Remote working has long been on the rise. But the sudden global necessity to begin working from home full time may have a lasting impact on the popularity of remote working as more companies discover the true meaning of “less is more.”
Across the globe, there is now realization that working from home means less commuting, and thus more time to spend creating ideas and serving clients.
Less in-person meetings also tend to result in more one-on-one calls with team mates and clients, which also leads to more productivity as well as a reduction in the cost of commercial office spaces and air pollution generated from commutes. In this way, remote working benefits bosses, staff and greater society.
The Covid-19 pandemic forced much of the world to adopt remote working almost overnight. Yet, as the pandemic subsides, many companies may choose to keep some form of remote working in place.
This could be because many executives during the pandemic have finally experienced for themselves that, far from being a burden, remote working can be a blessing in disguise, strengthening creativity and productivity, as well as reducing stress, for the entire company.
This transformation to our work life is already happening. In the fintech world, mobile POS company Square recently announced a permanent work-from-home policy that will remain in place ever after the pandemic. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who also heads Square, made a similar announcement for the social media company a week earlier.
The Gulf looks likely to take the same path. In early March, before the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 to be a pandemic, over one-third of companies in Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain reported to have remote working plans already in place, according to Gulf Talents. That figure has now likely surged, with many more firms looking to make remote working a “new normal.”
At FinFirst Capital, we began remote working earlier than most, introducing a mandatory work-from-home order in February. The experience has taught us that there are a great deal of current and future reasons for companies to also maintain remote working permanently.
For example, by spending fewer company resources on office rent, FinFirst could instead dedicate funds to sponsor annual team-building trips abroad. Such programs have precedent in other all-remote organizations but have yet to be widely introduced in the region.
To get a better feeling of the possibilities and improvements needed to successfully sustain remote working, we interviewed some of our team members to hear how they have experienced this extraordinary shift in the modern workplace. Our conversations revealed some recurrent themes.
There are 4 common benefits of remote working that are widely applicable to other companies. They are:
We believe that these benefits are transferable across many industries, and thus merit taking a look at no matter what your line of work is.
By far the most common benefit cited by studies on remote working is the aggregate boost in productivity felt by staff.
According to a widely cited 2019 study by Airtasker, remote employees work 1.4 more days per month compared to their office-based counterparts. This adds up to an additional 16.8 more days every year.
The study also found that remote workers are better focused. They lose an average of 27 minutes a day to distractions, while office staff reported an average of 37 minutes lost each work day.
Achieving these heightened levels of productivity is no guarantee, of course. Remote workers have to establish guidelines at their home and create an environment that is conducive to high-performing work. Among the most effective ways remote workers can stay productive include taking regular breaks, maintaining established work hours, writing to-do lists and waking up early, to name a few.
Zainab Chebli, Business Development Manager at FinFirst Capital, says that creating a comfortable work space in her home is one of the key ingredients to her increase in productivity.
“I’ve felt more concentrated on my work since remote working began because I now have the freedom to actually set up my own place, my own desk, and then concentrate on work without any other background conversations going on,” Zainab said.
However, Zainab lives with a large family, including many siblings, which can present added challenges to her work-from-home life. To ensure that she can live and work in a home shared with her family, Zainab has had to establish ground rules.
“I told my family from the beginning that I need my space during my working hours. I said that if there is anything they need from me, they should knock at the door first,” Zainab says.
These parameters help to ensure a zone where a routine can be established with minimal interruptions, and great work can happen. They also help to ensure that Zainab does not overwork by allowing her to imitate normal office conditions that enable her to disconnect.
“Every morning, I prepare my coffee and place everything on my desk before working hours. Then I’m all set; you need to create this atmosphere.”
Umadhar Mulaparthi is a senior software engineer that is based out of FinFirst Capital’s Bangalore office, and he too has noticed a boost in productivity since going remote. Indeed, Umadhar finds that he now dedicates more time to working for his clients than he did when he was at an office.
“Apart from the standard eight-hour work day, we are now actually providing more flexible support to our clients. We are no longer stipulated by any time duration. Right now, I can wake up at 6:00 AM and I can close my work earlier in the day before moving on to other things.”
A big reason for these additional morning hours are due to the next main benefit gained by remote working.
Traveling to work eats up a lot of time and money. It also adds more pollution to our atmosphere, which is more evident in places like India, which today has some of the world’s worst air pollution.
Umadhar previously had a full-time office job before pandemic-enforced remote working began. Now he has suddenly realized just how much of his daylight hours can be invested into good work instead of commuting to an office on the other side of Bangalore.
