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Beyond ‘Business as Usual’: How Remote Working is Coming of Age in the Midst of COVID-19

Four months into 2020, and there's no doubt that home working is here to stay. Even before our current pandemic, we saw the number of people working from home more than double between 2008 and 2018[1]. Nonetheless, in the COVID-19 era, everyone has been thrust into what has often been called the "modern workplace". In spite of our early successes, this is still very much a work in progress, as both organisations and employees establish whole new approaches to the way we work, and new tools and processes arising in response to the challenges we face. But thinking exclusively in terms of the workplace is arguably ignoring the bigger picture. We're not just seeing a shift in how we work, but a large-scale transformation of how we connect and interact with each other.

A global shift in how we stay connected

With the necessity to be always digitally connected now more prominent than ever, family members are suddenly having to become tech wizards overnight. Our parents had only just got their heads around WhatsApp and now they're having their book clubs and Friday drinks online.

It's the same thing we're seeing at Exponential-e when we help organisations embrace remote working for (in many cases) the first time, working with them to establish how our range of Unified Communications solutions can help them do so. Sectors such as legal and healthcare, who have traditionally been hesitant to fully embrace digital transformation are now enabling staff at all levels to continue working in the way that best suits them, in spite of the pandemic. And both their staff and the people who continue to depend on their services in these difficult times are experiencing the full range of benefits, such as NHS teams who have embraced our WFH solution to offer their patients remote appointments.

Work is a thing you do, not a place

In spite of the challenges, there have been many upsides to everyone WFH. A lot of companies have experienced a sharp increase in productivity and collaboration across the board. Company culture has also managed to be sustained through virtual coffee breaks, "thirsty Thursdays" and (in some cases) fitness sessions.

For all the challenges we're facing in and out of work, we're also seeing a global upskilling of technology and a blend of culture taking place. The previous clear differences between each generation has now become blurred, with individuals and sectors who have previously been reluctant to explore online work and communication now experiencing the benefits first-hand. It's rapidly become clear that the idea of a "modern workplace" is misleading. Rather than focusing on where we work, it's more valuable for organisations to think about how their teams can deliver their best, regardless of location, and what tools they need to do so.

Achieving the ultimate work/life balance

The biggest benefit from this – both professionally and personally – is the flexible work times. No longer tied to train times or clocking in or out, people have been able to enjoy a much better work/life balance (even if it doesn't include the pub!). Many people have been able to spend more time with their kids or practice the guitar that's been gathering dust for years.

From a "workplace" perspective, the biggest impact will be from the habits formed during the COVID era and how companies are willing to work with these newly formed routines in the years ahead. With many people already benefiting from a more flexible structure and more time with family, it's almost certain that they'll want to continue in this way, even when it's back to BAU. And it's up to their employers to embrace these opportunities as they present themselves, turning those early successes into an effective, sustainable model of working that benefits everyone.

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