"I think that our productivity has actually gone up," says Matthew Wilkinson on his agency's move to remote working. "If you are having to progress a deal or deal with a property management issue, there are fewer distractions without the office phone ringing all the time."
The partner at the Maidenhead-based property management and lettings agency, Wilkinson Estates, was one of many agents suddenly tasked with maintaining normal business productivity levels while remote working and, often, with a furloughed workforce. Some were successful in discovering the benefits of this remote-working model, such as avoiding the distractions that an office environment can sometimes raise. "In some ways, we're doing things better than what we would have done in the office," Wilkinson says.
Wilkinson Estates is not alone in this experience. Ricky Purdy, Director of Residential Lettings at Dawsons Estate Agents, says: "We believe that our customers haven't experienced a difference in our service levels - we’ve been just as efficient working from home. It’s taken a great deal of effort and engagement, but the feedback and appreciation of ‘normality’ in such unfamiliar times has made it worthwhile."
Agencies now have the chance to take what they've learned and apply it, creating a more sustainable home-working model - while taking steps to ensure it fits with workers' expectations and business processes.
Recent surveys show that staff appreciate a work-from-home model. Eighty percent of respondents in the 2020 Gartner ReimagineHR Employee Survey said they wanted to continue to work from home for at least part of their week. Research by the Boston Consulting Group shows that nearly three quarters of remote-working UK employees surveyed felt as productive working from home as in the office, and a Deloitte market survey found that 90 percent of the employees questioned consider flexible working as a "key motivator of their productivity."
“Online may work better in certain cases for certain tasks, but it’s exceptionally difficult to operate exclusively in a virtual world,” says Giles Parkinson, Global Equity Portfolio Manager at Aviva Investors. “We’re flesh and blood people, after all, and it’s part of our DNA to socialise, to collaborate, to build a culture.”
The agile way of combining a physical and virtual work environment - having a "hybrid" or "distributed" workforce - is therefore key to remaining efficient and effective at work. “Somewhere in the vicinity of 60% of the workforce are choosing the hybrid option,” said Gartner analyst Suzanne Adnams, “which means their ideal is working at home and coming into the office three days a week.”
If choosing to join this group, your agency will need to decide how best to introduce or cultivate the hybrid solution. While the remote working concept applies to individual workers, a distributed or hybrid workforce is a "discipline for the entire organisation". You'll need to decide on the best, long-term format for your business.
A recent study by Prodoscore shows that productivity while remote working fluctuates throughout the week. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are the most productive days, and in that order, with Friday and Monday dropping off. The middle of the day tends to be the most productive period, between 10.30am and 3pm - and employee's have a "ramp" time of one to three hours each day before they reach their peak productivity.
Adapting work hours, your working-from-home policy or even the specific activities that your staff undertake around the high productivity times at your agency, can help increase efficiency - as long as you understand your agency and staff well enough to make the right adjustments.
Some roles may be more suited to remote working than others. You'll need to consider who in your staff benefits most from proximity to their team or who has more face-to-face contact with clients, for example.
"The accounts side of our business, which has always been office based, is working perfectly well from home," says Christopher Toynbee, Director at Redmayne, Arnold & Harris. "We're paying landlords, receiving money, paying contractors and there's been no drop in efficiency. From a wider business perspective, do we need an office of that size to house all these people?"
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