Will remote working become the new normal for everyone?

Everyone experiences feelings of isolation or increasing distractions when embracing remote working. Small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs), which account for the major part (99%) of the European economy, have been particularly impacted by recent events. Dealing with increasingly restrictive liquidity reserves, SME owners are facing particular difficulties in this ongoing pandemic outbreak. The economic and confinement circumstances are having severe repercussions on entrepreneurs’ mental health, provoking episodes of burnout, sleepless and symptoms related to depressive disorders. 

However, there are advantages, for both employers and employees, in remote working and these have been analyzed in different studies. For businesses, there are lower maintenance costs of staff and physical offices and increased productivity of employees in the long-term,

Moreover, digital nomads have been proven to save much more than their in-office peers. Savings are evident in transportation, clothing, food, and personal free time. Workers’ satisfaction, combined with a better work-life balance, improves performance and efficiency, as well as personal well-being. In essence, remote working potentiates the possibility to take better care of one’s self. 

The remote working is becoming the norm

According to the U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics, regular remote working grew 159% between 2005 and 2017, with continuous growth over the last 5 years. In Europe, the tendency is similar, but with less magnitude. Before 2020, the number of European individuals working regularly from home was 5% of the workforce, as reported by VoXEu and CEPR. However, today around 40% of employees in Europe have started full-time remote working.

Data source: Global Workplace Analytics, 2019.

These trends show that remote working is becoming the norm for a significant part of the global population. The digital worker category is already one of the most frequent in hiring, with an increasing demand for digital-skilled employees.

Every day, we run into the implementation of new digital tools for better communication, e-learning, or agile product management. The goal of this is to make digitalization as more accessible as possible to a population far more heterogeneous than before. Studying the user-friendliness of digital tools became, therefore, a priority to ease their applicability.

In-person communication between team members cannot be entirely replaced. A significant part of physical signals and non-verbal communication is missing but creating new ways of interaction via a screen and personalizing them is possible!

How to do it?!

Be inventive and find new ways to improve team cohesion. Why not start the workday with a session of laughter yoga all together or a donut conversation? The examples of helpful activities to re-create a welcoming atmosphere during a remote collaboration are multiple and adjustable to the team’s dynamism. Arranging virtual games during lunch break, such as the so-called “Flat lay your desk”, is ideal to learn more about colleague’s personalities and share personal insights. In this case, each team member is asked to take a picture of the items currently on the desk and tell a story behind one of them. Surprisingly, workspace arrangements can reveal a lot of teammate’s identities. 

According to a Brittany & Rhiannon study, once digital communication becomes more common in a team, remote work positively affects the efficiency of organizations. The positive effects are felt at several levels; such as increased productivity, secure employee retention, strengthened organizational commitment, and improved performance. Performance and productivity, even if highly linked and mutually influenced, represent distinct concepts. While productivity is particularly output oriented, performance is more focused on the quality valuation of the work done, such as the quality of products, the teamwork or the management setting. Employee retention reveals how good enterprises are at keeping their employees. It evaluates their satisfaction, and which can in turn impact the decreasing costs invested in hiring and training new resources. 

Many companies, however, are skeptical about changing their culture. The reasons behind this can be several, including technical requirements and the risk for team cohesiveness. However, the main reason for this hesitation is because they are worried in changing their habits. This opinion is probably based on their vulnerability in evaluating productivity, motivating, and managing teams remotely.

According to an IWG survey, 54% of people show more interest in evaluating new job positions if work flexibility is proposed, rather than the prestige of the company. Working from home or other places and being able to better balance personal and professional time, is emerging as increasingly important for personal satisfaction. In fact, 70% of respondents consider this flexibility as pivotal in new career options. Additionally, promoting remote working may denote a more sustainable and inclusive company culture, generally appreciated and recognized by external stakeholders and society. 

How is Europe reacting?

According to JCR, until 2019 Europe revealed two differing behaviors. Northern European countries such as Sweden, Netherland, and Denmark already had a culture of remote working. However, southern countries were not adhering to this new paradigm. The number of people working from home was around 30% in the former, but only 10% in the latter.

Data Source: Eurostat, LFS with variable code: lfsa_ehomp. Data for 2019.

This massive divergence is due to a range of factors, including the difference within job sectors and social-cultural disparities. Remote working was more widespread in countries with larger percentages of employment in knowledge and ICT sectors. Roles that involve reading, writing, or IT engineering are more suitable for a remote work arrangement than others.

However, the proportions of remote workers across countries showed asymmetry even in the same job sector. Comparing the sector of knowledge business services, in Sweden and Netherlands more than 60% of employees were remote working, while in Italy, Germany, and Austria less than 30% of them were doing so. Clearly other aspects affecting this shift should be investigated to better understand this. 

The accessibility of remote working showed to also be driven by local culture, the work organization, and the management styles. As large-sized enterprises are more likely to endorse remote working, the transaction could be tougher in countries where small enterprises cover the majority of employment. Moreover, the country’s policies and regulations strongly impact the flexibility with which companies can adapt their work organization. These include investments for world-class and robust digital infrastructures and available supports for enterprises to deal with this transformation. The lack of digital skills existing between workers across the EU is surely a significant aspect to consider in this data analysis. 

The maverick attitude of Portugal in contemporary tech transformation

An interesting exception comes from Portugal, where the above-mentioned percentage was 15%, higher than the European average, differentiating itself from its Mediterranean neighbors. 

To ease the migration while working and to support this innovative workstyle, different European countries, such asPortugal, Poland, Estonia, and Germany, are taking advantage of this current tendency. They finally develop e-residency and remote workers visa opportunities. Each of these countries provides different advantages, in terms of great natural landscapes, affordable cost of living, and cultural and historical richness. 

But which aspects make Portugal the best choice for it? 

1. The best/ brightest conferences and events in the world

A more and more robust community of freelancers, digital nomads, and entrepreneurs, is hosted, supported by a wide range of tech conferences and events.

The WebSummit, just as an example, welcomed more than 70K participants in the 2019th edition, perfect to create interconnections between startups and investors, offering further visibility for rising entrepreneurs. 

2.Thriving ecosystem 

The Portuguese startup scene is growing day-by-day, and one of the booming sectors is the high-tech, with a rate of 743 out of 7264 Lisbon’s companies created in 2018. An attractive University system is focused on educating high-skilled engineers and tech talents. The country’s universities, such as UpTech and Polytechnic institutions, produce a high number of qualified entry-level professionals per capita every year, offering an advantageous and flourishing ecosystem. 

3. Inimitable government support

The government encourages this innovative network, offering adequate infrastructures, internationalization, and a rich and extensive net of coworking spaces. If this is not enough, the government offers a wide range of funding opportunities. An example is the venture capital fund created by the government, in 2018, which value is around €200 million, attracting national and international investors. 

Why is it important to weigh the choice? 

To decide which country is better for you and your business, deep analysis, research and professional advice are still necessary. The aspects to consider run from the existing business demand to the administrative consideration, pandering this with your lifestyle and identity, your passions, and outside activities.Remote working can reveal some concerns, particularly at the beginning. However, it shows all its potential after some time, both in terms of productivity and self-satisfaction. It requires continuous self-motivation and good organization to complete all plans and goals, but It gives back greater independence and management skills. Additionally, it gives one the possibility to relocate wherever it perfectly suits you and your business, even if temporarily. Taken together, the paradigm of remote working adds significantly not only to work satisfaction and productivity but also introduces several degrees of freedom for all stake holders involved.

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