Working from home may be here to stay - finding balance will be key.

For more than 6 months now, half of the UK's workforce has been working from home. So, is this likely to become the new "normal” as we move forward and start to put 2020 behind us, and if so, what needs to be taken into account to ensure minimal operational disruption?

Figures from the ONS show that although numbers fluctuate from week to week, between 40-50% of workers have been at home throughout the Covid pandemic - and there’s evidence the situation may be here to stay.

New research this month shows that more than 7 in 10 businesses intend to permanently maintain a level of home working even once the covid risk subsides - good news for the 9 in 10 workers who expressed in another study that they’d rather be at home than the office.

So perhaps the most tangible impact of this pandemic will be a step-change in the landscape of work - and how services are delivered. In April, Microsoft’s Chief Exec spoke about how they’ve seen “two years of digital transformation in two months.”

Microsoft: ahead of the curve

One of the compelling factors for home working is that employers seem to be finding staff are just as productive, if not more. Reducing the need for office space brings company overheads down significantly and - like a webinar I listened to this week pointed out - remote working means businesses can source the best possible talent, regardless of geographical location. So what’s not to like?

It’s worth looking to Microsoft again for this as they’ve been proactive in asking that question since the start. At the beginning of October, it was announced they would join a growing list of large tech companies who intend to allow their staff to continue home working permanently.

But they’ve not made that decision without doing some careful research. Microsoft was quick off the mark to send their employees home at the start of the pandemic and they’ve been proactive in studying the impact of the situation ever since. Over the summer, they published the results of that survey in the Harvard Business Review.

The results were mixed. It’s alarming to read that the 9-5 workday looks to become a thing of the past, with employees stretching the working day at both ends. When your office is your home, it can be hard to set strict boundaries. Virtual meeting fatigue was discovered to be a very real thing yet being at home created better empathy between colleagues as the work/life balance became a shared problem.

This blend of benefits and drawbacks has seen teams across the world lean towards a “hybrid” working life in which office time and home working adapt flexibly to a ratio which suits the function of each business.

Time to create a hybrid workplace

Procurement teams have inherent flexibility with the right set-up but research last year shows as many as two-thirds of businesses admit they are still reliant on paper-based or manual procurement processes.

In our industry, as with most others, the move to WFH only really works if tasks are already handled in a collaborative and centralised manner and yet that’s perhaps not been part of the development plan for many until this year. What we’ve seen though, is that those businesses already working with cloud-based tools transition much more easily into a remote team - and can do so at a moment’s notice.

The past 6 months have been a salutary lesson in crisis planning for many who perhaps didn’t find themselves in such a fortunate position. If the future of work will, at the very least, be a hybrid of home and office working, it’s time for procurement teams to consider some key questions: how will you continue to function and operate smoothly when key members are separated? Does geography or your current software limit productivity? What lessons can be learned from this year’s operations?

Microsoft’s research shows that to WFH 100% of the time may be too much, but the speed and adaptability of the global workforce in 2020 has proven that remote working does have its place. To make virtual teams as efficient and productive as traditionally centralised teams requires reliable, intelligent cloud-based platforms. Procurement departments could achieve a lot by considering ways of digitising aspects of day to day processes, inspired perhaps by Lean Methodology or by looking to automation to take care of repetitive manual tasks.

So going forward, let’s take back control from this pandemic and decide for ourselves: what’s the ideal hybrid for our business? Some may be more comfortable with a 70:30 split but others might see a flexible 50:50 scenario working very well. Companies need to plan for their future of work now, to find the right technology to put in place to support it.

One thing’s for sure: Covid won’t be around forever, but because of it, the future of work has changed significantly.

To find out how Maistro is already helping businesses digitise their procurement workflow and enabling teams to collaborate at a distance why not book a call with one of our specialists?

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