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Ask Lawrence: Being Remotely Interested

05 Aug 00:00 By Lawrence Akers

Being Remotely Interested

Back in 2019, I doubt I would’ve ever asked a candidate during an interview if they were happy to work both onsite and remotely.  It just wasn’t an option then.  The expectation was that everything was done onsite with your team and that was that.

Fast forward to 2021, and what a difference a pandemic can make, right?

I’ve recently had candidates turn down opportunities because the client only wanted people that would go on site.  

It isn’t so much about life/work balance anymore, more what I’ve come to call ‘life/work flexibility’.  The number of hours that people are expected to work doesn’t seem to be the problem, but where they’re doing the hours has shifted.

This week, I felt it might be worth quickly exploring remote working; the pros, the cons, and what the future holds for it.

The Pros of Remote Working

There are numerous positives that have come from remote working.

For many employees, not having to travel into the office each day has meant that they’ve been able to reclaim that time back into their own personal lives.  

For certain types of roles, being able to work in the privacy of your own space has actually seen some people feel more productive in their work too, with less interruption and ‘water cooler moments’ impacting on their day.

For employers, it has meant that their workforce could be rapidly expanded and contracted as needed and, not only that, it isn’t being limited by who is locally available.  It means that they can tap into people from all over Australia; in fact, all over the world!  Hello UK night shift!

This has meant that the focus has shifted from who the best person is locally to who the best person is nationally, and in the current candidate short market, this is a massive advantage.

We’ve proven that people can work from home remotely, and in some cases, it has proven to be an absolute benefit for that organisation.

For some people, they’ve been working remotely for years.  They’ve actually managed the pandemic well because, really, not much has changed for them.  The fact that the rest of the world has caught up to keeping jobs and the economy going via online is no doubt a massive advantage moving forward.

And with that, can I get a hurray for technology.  Not only has it saved us during the pandemic, it has meant that many internal processes have been revised, refined, enhanced, and now businesses are even more ready to offer working engagement in many ways that work.  You want to move to a beachside town and live down there?  No problem, as long as you log on and do your 40 hours a week, we have a internal system that can allow that!  It’s this flexibility that is making a company very, VERY attractive to work with.

I dare say, while I don’t know the stats, I would suspect that we will have seen a decrease in workplace bullying and micro-management thanks to remote working.

There is also the undeniable benefit that it is keeping people safer during a pandemic.  Pandemics won’t send you a postcard a week in advance to tell you that there is an outbreak about to happen.  You’re either in the outbreak or you’re not, and the only way to avoid that is to minimise the risk of exposure.  While it is important to get on with life, a little bit of caution can go a long way.  It will help keep both your team and your company safe.

The simple fact is this; I’m personally finding more and more candidates who are happy to say no to opportunities that have them onsite five days a week, and in lesser cases, opportunities that aren’t entirely remote.  Companies could be missing out on the right person simply because they’re sticking to a pre-COVID way of working which, even after this pandemic is over, may be sticking around for a while to come.  Is being stubborn about how the job
should be done really going to assist them as the inevitability of future lockdowns and a shift in workforce mindset continues?

The Cons of Remote Working

The question to ask is this; what is it that can only be done onsite that cannot be done remotely?  

For many companies, the culture is contingent on having people working together in person.

There is no denying that there is an energy that comes from having everyone together.  What is an ‘organisation’ really?  ‘Organisation’ is a noun which, by definition, is “
an organized group of people with a particular purpose, such as a business or government department.”  I talked about those ‘water-cooler moments’ before and there is no denying that there are more challenges in building that genuine rapport and connection with your team when it is entirely via Zoom.

Last year, I was asked by a company to hire a Junior.  After some investigating, I had to go back to the client and advise them that I didn’t feel that was going to be the best move at this time.  The key reason for that is simply that a Graduate or Junior is inevitably going to need more assistance and hand holding than someone with more experience, and many organisations were finding that a challenge over Zoom.  The sad result of this is that I suspect we’ll see a bigger gap between entry level roles and midweight roles moving forward, however this is a hurdle we’ll need to jump as we get there.  Being together allows for the mentoring and development that many of these entry level positions require.

There is also the mental health aspect to it as well.  I’ve spoken to many people who are craving the opportunity to be in a space with other people and to be able to bounce ideas and collaborate in the moment.  As much as there are some who thrive in working from home, there are equal numbers who have found it to be an absolute challenge and who are chomping at the bit to be around their peers.

The future of remote working

Well, this is a big question!

If you had asked me this question this time last year, I would’ve said that remote working is here to stay.

If you had asked me a couple of months back, despite still being in a pandemic, I was experiencing more and more clients who were saying that they wanted people back onsite because it was about building that company culture once again.  

As I write this today, a large portion of Australia is in lockdown.  People in Sydney are looking likely to be in lockdown for at least the next month and most of us suspect longer.  Queensland is also experiencing their own outbreak which is inevitably going to impact their workforce.  It is in moments like this where the businesses that have embraced remote working really thrive.

I don’t have my crystal ball technology fine tuned yet.  I do suspect that as we move closer towards the end of this pandemic, people will be forced back into onsite arrangements more and more.  However, for the meantime, we continue to experience situations that only remind us of how valuable a flexible and agile attitude can have in ensuring businesses can keep their doors open.

Ultimately, as challenging and costly as the experience of living in a pandemic has been, there have been some benefits coming from it. This includes the awareness that we can be innovative and explore new ways of doing our jobs, and being able to have some form of 'business as usual' regardless of if it is together or remotely. Let's continue to watch with interest as to this constantly changing trend and see where it lands.