Blog 26 Mar 2020 5 min. reading time

Never waste a good crisis: how the Coronavirus will speed-up the trend to flexible working

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All of a sudden the majority of the workforce around the world, needs to work, to study and even exercise from home. All of a sudden we all need to get creative and dig into lots of (for most of us new) technological tools to be able to keep in touch with colleagues, family, and friends. We live in a digital era, and the current crisis gives us time to think, gives us time to rest and, most importantly, gives us the time we need to innovate.

Because now more than ever it is the right time to innovate, to think ahead – whether it is about improving personal skills and knowledge, trying out new things or thinking about how you can keep evolving in your role and bring innovation and transformation into the company.


The tipping point for flexible working

With most of our lives moving towards online and virtual platforms, lots of companies will need to think about the role of the office in the business and productivity context in the long run, so that when the crisis is over the many lessons learnt are not wasted.

The current crisis is showing us more than before how flexibility and remote working have become such a necessity in today’s society, that companies need to reassess their workplace strategies and culture to not only meet the needs of their employees for work-life balance as well as to ensure their business continuity at any time.

Diffusion of Innovations, by Everett Rogers (1995) Diffusion of Innovations, by Everett Rogers (1995)

Being able to quickly accommodate employees in their needs and following the trend towards a flexible workplace, will bring a couple of benefits:

Business benefits

When it comes to attracting new talent and retaining your current workforce, employee satisfaction is key. By recruiting, retaining and optimizing quality employees companies enjoy greater productivity and success. Employees with access to flexible working arrangements are provided with a greater sense of control over their working day and are likelier to work harder and increase their output; this all benefiting the business.

Furthermore, studies show that flexible working reduces stress and fatigue; factors which may lead to employees losing focus and as a result, underperforming at their job function. Equally being granted a flexible working environment allows employers to better balance work demands with personal demands ensuring improved concentration on work tasks during work hours.

Each employee is different. Some work better in the morning and find that their concentration and motivation tends to become depleted by the afternoon, whereas other employees may work best from mid-morning to early evening. Flexible working allows individual employees to play to their strengths to ensure maximum output.

Financial benefits

The adoption of a flexible workplace concept will lead to a number of financial benefits in addition to the optimization of the output of employees. Being able to work flex-time or remotely (working from home included) reduces the costs associated with employee absenteeism, tardiness and sick leave.

As flexible working or remote working improve employee satisfaction and retention, the need to recruit new employees and the associated costs are diminished.
Most importantly, flexible working arrangements such as open space workplaces, working from home or co-working environments contribute to a smart reduction of expensive office space rental and office furniture and supplies, as well as the energy consumption in the office.

Productivity benefits

A productive working environment means different things to different people. For every person whose workday motor thrives on working in-house, three others feel stifled by the cubicle life. For them, inspiration and motivation come from their home, the local coffee shop, a beachfront - in other words, from elsewhere.

If productivity is the end goal, why enforce a certain means to that end if it’s not absolutely critical for your business? Providing employees with different working environments will, in the end, boost their productivity and intrinsic motivation.

Providing employees to different working environments will in the end boost their productivity and intrinsic motivation. Providing employees to different working environments will in the end boost their productivity and intrinsic motivation.

How effectively organizing and managing remote work can contribute to the company’s continuity

When considering adopting a flexible working strategy and maintaining or cultivating a remote-work environment, here are 5 ideas worth taking into consideration:

  1. Leverage local offices as much as possible
    Unless your business is conducted exclusively over the cloud, odds are you have at least one communal workspace. A few mandatory office days when onboarding employees goes a long way to making a new remote worker feel like part of the team. If you have many offices, make each one a place people want to use even if they’re fully remote.

    This can be accomplished through creative workspaces, playing music, weekly happy hours, lunch workouts, or other on-brand offers. Mostly though, people will want to come in if you hire enthusiastic people, create a high energy workplace, and foster transparency so that people genuinely trust each other.


  2. Make sure critical technology is in place
    When it comes to collaboration in open spaces workplaces or collaborating when working remotely, dozens of proven online platforms can support your efforts. These include cloud-based productivity tools and other employee-facing technologies platforms for internal communication (Slack, Microsoft Teams, Mumble), employee-facing technologies platforms (Zoom, WebEx, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams), project management (Kanbachi, Asana), and document sharing (Google Docs).

    All enable real-time collaboration, automate certain mundane tasks so employees can concentrate on meaningful work, and virtually compensate the need for in-person project management.

    To increase utilization and improve the effectiveness of remote-working tools and technologies, make sure that employees are guided on how to effectively leverage email, instant messaging and internal social media platforms.


  3. Establish regular moments for checking-in
    Creating regular moments to virtually meet such as once-a-week rituals to regroup as a team or having 1-on-1 meetings with direct reports at intervals that make sense for your business and team, ensure that the commitment to the business as well as the sense of belonging and progress in projects are being realized.

    For employees who regularly have to work remotely, this is the best way to stay up to date on what is happening in the company and with their teammates. For managers, it ensures they know how employees are faring, both on deliverables and in general.


  4. Coaching remote employees
    It can be easy to just assume that a person’s productivity will automatically transfer from the office to the home or café. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. To make sure people can execute well on their own, show them how to do it.

    Train them when it comes to communicating regularly to manage expectations, developing routines that support their work/life balance, and even help setting up customized at-home work stations that best suit their working styles.

    Just as important as coaching remote workers is coaching the managers who oversee them. Leadership roles can be challenging enough, and this only increases when your people aren’t sitting within earshot.


  5. Drive a cultural change of working remotely
    People are naturally resistant to change, especially to change that is forced during times of uncertainty or crisis. Companies and leaders will have to meet this reality head-on, and recognize how vital it is to empower everyone to contribute to the success of a flexible working concept throughout the whole organization.

    Particularly for companies with strong "in-office cultures," it is vital for leadership to recognize that the remote transition is a process, where it comes down to trust, communication, and company-wide support of shared goals and providing the right tools to be able to implement that.
Drive a cultural change of working remote Drive a cultural change of working remote

Do not focus on what is not possible

As Winston Churchill once said: “If you're going through hell, keep going” – meaning that even bad periods like the current crisis invoked by the Coronavirus will not last forever.

In the end, when coming out of this period, many things will be changed such as the huge impact on the economy and especially small entrepreneurs, on climate, and also on the way interact with one another, in how businesses are being led.

Using this period to think about the many opportunities to innovate and allow relevant cultural changes to take place, will make the difference for the continuity of many companies and how they will get out of the crisis.

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