Zoom (15 per cent) were the biggest impact to companies in the UK when transitioning to remote working. Over half of staff are expecting their employer to invest in technology that enhances working from home post COVID-19.

More productive at home
A third of companies felt productivity has increased since remote working began. This was seconded by employees, of which 35 per cent stated their productivity had increased since remote working began.

UK professionals cited commute time, more flex in hours, less distractions and a relaxed environment as the leading reasons why productivity increased when working from home.

As a result, an overwhelming 87 per cent would like to factor in more remote working, with 20% stating that they would like to work from home permanently. However, despite the unanimous agreement that productivity increased during lockdown, companies are still dubious about allowing more remote working once social distancing measures ease – citing concerns about employee productivity (64 per cent), senior leadership preferring traditional ways of working (57 per cent), and managers’ ability to oversee virtual teams (33 per cent) as the main reasons for not wanting to continue with remote working.

Managers need training
78 per cent of companies stated that their leadership team has not been equipped to manage teams remotely, yet employers have done little to fix the problem with only a quarter providing relevant training sessions, and half relying on the method of sharing best practice.

A third of companies believe that a manager’s ability to oversee virtual teams and autonomous work has been the biggest challenge to remote working. To counter this issue, 30 per cent increased the number of catch-ups they held with their staff – with 20 per cent holding calls multiple times a day, and 37 per cent holding calls with their staff at least once a day during lockdown.

35% of employers stated their productivity had increased since remote working began
35% of employers stated their productivity had increased since remote working began

Video calls have replaced emails
Professionals in the UK ditched emails (38 per cent), in place of instant messenger (73 per cent), video chats (64 per cent), and telephone calls (59 per cent) – as the lack of physical interaction with the outside world drove professionals to be less formal with colleagues and acquaintances.

The trend took over globally as video calls (70 per cent) became the number one form of professional communication, taking the crown from the age-old email (38 per cent).

Brits are social animals
According to the survey, 69 per cent of UK professionals stated that a lack of physical interaction with the team was the leading cause of a decline in mental health. On average, professionals in the UK socialise with colleagues outside of work at least twice a month – and during lockdown, colleagues ensured they kept this up virtually, with three quarters stating that they stayed in touch with colleagues in a non-work-related capacity.

Over a third stated that they spoke to their colleagues multiple times a day, with a further 40 per cent stating that they would reach out at least once a day.

The most common form of non-work-related contact with colleagues took place on group Whatsapp chats (48 per cent), group video sessions (42 per cent), and one-to-one video or phone calls (37 per cent).

It seems Brits are also big fans of the virtual quiz, with 17 per cent stating they used online games as a way to stay in touch socially with their colleagues – double the global average (8 per cent).