Opinions on remote working are clearly still divided. Some people are itching to get back to the office. Others clearly prefer remote working. For many companies, however, the decision is probably going to come down to a cost-benefit analysis of the two options. This needs to be done properly so here are some tips.
Make sure you account for all costs
The costs of running an office may be a bit of a challenge to calculate. For many businesses, rent is only a part of the cost of a commercial space. They are likely to be responsible for most, if not all, care and maintenance, plus the utility bills.
In addition to the financial overheads, there are also management overheads to consider. If a residential tenant has a problem with their electrics, they call their landlord. If a commercial tenant has the same problem, it’s often their responsibility to search on “electrician commercial” and navigate their way through the results.
When companies implement remote working, employees take ownership of managing their own offices. Admittedly, this means that employees having infrastructure problems may have to go “offline” for a bit. That said, business offices can also be put out of action by infrastructure problems.
On the other hand, remote working can bring a need for greater use of couriers. It will almost certainly bring a need for a more extensive IT infrastructure. This may, however, already have been put in place to support remote working during the pandemic. Even if it isn’t, it may need to be implemented as part of future business-continuity planning.
Think about the issue of security
The issue of security is a complex one. In principle, on-site working and remote-working can both offer the same level of security. In practice, it can take more oversight to ensure security in a remote-working environment than in an office environment.
In a remote-working environment, you have to work with employees on an individual basis to ensure that their home-office set-up meets the necessary standards. In an office environment, you have one environment which you can manage end-to-end.
The flip side of this, however, is that remote working distributes security risks, whereas office working centralizes them. This means that the impact of a security breach can be much higher.
Keep privacy in mind
Although there’s a clear link between security and privacy, the two concepts are different. In principle, being in an office should offer a higher degree of privacy than remote working. In practice, that only holds true if a company can afford to pay for the space needed to implement effective privacy controls.
This means that companies have to create sufficient private space for meetings. The problem is that it can be extremely difficult for companies to judge how much meeting space they need. If they overestimate it, then they will be paying for space they aren’t using. If they underestimate it, however, then either meetings have to be abandoned or they have to be held in an insecure environment.
For some companies, setting aside meeting space is always going to be an exercise in minimizing inefficiency. If the need for meeting space varies throughout the year, then companies are going to need to set aside enough space to meet the highest demand. This is basically going to be wasted for the rest of the year.
With remote workers, you can use one or both of two options. Firstly you can simply hold meetings remotely. Yes, you will need to think about security/privacy. It is, however, perfectly viable to hold secure, private, remote meetings. Secondly, you can have people come on-site for meetings but work remotely the rest of the time.
Remember you will need to maintain health and safety
Your health and safety obligations are fundamentally the same regardless of where your employees are working. In practical terms, however, there are different aspects to consider when managing health and safety for on-site workers versus remote ones. In particular, you will need to consider the physical safety of the building.
Assuming your remote workers are working from home (as opposed to being mobile workers), physical safety is less of an issue. You will, however, still need to ensure that they have an appropriate (safe) desk set-up. You may also need to pay extra attention to workers’ mental health. That said, it’s important to note that office-based workers may also have mental health issues.
Consider the impact on communication
In an office environment, there are generally two types of communication. These are formal communications e.g. business meetings and informal communications e.g. break-room chats. With remote working, there is less scope for spontaneous interactions. This has often been cited as an argument for a return to the office. It is, however, arguably a debatable point.
Quite simply, business owners and managers need to ask themselves if they really want to pin their business’ long-term future on the outcome of spontaneous chats. This is, of course, assuming that they even happen, which is not at all guaranteed.
There is hence a strong case for arguing that businesses should be actively creating opportunities for employees to interact. This can be done remotely as well as in an office environment. Of course, remote interactions may not be as intense as in-person ones. They can, however, be a whole lot more cost-effective.
This means that, in the real world, facilitating communication with remote workers may actually mean upgrading the communications infrastructure to cope with remote meetings. If so, then this would need to be factored into the costs of working remotely.
Think about general HR/management issues
Recruitment, retention, training and manager/team interactions would all be impacted by a move to remote working. The impact, however, could be a net positive. For example, working remotely could significantly expand your access to talent. This could be a huge plus for filling roles, especially ones involving in-demand skills.
It might also encourage employees to stay longer with the company. For example, if they wanted to move to a more affordable area to start a family, they might have to weigh up the pros and cons of the commute. If, however, they were working remotely, this would cease to be an issue.