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Leadership in the era of remote working

The majority of office workers have spent the past four months exclusively at home, and latest research now suggests that more than two-thirds of them believe they can be at least as productive as in the office. Organisations globally are now looking at introducing a hybrid model combining working from home with time in the office, not only to retain employees, but also for cost savings reasons.

A hybrid working model will also mean less time spent on commuting. Take the example of the average Londoner who spends an hour and 20 minutes getting to and from work. According to an analysis of official statistics by the Trades Union Congress, if they worked from home instead, they would save 297 hours annually. If they sleep for eight hours on average, that’s 19 days per year.

Work re-invented

According to a recent research by McKinsey 80 percent of people questioned report that they enjoy working from home. 41 percent believe they are more productive than they had been before. Workers adjusted to working virtually quicker than leaders expected, which for many was a surprise given that numerous studies conducted over the years had found that productivity almost always drops following any large-scale change. The fact that many employees believe they have successfully navigated this significant shift in a middle of a global pandemic with no productivity loss is remarkable.

Whilst the economy is starting to come back to life and office doors are re-opening again, employees are hesitant to return. A recent research by Unilever has found that only 8 percent of employees wanted to go back to the office full-time, while the majority of respondents were happy to work from the office a few days per week. Many organizations believe they can access new pools of talent with fewer locational constraints, adopt innovative processes to boost productivity, create an even stronger culture, and significantly reduce office costs. This new way of working means that organisations now need to make a shift towards flexible working if they want to attract and retain the best talent.

One size doesn’t fit all

Even with social distancing in place, many employees are more team oriented than ever before. They have adapted to a new, challenging work environment and bonded through online experiences, but one approach never fits all and not every team will thrive in a virtual environment. In fact, for some remote work can significantly reduce productivity and engagement. Leaders need to evaluate which teams are best suited to work from home in the long term and consider factors such as the interdependency of team members, dynamics of contributions, engagement and trust, as well as employees’ health and safety concerns and personal circumstances.

Even if a role aligns well with remote work, each person has different talents and ways of achieving the same outcome. Whilst some people work remotely with high degree of success despite minimal interventions, others might perform better with the interactions and structure of on-site work. Success comes down to leadership over location and the meaningful feedback leaders provide. A recent Gallup research suggests that, when managed well, remote teams can experience significantly higher engagement than fully on-site teams, however it requires organisations to identify the most important processes, from examining professional development through to different stages of projects, reflecting on their values and culture.

At Acumen we have over 21 years of experience in designing and delivering leadership development programmes that give leaders at all levels the practical tools to help solve real life challenges. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at

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