Is Scotland putting in place the right investment for companies, the right use of technology and the right preparation for employees to succeed?
In a service economy, has flexible working ever helped? This year’s evidence is mixed, and remote work could unleash new competitive forces for businesses in Scotland.
It’s a remarkable accomplishment to get a significant portion of the economy to work from home with little lead time. And with productivity and growth, it is common to equate reduced travel time and enhanced well-being at home.
Yet my regular meetings with a number of businesses as an investment manager tell a different story. A more complex image emerges, varying and depending on who is asked, from industry to industry. It’s hard to calculate productivity in complex facilities. Management, workers and clients each have a view of their own.
The rapid introduction of remote work poses a bigger economic challenge for Scotland. When data is migrated to the cloud and workers work remotely, roles for cost savings could be ripe.
Artificial intelligence and automated methods render machine-readable knowledge more available. For those delivering services from abroad, this could open up further work. It may be shocking that more advanced services may potentially open up to a more dynamic global labor market if disruption has enabled manufacturers to shorten supply chains.
Flexible working definitely has its advantages; businesses will gain access to a more diverse workforce with wider skills. But the abrupt move on a wide scale to work-from-home was ill-prepared and may even have reversed some of the hard-won gains for flexible classes. Evidence indicates that a greater home-based care burden for women has been brought with it by the 2020 transition.
Companies and teams with home-based work already formed tend to be coping well. Some industries, for example in finance and business support, are now mainly online and cloud-based. Flexible and remote work aligns well with tasks that are administrative or data-based.
Yet working from home in client-facing positions is much more difficult for many businesses. Some businesses are just not set up to direct calls to workers at home, and it is difficult to track the customer experience. Few businesses monitor user experience actively or seek transparent input. Services have a ton of inertia and are generally connected with faith. There is a natural reluctance to abandon trusted suppliers with lockout, but inevitably customers react to service degradation.
Working from home often brings detrimental elements that do not surface until much later. Surveys do not always capture participation and morale. To promote their psychological well-being, some individuals rely on office routines, teamwork and interaction with colleagues.
Long commutes or any of the dysfunctional aspects of crowded urban centers are not missed by many, but many just want a home-office balance and see an unreality in virtual online relationships. Without the visual cues to the end of the day which an office offers, overwork may be a greater danger.
In a workplace, working in groups brings teamwork, creativity and generation of ideas.
It can be difficult to express concerns about the shift in practice, but it is crucial for employers to seek the best balance for and person between home and workplace.
Stress can be an unacknowledged concern as well. Working from home brought the new danger of digital “presenteeism” with it – being more hours than expected at work. Is it safe to search outside of working hours for email?
A sign of job insecurity may be the feeling of never being away from work. And back-to-back online calls are so easy to set up that it can be difficult to take a breather or step back to gain perspective.
Are employers reassuring their workers – instilling the trust needed by flexible work? Managers must think more about the home atmosphere of each team member.