“It’s about two to three hours to get to our office from my home because the traffic is very heavy,” says Umadhar. “Now because we are working from home, we are saving that time and using it to instead provide more support.”
The reduced stress and cost of commuting to work every day has also liberated Umadhar to spend more time with a growing family that would normally not see him as much.
“While working from home, I’m actually more attached to my kids. Whatever they need, I’m now better able to give it to them and respond to them. It’s like they’re also happy, I’m happy and my wife is happy that I am there to help her,” Umadhar says.
If US studies serve as an indication of things to come, remote working will also give Umadhar’s children a cleaner world to inherit.
In 2015, Xerox reported that its remote workers drove 92 million fewer miles, which is the equivalent of nearly 41,000 metric tons in reduced carbon dioxide emissions.
However, a 2019 Gallup poll concluded that an average commute in the US is less than 30 minutes, far lower than the average Indian commuter. Imagine how much carbon dioxide could be cut in India if many millions of workers like Umadhar started telecommuting permanently.
The world was going digital before the pandemic, but now this trend has been fast tracked.
For some, this sudden immersion into the digital universe comes with a high learning curve. For others, creative solutions are quickly being born that uniquely reply to the world of remote working.
FinFirst’s business development manager, Zainab Chebli, has discovered that the technology-dependent world of remote working can open doors for creative solutions. Through tools such as Zoom, Whatsapp and Instagram videos, she is able to take the client-building experience to unanticipated new dimensions.
For example, the screenshare function on Zoom has enabled Zainab to turn sales presentations into step-by-step video explanations.
“Sharing the screen actually adds a benefit. Instead of putting on a PowerPoint presentation, which is more like showing screenshots, let’s say, sharing the screen allows you to actually perform the presentation step by step,” says Zainab.
Getting to this point requires that clients are aware of how to use the technology, she adds. This can require extra troubleshooting on the part of the business development team, which means that IT skills become more crucial to the job.
Zainab finds that it can be necessary to walk clients through how to use platforms like Zoom. “First, we ask the client what they prefer. ‘Do you want us to call you, or do you prefer to actually have a video call?’ Then we tell him exactly how to access Zoom, instructing them how to click on the link, turn on the audio, etc.”
Traditionally, sales roles have been built upon in-person relationships. When working remotely this becomes impossible, but, as Zainab discovers, this does not erase the possibility of meaningful interaction.
“As long as we have a video call and you are seeing and speaking with the person, and he is seeing your facial reactions, then I don’t think there is a problem with this,” Zainab reflects when asked about making video pitches.
To prove her point, she describes a sales pitch she recently participated in.
“We started with a phone call, and then we decided to set up a Zoom call between our CEO and their CEO. This was a very good call, where we described our company and discovered a lot of ways to collaborate. Indeed, Mr. Abbas (FinFirst Capital’s CEO) actually had a live Instagram video call with the CEO of this company. So there were interactions other than the actual signing the contract,” Zainab recalls.
The Covid-19 pandemic has involuntarily enforced the adoption of remote working. Being trapped at home is not easy, but this extreme situation should not be compared with the realities of remote working.
After the pandemic, offices will reopen and more companies will make flexible office hours a “new normal.” In contrast to the mental health risks associated with being stuck at home all day, a flexible schedule will prove to be a magical recipe for increasing job engagement.
A 2020 Gallup poll unveiled that work engagement rises when workers are allowed to spend some time working from home, while still having the option to visit an office and interact with co-workers sometimes.
“Weekly face time with coworkers and managers seems to affect engagement: the optimal engagement boost occurs when employees spend 60% to 80% of their time working off-site — or three to four days in a five-day workweek,” the study revealed.
This finding has proven to sync well with Sara Hassan, our lead UX designer, who admits that working from home all the time can be “a bit stressful.”
Her ideal work schedule would allow for the possibility to change backgrounds every now and then. “I prefer working outdoors sometimes because it makes me more comfortable,” says Sara. “I find that, as a designer, I can actually just sit and think.”
Whether it’s connecting with nature or each other, we cannot avoid that we are all human and have very human needs. One of the first major revelations to come from the pandemic is that humans are social creatures; having regular interactions with other people is a core part of maintaining a healthy wellbeing.
“I’ll be really honest with you — of course, I do miss the office,” admits Zainab.
“Sometimes you need this consistency. You need this place to work, and you need to have your own meetings. After the pandemic, I wouldn’t want to completely stay this way 100 percent of the time. Some mix between the office life we had before and the remote working schedule we have now would be the best.”