The Evolution of Remote Working: Balance, Integration, Harmony

10 Oct 2018

By Ross Sedgewick

New research finds that flexible work lifestyles are not an ‘all or nothing’ affair

At Unify, we have pioneered research and thought leadership that sheds light on the way we work, and in particular helps us understand the trends, elements and tools that contribute to productive and satisfying work lifestyles.

Remote, mobile and home-based working has been around for a while, but still there are nagging questions that remain to be answered about the ideal mix of traditional office vs. remote work. So, we set out to seek new answers and insights in our latest ‘The Way We Work 2.0’ research study, conducted recently by Unify.

We found that indeed, things are evolving. The binary notion of ‘work-life balance’ had morphed into ‘work-life integration’ (always on, all the time) – and now more toward what we have coined ‘work-life harmony’. This new idea of harmony shows that we collectively have established a higher level of contentment and productivity, as shown by our new findings. Specifically, two-thirds of respondents expressed a significantly higher level of satisfaction with their overall work lifestyle situation than they experienced five years ago.

So, let’s take a closer look and unpack the findings that are behind that positive trend.

Finding #1: Knowledge workers continue to embrace flexible working in large numbers. About half of our respondents work at least 50% of the time away from a traditional office setting and/or on virtual teams, while only 10% are strictly ‘office-bound’ workers. On the whole, 3 out of 4 said their work-life balance is now at least ‘good’, and reported the greatest benefit of working on distributed or virtual teams was the ability to bring together people with the right skills quickly and easily.

Finding #2: The traditional office still has a role in the mix – there is an ideal balance emerging. We found that those who worked in a traditional office space up to 25% of the time, express the highest levels of satisfaction with their work lifestyles. On the other hand, those who were 100% remote working or 100% office-bound had lower satisfaction levels. Millennials, in particular, expressed more interest in spending up to 50% of their time in a traditional office setting. These findings indicate that the virtues of face to faced interaction and human social contact are still seen as valuable and desirable.

Finding #3: Improved collaboration tools have shown strong adoption and help virtual teams thrive. The new generation of cloud-based team collaboration tools is now quite prevalent in all sectors and business sizes, with about 90% of respondents reporting either trying or fully adopting these tools. These new solutions appear to provide a richer user experience (audio, video, text, content and screen sharing) that more closely approximates face-to-face team interactions. However, challenges still exist – the most frequent issue reported being a lack of integration with other applications and tools used in the work setting (e.g. calendaring, email, line of business applications).

Finding #4: Smaller businesses are seeking speed and agility, while larger businesses place the most value bringing skills together. While smaller businesses are somewhat less likely to embrace flexible and remote working compared to larger enterprises, they reported benefits centered on faster decision making, whereas large enterprises reported being able to bring together virtual teams with the right skills quickly and easily as the biggest benefit. Both small and larger organizations said they also enjoy and prefer the benefit of reduced need for formal “sit down” meetings that virtual teaming allows.

Finding #5: Generation Y (Millennials) are much less likely to prefer 100% fully remote working. Given the relatively early stages in their careers, younger workers expressed more interest in spending at least some of their time working in a traditional office environment. This may seem counter-intuitive at first, but might be explained by our findings that show access to information and syncing up with others in their work lifestyles as being primary obstacles to embracing more remote working. In fact, it would stand to reason that Millennials’ education training (in person), and desire for visibility in the organization (to be ‘seen’) could explain why younger workers want to ideally spend up to 50% of their working time in a traditional office setting, according to our study.

So, what do we take away from these findings? Clearly, flexible working is still alive and well – although the ‘ideal’ balance varies in a mix of remote, mobile and traditional office work settings. Cloud-based collaboration tools are seeing increasing adoption to enable teams; however, these tools could be more integrated with other applications. And, there are distinct differences in the practices, attitudes, and preferences of different organization sizes and employee demographics. In particular, Millennial workers prefer at least some degree of exposure to traditional office settings to establish themselves in today’s workplace.

About Ross Sedgewick

Digital Workplace and Team Collaboration Expert

Ross joined Unify in 2002 and has fulfilled several expert marketing roles in technologies for the digital workplace, team collaboration / customer contact solutions, and virtual team engagement. He currently handles content creation, messaging and insight development relating to the digital workplace. Ross is passionate about humanizing the intersection of people and technology, and understanding how users engage and interact. Prior to joining Unify, Ross has held marketing, product, channel and sales leadership positions at IBM Corporation, Delano Technologies, and Siemens Enterprise Communications.


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