The value of a connected workforce

Even before the UK went into lockdown in mid-March, the number of UK workers who have moved into remote-working has increased by nearly a quarter of a million over a decade. [1]

In the US, remote working increased by 159% between 2005 and 2017. By the end of 2019, 4.7 million, or 3.4% of the population were working remotely. [2]

Flexible working is attractive to workers. There are fewer distractions, a better work/life balance and less stress (excluding the current lockdown where many homeworkers are likely to have multiple new household co-workers). For employers; workers on flexible hours work harder, stay longer [3] and are more productive. Some believe that remote working lowers operating costs.[4]

The international lockdown has dramatically hastened the pace of change. By the start of April, all staff in 48.2% of British and 61% of American workforces were working from home.[5] [6]To meet the needs of a remote workforce, emerging and established technology providers are now offering their tools for free. Microsoft has made its cloud “productivity suite” free to small businesses for the next six months, including Teams. Videoconferencing service Zoom has also lifted limitations on its own free tier, allowing conversations to exceed 40 minutes.

A remote workforce is a connected one. Engaging effectively with a connected workforce is currently ranked third biggest issue faced by HR professionals globally, after employees health and transitioning staff to remote working. But how can organisations keep productivity thriving? Collaboration can be harder to foster when teams are working remotely, so having the right tools in place is a key first step.

There are plenty to choose from. Less well-known in the UK is Slack, the über workplace management tool, free-to-play so there’s no need to sign up every worker. Slack has been likened to creating “the feeling of turning to a colleague for a quick chat.” Its competitor Trello is described as “a giant digital corkboard with virtual post-it notes.” Videoconferencing tool Zoom has almost become part of British consciousness. In April, government defended its use of the platform in the wake of initial concerns about potential security risks. "In the current unprecedented circumstances, the need for effective channels of communication is vital," a government spokeswoman told BBC News, adding that the app was quick to set up between the varying systems used by different government departments.[7]

Widely used by individuals, companies and schools, Zoom can support up to 1,000 participants in a single meeting. Microsoft teams operates on similar principles. Looking ahead, it’s hard not to envisage one of these platforms emerging as a market leader.

Having provided the tools to bring remote teams together, employees need to be engaged, connected and empowered. Some organisations are deploying Learning Management Systems (LMS) to deliver the training that builds the collaborative learning culture that encourages knowledge sharing, creates stronger communication and fosters productivity.

The impact of the lockdown on business travel has been massive. On average, 92% of trips booked for March and April 2020 didn’t take place.[8] Once the current crisis passes, it is likely that remote working will continue, so the question is how the array of engagement tools will change behaviours once the lockdown is lifted? Will this change how we meet and travel and the dynamics of business travel?

There is some optimism that business travel will recover quickly. A survey by the GBTA predicts that global companies could start resuming business travel within two to three months.[9] Buyers predict that employees will be willing to travel again, although travellers may not be allowed to revert to pre-Covid behaviours.

Whilst the days of face-to-face contact are far from over, it is likely that corporates will segment their meetings activity between internal and customer-facing. Virtual could be the preferred medium for the former, whilst face-to-face is reserved for meetings activity able to demonstrate a quantifiable financial return.

Even face-to-face meetings could be different. A meeting attended by colleagues in multiple locations might see those based at the same office meeting face-to-face with others taking part by videoconferencing. Duty of care considerations are likely to have their biggest influence yet on how meetings are delivered.

Events could also look very different, especially as countries come out of lock-down at different times. Instead of delegates flying into a central destination for an international convention, organisers may opt for more regional events connected virtually. Plenary sessions could be streamed to each location so that messaging is consistent, whilst other content is delivered regionally. In reality, events of all sizes will be approached differently.

In-fact, we have fast tracked the development of our own virtual team-building and virtual events solution and have launched this to Capita Travel and Events customers.

Tracking event attendees, even for single-day meetings, we predict will become a must-have. Currently, delegate tracking happens mainly in larger events. Applying the same technology (which we already offer) to the current crisis enables employers to connect quickly with employees presenting symptoms and effectively communicate to those in attendance at the same meeting

Whatever balances are struck by corporates, this will require an understanding of where and how meetings take place, and who is attending, within the organisation and external suppliers/customers.

That understanding should also extend to which medium works best for different meeting scenarios. Just as corporates embraced mandated travel programmes after the financial crash of 2008, so post-Covid we will see more emphasis placed on having – and mandating – a meetings programme.

[1] FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics

[2] Office of National Statistics

[3] Gartner


[5] YouGov

[6] [7]