Watch out for the big fat remote working lie


Tim Axon

Tim Axon


The fact is that people like working from home. But the reality is that many organisations do not like their employees operating from a desk in their kitchen/garden/shed/home office/holiday home/camper van/parent’s house/friend’s sofa (*delete as appropriate). The utopia of hybrid working that came post Covid, is now well and truly over with many large corporates (predominantly those with large property footprints) enforcing a minimum of four days a week in the office.

Fully remote businesses are on the rise

Consequently, businesses that offer more flexibility to their employees are in high demand. The so-called Big Resignation remains as strong today (despite the ongoing cost of living crisis) as it was six months ago. Finding, and more importantly keeping, talent is according to McKinsey, something that keeps business leaders awake at night. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that the number of organisations that are now fully remote has grown fourfold since 2020, now estimated to be 16 per cent globally.

Pros of remote businesses

As a remote pioneer ourselves (long before #wfh became a thing) we know that there are many benefits to this model; not least, the ability to:

  1. Attract top talent, no matter where they are located or their personal circumstances
  2. Reduce absenteeism, which in the UK alone is estimated to cost employers in excess of £100bn each year. This is due to being able to offer more flexibility and a better work/life balance
  3. Be ‘always-on’ due to having people in different time zones
  4. Increase productivity. Research by Stanford revealed that people that work from home are more efficient, saving businesses the equivalent of a day a fortnight in wasted time
  5. Keep staff for longer. People that work from home are 13 per cent more likely to stay with a company for five years than those located in an office
  6. Save on the costs associated with a physical office including rent, utilities, insurance etc

Fully remote businesses are on the rise

However, there are also disadvantages to remote businesses. Probably the most important being that knowledge exchange is much harder. You simply don’t get the water cooler moments that an office environment affords. And trying to replicate it digitally does not work. Just think about Teams or Zoom – most people these days make use of the virtual lobby so when a meeting starts there are no niceties first. It is straight down to business. Moreover, somehow impromptu ‘phoning’ on Teams is considered poor business etiquette, so unfavourable, in fact, it has its own name – Teams Bombing. The days of unscheduled chit-chat are long gone. This means that people don’t know each other as well as they might, making it hard to foster an engaging culture. And herein lies the thorn in remote working’s side: culture driven growth.

It is a well-researched phenomenon that a positive culture equals better business results. For instance, companies with a strong corporate culture report four times higher revenues than those with a mediocre culture. Moreover, companies with an effective culture are 89 percent more likely to report high customer satisfaction, not to mention the fact that the same percentage of job seekers cite company culture as their top pull factor (above money and benefits).

Consequently, businesses that are remote must work much harder than their office-based counterparts to ensure that their culture is a business driver, not a detractor. And this costs money. A lot of money. A few paragraphs ago the cost savings associated with remote working were cited, but this is a red herring. There are no cost savings to being remote as you have to plough every last cent (if not more) into engaging your workforce.

Invest in your culture

We regularly bring our entire workforce together for a week in different locations around the world. Before Easter we were in Lapland where we enjoyed each other’s company sharing amazing experiences such as rally car driving on a frozen lake, husky dog sledding, snowshoeing and sampling of local cuisines. We combine the fun elements with more serious business updates and strategy sessions. These trips are compulsory as it is critical that we all come together in a face-to-face environment to reinforce the foundations of our team. And it works. But it doesn’t come cheap.

A word of warning to remote workers and business leaders, alike

Therefore, a word of warning for workers looking to make the switch to a fully remote job – make sure that the business isn’t pocketing the cost savings – because if they are, your job satisfaction will diminish and you’ll be looking for a new job sooner rather than later. And for businesses that are thinking of going remote, if the motivation is cost saving; then think again.

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