How has remote working affected Rural Businesses – and is it here to stay?

In the second of our regular Roundtable events Anna spoke with Rural Business Group Members about their experiences of remote working throughout lockdown and how it has impacted their businesses and teams. The discussion allowed people to share their experiences, to listen to others from different sectors and and we discussed whether flexible working is here to stay – with some interesting results! 

I was delighted to be joined today (2nd Feb) by a select group of Rural Business Group Members for a discussion on remote working and the way forward now that we are no longer subject to restrictions relating to the pandemic… The discussion highlighted that for the majority of the members present there was a huge positive in being able to get back into the office environment. Most of the participants were service businesses who’s ‘value’ was delivered to clients through face to face interaction. Individual benefits of returning to the office included:

  • Wellbeing and mental health – loneliness and isolation often being compounded by rural location, returning to an office environment provides the opportunity for interaction and to feel part of a team
  • Innovation and ideas – the ability to share ideas and develop solutions which might not have been obvious to individuals, a collaborative approach to problem solving is beneficial
  • Learning and Mentoring – the progression of trainees has been disproportionally affected by the lack of interaction brought about through an isolated WFH approach. Returning to a shared office environment means that learning and progression should accelerate
  • Quality of service – WFH has been used as an excuse for some [big] businesses to deliver a less responsive and reduced service whilst maintain and sometimes even increasing prices. This was agreed by everyone had experienced both private businesses and public service organisations using WFH as an ‘opportunity’ to reduce service quality. An office environment with more formal structure and oversight it was felt better enabled maintenance of quality service provision – in the experience of our participants.

Additionally we noted some benefits of continued flexible / hybrid working including:

  • Flexibility for those with caring responsibilities – the burden of childcare provision disproportionately affecting women,
  • Inclusion and diversity – neurodiverse and disabled individuals often benefit from home / hybrid working as it makes work more accessible. Diversity in organisations is only ever a positive thing

Prior to the discussion we conducted a poll looking at a number of aspects relating to home working – whilst the number of participants doesn’t enable us to draw any statistically significant conclusions we did note a number of trends which were further reiterated during our discussions. How has working from home (WFH) impacted job motivation?

“I have noticed that job motivation amongst suppliers and professional colleagues who are working from home has decreased markedly.” “We find some staff thrive in an office environment, and bounce ideas off others, we also feel some become disconnected and feel isolated while WFH.” “Not having our shop/office has allowed us to work as little of a much as we wish. Was very unmotivated around Christmas, but was able to take time off to be fresh and ready for the January and the new year.”

How has WFH affected training and development?

“Staff CPD has gone online during COVID-19. Online training has generally not been welcomed by staff. Staff have not found it as engaging or interesting.” “We have moved a lot of our training online, but a lot of the skills and soft skills are being lost.”

General additional comments on WFH

“Having very good and reliable remote computer it guys is a must have and good internet.” “I do think that remote working has created issues for some people due to isolation. Some people have been more productive due to less travelling.  Being able to meet on zoom and not have to travel and it not to take a whole day up but just an hour for the meeting was good and I think this will be a way forward. “ “The quality of service offered by large corporates (banks, insurance companies, motor vehicle manufacturers, pharmaceutical manufacturers/suppliers, electronic and surgical equipment manufacturers) in particular has declined markedly. In these cases we cannot switch to smaller, local companies and so have had our growth and financial performance hampered by the inadequacies of these larger companies. Too often, these companies are using remote working as an excuse for poor performance and substandard delivery.” “Some people thrive from managing their own time, and get to stay at home, whilst others get distracted and welcome knowing their hours eg. 9 am to 5pm. This means they can switch off and go home. We have found some the staff become demotivated, they get distracted in the day, then end up working longer hours due to not commuting. Sometimes communing is a benefit as it chills them out if they have a stressful day. They feel either driving or getting them the train enable people to switch off and then arrive home relaxed.”

Our discussion raised several questions and highlighted areas for further research:

  • The impact of soft skills on business performance and personal development and how WFH has impacted this development
  • Is ‘motivation’ down to individuals or employers, or is it a team effort and shared responsibility?
  • Has innovation withing businesses been negatively impacted by WFH?
  • Is there a difference in quality-of-service provision provided by small / large organisations due to remote working and does this map across to rural / urban businesses?
  • Flexible working is great for diversity. But is diversity and inclusion something that rural businesses embrace, and does a potential lack of awareness come from the lack of diversity in rural areas in general?
  • Have rural businesses benefitted from opportunities for practical training delivery?
  • What are the measured benefits of having rural offices with open space and access to the outdoors on mental wellbeing and job satisfaction?

If you are interested in joining our next discussion Roundtable then please register here to be kept up to date.

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