The measures started to be lifted for the final time in March 2021, but techies weren’t so keen to return to the office. After a year of working from home, with no discernible impact on productivity, but a very noticeable uplift in mental well-being and all-round work-life balance, techies simply didn’t see the need to return. The debate around the pros and cons of remote work has raged ever since, and after a couple of years of leeway, more and more companies are now pushing for their techies to return to the office - so much so, it’s estimated that 90% of companies have return-to-office policies they plan to implement before the end of 2024. But when we look at the bigger impact and consequences of remote working, it’s very valid to ask whether or not this is the right move for both companies and techies themselves.

The shift to remote working wasn’t quite as dramatic for techies as it was in other industries, as the idea of working from home for some of the week wasn’t completely new. Traditionally, techies have been able to do their role from home, with occasional trips to the office required for meetings, and many companies have had a global workforce for many years. It’s estimated that 16% of companies globally are fully remote, and 72% of tech companies have some remote employees. This has been rising since before the pandemic, as this figure was 55% in 2016, and 65% in 2017, so it’s pretty evident that remote working was very prevalent in tech long before they were forced to temporarily close their office doors in 2020. As such, when strict COVID measures were initially introduced, the move to being fully remote did not require as dramatic a move as it did in most other industries, although it does represent a pivotal moment as it brought the pros and cons of remote working to the forefront of public discourse. Existing and emerging tech also made this a lot easier, with teams able to fully communicate online, and advancements in cloud computing and cybersecurity meant working together on projects was easy - in many companies, it’s likely the change had no discernible impact on productivity or the day-to-day running of the business.

The future of remote working is definitely up in the air at the moment - as previously mentioned, 90% of companies are planning to implement return-to-office policies in 2024. It’s highly possible we’ll see some form of backlash against this from the tech community, and if companies start struggling to attract the best techies due to their remote working policies we’ll likely see another shift in attitude from employers. The move to wanting people back in the office is also juxtaposed with the way advances in technology are making remote work and collaboration easier than ever. Emerging tech such as more advanced video conferencing, and virtual workspaces and meetings in VR, is also continuing to make it even less relevant where people are working from. It will be interesting to see how this plays out for the next 12 months, and whether it’s companies or techies that truly the hold power when it comes to deciding where techies work from.

It’s important to consider not just the impact of remote working, but why this is the preferred method of working for techies. GitHub looked into this in 2020, and the results aren’t very surprising. Flexible scheduling, lack of commute, and cost of savings were the top three reasons. Remote working also has significant wellbeing benefits - 32% said that working from home reduced their anxiety and/or stress levels, and 25% stated they noticed improved mental and/or physical health. Despite the aforementioned return-to-office policies, it remains to be seen whether techies will be willing to sacrifice these benefits, particularly  when the majority view working in the office as unnecessary and holding no real benefit for either themselves or the company.

These benefits aren’t just limited to techies; it can be argued that it’s also significantly beneficial for companies too. Rather than being limited by only having access to a talent pool within a commutable distance of their office, they’re able to employ and work with the best tech talent globally. There’s also the cost of office space to consider, particularly as rent and overheads continue to skyrocket against a gloomy economic forecast. If an office is no longer required, that represents a significant saving, particularly for small companies. It also goes without saying that a happy and engaged employee will be more productive and bought into the company’s mission - studies show that a happy employee will produce around 12% more work than an unhappy or disengaged one. Our surveys have shown that only 1.3% of techies give working in-office as their preferred method of working, which begs the question why force techies back in the office if it’s ultimately going to lead to unhappier and less productive workers? Clearly, the advantages of remote work are not just limited to the techie themselves, and if companies implement remote working policies correctly and effectively they stand to reap the benefits also.

Whilst there are evidently multiple benefits to remote working, it can also bring challenges for both techies and companies to navigate. It can be very difficult to maintain team collaboration and company culture when your workers are potentially working different hours, or even living in different time zones. The absence of the daily interactions that working in the office brings with it can make it difficult to create the level of camaraderie and teamwork that the office setting naturally provides, and is required for a company and it’s employees to be as successful as possible. Companies need to ensure they’re making the most of the digital tools available to keep their teams as connected as possible, and innovate ways to foster social interaction and team building in a remote team. We also have to consider issues around cybersecurity, which can be much more difficult to manage in a fully distributed team. Companies need to invest in robust security measures and comprehensive training for employees to make sure sensitive information is protected. Evidently, despite the benefits mentioned previously, remote work does also carry an element of risk for companies that needs to be considered when looking at the future of remote working.

There’s also the personal impact to consider. Although most techies say they prefer to have some element of remote working due to the flexibility it offers, it can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness if it isn’t managed correctly. Some of the onus is on companies to make sure they have effective well-being policies in place, particularly with a fully remote team. However, it also up to the techie to make sure they have provisions in place to make remote work comfortable, and make sure it isn’t ultimately detrimental to their health. There are also issues around disparities in how accessible remote work is to techies. Differences in internet access, workspace availability, and the presence of distractions at home can have a major impact on someones ability to work remotely. Companies need to acknowledge and address these disparities, such as offering support in the form of stipends for home office setups or flexibility in work hours, to ensure all employees can succeed in a remote work setting. Whilst it is clear remote working has significant benefits, there are also a number of pitfalls that need to be successfully navigated if remote work is to be as productive and successful as it can be.

