By Duncan Greenwood, VP & GM NEMEA, EMEA Lead for Diversity & Inclusion at VMware
The future of work is finally here
For as long as I’ve been in the business, tech communities have talked about the ‘future of work’ as some vague, far-off concept.
Often, the conversation revolved around the same areas. We wanted to know how the future workplace could be more efficient, more collaborative, and most definitely more inclusive. The problem is, up until now it’s been just that… conversation. Enter 2020.
‘Distributed working’ over ‘Remote working’
For better or for worse, this year has changed everything about how we conduct business.
Suddenly, the ‘future of work’ is right here, happening now in front of us. Businesses worldwide are becoming ‘anywhere’ organisations and finding themselves having to adapt and manage a distributed workforce.
Distributed working refers to the notion that employees should be able to work from anywhere. Whether that be working from home, from the office, on the go, or a hybrid of all three, and for a lot of organisations, it’s a radical concept. How do you manage ‘out of sight’ employees? How do you maintain a sense of collaboration and team bonding? How can you ensure productivity doesn’t fall? All questions that business leaders are now facing.
A more diverse and inclusive working model
However, moving towards this new model of working comes with a range of benefits. We can’t ignore the fact that it can create opportunities for a more inclusive working environment at every single stage of the process, from recruitment to everyday working practice.
Think about working parents. A solid, distributed working environment makes it possible for parents to build their own working schedule in the exact locations that suit them, be it their home, their company office or otherwise.
Forget weekly flexi rotas, forget using your lunch hour for travel, and forget judging your productivity based on what you’ve achieved solely between the hours of 9am and 5pm.
Distributed working, and the idea that work can be done ‘anywhere’, can alleviate both the financial and physical burden of childcare, making it easier than ever for working parents to thrive in the workforce.
But it doesn’t stop there.
The same methodology can be applied to a whole range of employees from a wealth of different backgrounds and circumstances.
The distributed working model removes the physical obstacle of having to travel to a workplace. That alone can have a huge impact, making it easier and more realistic for those with disabilities to find work, those who cannot afford transport costs or those who do not live near efficient transport hubs.
Additionally, this modern method of working could mean that more employee voices are heard, more often. We recently conducted a study on the impact of remote working in collaboration with Vanson Bourn, which found that employees actually feel more empowered to speak up during a virtual conference call for example. Almost two thirds in EMEA (64%) claimed they feel happier contributing in online meetings, and 65% claimed that they feel more confident speaking their mind to leadership remotely.
Interestingly, approximately 70% also agree that innovation is coming from more places in the organization than it was before the pandemic. It’s hard to argue with the fact that distributed working gives business leaders the opportunity to connect with as many of their employees as possible and engage with departments that often fly under the radar in an ‘in-person’ environment.
Inclusivity and diversity at the recruitment stage
Just as distributed working can have a positive impact when it comes to everyday working practice, it can also change the way we hire for the better. Without the restriction of a 9-5 office-based role, managers have found it easier to hire candidates regardless of their personal circumstances at the time.
Our Future Ready Workforce survey, conducted with Vanson Bourne, showed that 64% of those surveyed in NEMEA agree that the recruitment of top talent has been made easier, with the talent coming from a wider pool of candidates in general, including minority candidates, working parents, those with disabilities and those living outside major economic hubs.
The role of business leaders in the future of work
It all seems perfect, right?
In an ideal world, yes.
We’d all love to be able to move to a fully functional, efficient, distributed working practice and create an entirely inclusive workforce overnight. However, predictably, this model is not without its challenges.
As it stands, in NEMEA 28% believe their leadership culture discourages remote working. While the majority may disagree, we’re still looking at nearly a third of respondents who don’t feel supported or encouraged to adapt to the future of work in this way.
Business leaders must recognise they have a responsibility to make distributed working a viable and preferable option for their employees. It is no longer a perk, but a pre-requisite.
Additionally, they must realise there are multiple personas within an organisation and people will react to these changes in completely different ways. Whilst hiring a more diverse talent pool has got easier, the threat of growing isolation, or a perceived decrease in a team’s ability to collaborate may be a more pressing priority for some employees, causing opposition to a distributed working model.
How leaders can empower a distributed workforce
For leaders to embrace a more inclusive, diverse distributed working environment, we must first take a look at why they might oppose it in the first place.
Out of those surveyed in NEMEA, 43% of respondents claimed that they worry about self-isolation as a result of more permanent remote working, and almost half stated that they worry the relationships with their team and other colleagues will suffer.
It’s easy to see where these concerns stem from. In order to overcome them, leaders need to consider the appropriate training and management styles. Different measures need to be deployed across any given organisation to ensure that the concerns of the workforce are met. By doing so, we can create an inclusive working environment that works for all those within it.