Is remote working here to stay?


EFMD conducted the fourth call on corporate learning in times of a pandemic, this time raising the question ‘is remote working here to stay?’. The Zoom call was well received by members from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Martin Moehrle, EFMD’s Director of Corporate Services, shared the results of a survey asking the call participants beforehand to share the experience made in their organisations. Depending on the industry, up to 100% of employees worked from home. And this has been for many of them a new experience. About half of the respondents are monitoring the situation through pulse checks, employee surveys or interviews.

The dominant positive aspect of working remotely, according to the survey, is the time saved that is normally spent on commuting to work. Also, the ability to avoid public transportation reduced exposure to the virus. Communication and work have been perceived as less hierarchical and more flexible.

Challenges cited were work-family balance, especially for working parents with children at home; internet access and technical equipment; having a quality workspace at home; lack of social interaction, of unscheduled meetings, and opportunities to ideate.

Those organisations that have already a flexible working policy expect it to be much more widely used in the future, and others reported that their policies are currently under review to allow for more working from everywhere.

Viviana Alberu and Regis Chasse from Majid Al Futtaim, a Dubai headquartered retail, property, leisure, and entertainment group with 45,000 employees in 17 countries, shared their ambition accelerated by COVID-19, to access a much wider talent pool by allowing employees to work from outside the U.A.E. for most of the time. This triggers several issues regarding taxation, decision making, technology, and performance management.

The pandemic has also led Faurecia, a French automotive supplier with 115,000 employees in 37 countries, to explore the odds of having employees work more from home. David Jestaz and Gael Barjot discussed their global employee survey being conducted on this subject and the interviews with top management that revealed proponents and opponents of the idea. Two teams are working now independently from each other on developing a plan for a moderate and for a more massive approach to working from home.

It was generally agreed that working from home, as enforced by the pandemic, has worked much better than anticipated. However, this is a short-term perspective only. Long-term effects must be taken into consideration when advocating more remote work in the future. Three breakout groups investigated potential long-term effects and how to manage them. First, there could be effects on inclusiveness and equality, as remote working could be better for some than for others, hence requiring flexibility and optionality. Promotion and access to interesting work could depend on being more often in the office. Managers must get upskilled in leading within a remote setting.

Other groups reviewed effects on team dynamics and innovation, and on purpose and culture. Virtual meetings save time and resources but should be complemented with in-person events for networking, problem-solving and innovating, and for sharing work and life experiences. Especially new joiners and junior employees will appreciate more social cohesion and in-person encounters. Organisations must tactically find the right balance between virtual and in-person work to secure inclusive, trustful, and dynamic work environments.

When rolling out working from everywhere policy, a global big bang might activate organizational stress. However, a staggered approach should not take too long either. Countries might get empowered to implement such policy within defined boundaries and time frames.