It’s also important to consider that with the exponential advancements being made in tech, remote working should get easier and more collaborative going forward. One good example of this is the emergence of AI and ML over the last couple of years. It’s not just mundane tasks that it can tackle effectively; it can enhance analytics, streamline processes and increase general productivity. With AI taking some of the load off techies, constant monitoring of their output becomes a lot less necessary and frees them up to focus on solutions that can make a real difference to the business. VR technologies are becoming so advanced that they can effectively mimic real-life and allow meetings and collaboration in real-time to a level that is indiscernible from genuine physical interaction. 

Blockchain technology is revolutionising remote work by offering secure and decentralised work management systems. With its ability to create transparent and immutable records, blockchain is ideal for managing contracts, payments, and ensuring the authenticity of work submitted. Its decentralised nature reduces the reliance on intermediaries, making processes more efficient and secure, which is particularly beneficial for freelancers and companies operating in a global remote work model. Furthermore, ever-increasing mobile internet speeds are set to significantly enhance remote work connectivity and capabilities. With its promise of higher speeds, lower latency, and more reliable connections, 5G facilitates smoother video conferences, faster file transfers, and more reliable access to cloud-based resources. This improvement in connectivity is crucial for supporting the bandwidth-intensive applications that emerging technologies like VR/AR and AI require, ensuring that remote workers can collaborate and perform tasks as effectively as if they were in an office setting, and it’s only going to improve going forward. When you look at the advances in tech that are being made, it becomes feasible that remote work will not just be considered as valuable as working in the office - it could become the preferred method of working, offering unprecedented levels of flexibility, efficiency, and opportunity for innovation.

To excel when working remotely, techies need to approach it in a way that takes work-life balance, productivity, and the support of the company into consideration. A good place to start is with creating a dedicated workspace that enables employees to work without distraction. It can become difficult to draw the line between work and personal time when you’re living and working in the same place. Clear distinction and boundaries between work and personal time is key to successfully working remotely, as there is a definite need to maintain work-life balance and prevent burnout. It can also be difficult to pull yourself away when working from home; regular breaks and physical activity is key to maintaining both productivity, and physical and mental wellbeing. A lot of the responsibility for ensuring remote work is as effective and undisruptive as possible falls on the worker.

Whilst techies need to take responsibility, if a company doesn’t support and facilitate remote workers effectively, it is very unlikely to be as successful or productive as it could be. Companies can support remote workers through training, technology, and policies tailored to the nuances of remote work. Providing access to the latest technology and software is fundamental, ensuring employees have the tools needed for efficient communication and task management. Training programs designed to enhance digital literacy, time management, and self-discipline are equally important. Implementing policies that promote flexibility, such as flexible working hours and mental health days, can further support employees' well-being and productivity.

Building a resilient and adaptable organisational culture in a remote setting involves fostering a sense of community and belonging among remote workers. Regular virtual team-building activities and informal check-ins can promote a strong team dynamic and mitigate feelings of isolation. Encouraging open communication and providing platforms for sharing successes and challenges can help maintain a positive work environment. Leadership plays a crucial role in this aspect by setting the tone for an inclusive and supportive culture, demonstrating empathy, and being open to feedback on how to improve the remote work experience.

As we gaze into the future of the tech industry, the role of remote work is poised to undergo significant evolution, influenced by both technological advancements and shifts in societal norms. The integration of remote work into the fabric of global work practices is anticipated to deepen, challenging traditional office-centric models and fostering a more flexible, inclusive, and diverse workforce. Technological innovations, particularly in communication, collaboration tools, and cybersecurity, will further empower remote work, making it more seamless and efficient. We are likely to witness the rise of more sophisticated virtual and augmented reality tools, facilitating more immersive and interactive remote collaboration experiences. These advancements will not only enhance productivity but also bridge the physical gap between remote teams, creating a sense of presence and engagement that rivals in-person interactions. Societal changes, including a growing emphasis on work-life balance, sustainability, and employee well-being, will also shape the future of remote work. As awareness and demand for a healthier work-life integration grow, companies will be compelled to adopt more flexible working arrangements. This shift will be instrumental in attracting and retaining talent, particularly among younger generations who value flexibility and autonomy over traditional workplace perks.

The hybrid work model, which combines remote and office work, is set to become a mainstay in the tech industry. This approach offers the best of both worlds: the flexibility and autonomy of remote work, coupled with the social interaction and collaboration benefits of office work. The future will likely see organisations refining their hybrid models to maximise productivity and employee satisfaction, tailoring policies to fit the unique needs of their workforce.

In summary, the future of remote work in the tech industry is bright, with technological and societal advancements paving the way for more adaptable, efficient, and employee-centric work practices. The balance between remote and office work will continue to evolve, with the hybrid model playing a crucial role in defining the new normal in work arrangements.

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