Certainly, the pandemic has shown us that people can adapt quickly to new ways of working and that many people welcome less commuting. Other benefits include environmental ones and greater work life balance. Negatives include the impact on city centre of fewer commuters. Others fall into a grey area where different research seems to show different things – these include the impact on collaboration and motivation. In some cases, it depends on how it is done and how it is managed. Greater and more intrusive monitoring of remote workers may kill off some of the advantages, for instance.
Then there are the everyday things. New communications platforms have their own quirks and frustrations. Logging in a minute before a meeting can be frustrating as you find you have to go through registration processes that delay your entry, but it’s nowhere near the stress of getting stuck on a train and running full pelt to a meeting room. Access to meetings can mean you face a traffic jam of them at all times of the day. However, if you miss one, you can always listen to the recording. This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage because you end up being constantly behind, although potentially better informed than in the days when you couldn’t get to half the events.
Clearly remote working for people who have no workspace, have family or flatmates around and are worried about putting on the heating over the winter is a different experience from those in well paid jobs and spacious homes with no distractions.
As with all new things there are pluses and minuses and it looks likely that the hybrid model of working from home part of the week will win the day.
But what will the impact be on recruitment in a world where people don’t have to be in one place or even that near an office, if employers move to wholly remote working?
On the upside, it will definitely increase access for people living in more rural places, but in a world of cost-cutting and insecurity will it also mean greater outsourcing of work, more use of temporary contracts, etc – in short, more gig working on a more international scale? That was already happening to some degree, but the problem now is that we are entering a period of huge labour demand as against the pre-Covid war for talent. The world has flipped.
A conference yesterday heard from a company which had outsourced its HR support to the Philippines. That has meant Filipino workers having to work Western hours ie through their night time. Doing so from home, for instance, if you have young children and not much space, can be challenging. The speaker said drop-out rates were increasing and he envisaged more demand for more part-time, contract-based work or gig work.
Gig work is, of course, not new at all and is growing across the professions. The problem is how to ensure that it is not exploitative in an international context. Organisations such as Ouishare have been working on this for some time and, of course, there was the Matthew Taylor report on good work, most of whose recommendations appear to have been shelved for the time being, such as the need for a single enforcement body. Taylor spoke over the summer about the dangers that the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath will lead to greater exploitation of workers, particularly at a time of great pressure on employment tribunals. In a Covid-related blog on the RSA platform this week, Taylor and Anthony Painter, Chief Research & Impact Officer at the RSA call on citizens to initiate change with Government providing “the final piece of the jigsaw”. The article highlights the current weakness of UK civil society infrastructure, from local authorities to unions. In a world where divisions are being exaggerated by some leaders and institutions, the authors call for civil society to take the initiative back and drive ‘innovation for good work’, for instance, businesses working with NGOs. They state: “Ultimately, we will need change from the top. But instead of hoping for national politicians to solve our hardest problems, we need to ask them for the final pieces of a puzzle we have together started to solve.”
The alternative is that the more negative potential impacts of Covid – both the foreseen and unforeseen consequences – get a runaway lead and we take the next decades dealing with the fall-out.