Can remote working bring your business down during a recession?

What lessons on remote working from the past can help organisations make decisions during the current pandemic? Chidiebere Ogbonnaya and Aaron van Klyton look at work arrangements before, during, and after the 2008 global financial crisis and find that working from home had no impact on employee performance. But workplaces that did not offer remote working at all were more resilient during the crisis. Managers or supervisors directly monitored the quality of employees’ work and gave employees little control over the pace and design of their jobs. This helped their organisations get through the recession more successfully than other workplaces, particularly those that allowed employees to work from home.

Our working lives have changed dramatically since the COVID-19 lockdown began last year. Millions of people have lost their jobs and source of income; others have been furloughed or forced to rely on government assistance. For those lucky enough to keep their jobs, remote working has become the new normal.

As the pandemic continues to cause problems, it’s only a matter of time before we find ourselves in the next global financial crisis. There is already a steady decline in economic activity and rapid changes in organisational spending. Managers and human resources teams are investing less, reducing costs, cutting staff benefits while increasing their workloads, and being extremely cautious about an uncertain future. But remote working continues to dominate headlines, so we ask if it does more harm than good during a recession.

We know that remote working has benefits for most workers. It gives them freedom to work from anywhere, at any time. They are happier, more engaged, and able to strike a balance between their work and family lives. But when it comes to performance, there are some limitations, including poor communication among teams, more distractions, and the difficulty of monitoring employee performance. These issues represent real problems for many businesses, particularly with a global financial crisis on the horizon.

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