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How effective can remote working really be?

‘If the Luftwaffe had dropped snow on London, they would have won the war.’ This pithy joke, whilst slightly off-key, refers to the fact that London, the beating heart of the national economy, grinds to a shuddering halt in the face of inclement weather.

Attribute this to laziness, unfamiliarity, genuine hazard or some other factor however you like. When people don’t reach their workplaces, we presume that we are haemorrhaging productivity. The recent emergence of ‘remote-working’ behaviour is challenging this presumption; and leading to a fluorescence of new work-space relationships that are reforming our labour force day after day.

‘Remote-working’ is the practice of working from a location other than your business’s central office, or equivalent space i.e. working from home.

It has been on the radar for nearly a decade, and is closely linked to the process of ‘smart-working’, but understanding of its impact on firms operations is still limited. A recent government report entitled the ‘Smart Working Code of Practice’ offers guidelines to businesses and self-starters for forging a productive relationship between their profession and some form of professional space.

The International Labour Organization also scrutinised the effects of ‘smart-working’ in a study which concluded that greater autonomy, reduced commuting times, and better overall work-life balancing were clear advantages of more fluid work-space arrangements.

But when it comes to ‘remote-working’ the quality and quantity of work are both in question.

Companies may be hesitant to sanction remote working for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that productivity and the quality of work done might slip. In the absence of any scrutiny, some people will find their motivation, and performance, can wane.

Similarly, the lack of accountability whilst alone in a space that’s not your office, might allow more people to slip into time-wasting behaviours that they wouldn’t entertain in the office. The saying ‘whilst the cat’s away, the mice shall play’ offers an idiomatic explanation.

One industry that stands to buck these suspicions is that of tech-development and coding.

Many developers prefer to code flexibly, at unconventional times and with fewer environmental distractions. In this case, being at home, on their own terms, seems perfect. If the development targets are being met, and the sprints closed with quality, stable products; who’s to say where the coding happens?

One answer is that the looser culture of remote-working can harm the cohesion of a company as a community, and allow some employees to detach entirely from their professional community.  Another might be that remote-working is inherently technological, and communication with the company itself has to be managed regularly through digital tools which are by no means perfect.

Reliable and competent coders inspire the degree of trust that’s necessary to relax the formal, office-based work structure. The success of remote-working starts with premium tech support and strategy; Coded People are all about the kind of technical talent that a company can rely upon because ultimately the degree to which remote working will affect the quantity and quality of work depends entirely upon the employee; to use a final idiom ‘the proof’ surely ‘is in the pudding’…