According to the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS), 25.9 per cent of people worked at home at some point each week in 2020, compared with 12.4 per cent in the previous year. As the working from home (WFH) culture continues to grow, businesses are now contemplating what future workplaces will look like. Here Ashmita Das, CEO of Kolabtree, the freelance platform for scientists, explores the flexibility advantages of WFH and how businesses can use gig platforms to get the most out of the future of work.
According to the 2021 Work Smarter to Live Better report from Microsoft Surface and YouGov, almost nine out of 10 (87 per cent) UK office workers said that their companies had moved to a hybrid working model during the pandemic. As employees have swapped the office for their home study or the kitchen table, business owners have similarly embraced the advantages of remote and hybrid setups.
The main attraction of the new WFH culture is the flexibility that it offers. On the one hand, staff can avoid the morning commute to the office and exercise greater control over their work-life balance. Meanwhile, business owners can save money on office space and even eliminate these costs if they move to a permanent remote structure. This newfound flexibility has already had a lasting impact on employees. A separate study from Microsoft found that 71 per cent of UK workers want flexible work options to continue after the pandemic and over a third said they would even move to a new location because they can now do their job remotely.
At the start of lockdown, businesses that lacked a remote working procedure were understandably cautious and there were question marks over how they could adapt. However, now that more companies have had a taste of the freedom that remote working provides, many are likely to consider keeping their staff at home full-time or at least allowing them to work remotely once or twice a week. For example, a 2020 survey by KMPG found that 69 per cent of business leaders were planning to cut office space.
An external future
With WFH now an everyday practice for many, businesses are not just adapting to remote working, they are tailoring it to suit them. One way they can build on this freedom is by using online gig platforms to access specialist skills for particular projects. Freelance workers are often based remotely, sometimes in completely different countries and continents to the clients they work with. Many platforms were established before lockdown and will now be vital in helping businesses close their post-pandemic skills gaps.
As well as businesses, gig platforms offer a new avenue of flexible work for freelancers too. Freelancers that are registered to a site will often choose what projects they work on, for how long, and what their work schedules are. A recent survey of 542 independent scientists on Kolabtree found that 90 per cent of respondents said that flexibility was important and that 85 per cent wanted to choose their own projects. Therefore, online platforms are mutually beneficial for both businesses and workers in the new remote era.
With the shift towards hybrid and flexible working, businesses have an opportunity to re-evaluate their hiring procedures to include contract workers as well as permanent staff. By making these institutional changes, businesses can invest in people rather than office space and harness the benefits of a remote structure. Instead of hiring people within commuting distance, they can widen the recruitment pool to find the perfect person, which will give themselves a competitive edge.
Although office workers themselves been working remotely for over a year, some may be hesitant or cautious about bringing external contract colleagues on board. At the start of lockdown, business leaders had to be proactive and ready to adapt so that they could move operations remotely. Now, they must use the same enthusiasm to encourage a more positive mindset among their staff and inspire collaboration with freelancers.
Communication is the key to integrating freelancers effectively. One approach is holding company-wide briefings that explain how the freelance consultants will work with the largely remote inhouse workforce. These could also specify how long the freelancer will be working with the company and why they have been recruited. For employees that have already experienced significant change in their working patterns over the last year, these briefings will provide vital reassurance and could help inspire a positive mindset.
As the number of external workers doubles and the WFH culture becomes more popular, tapping into the gig economy will help companies extend their newfound flexibility further. Having access to specialist knowledge on demand can give them a competitive advantage, although business owners must be mindful of how to coordinate freelancers with their own remote teams.