Remote working: The new way of working

By Chloe Jepps
Research Correspondent

Deputy Head of Research at IPSE

By Christina McLean
News Correspondent

Remote working seems to be the new way of working. And it is not only for the self-employed but also for employees who are seeking a more flexible way of working that can provide a better work-life balance. Remote or flexible working, in fact, has been found to be the third most important factor for millennials when looking for a job.

A new report by The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) and PeoplePerHouse (PPH) Remote Working: Freedom and Flexibility for the Self-Employed revealed that almost 90 per cent of self-employed people had worked remotely in the last year.

The aim of the research was to understand what remote working means to the self-employment sector: Who is working remotely? Why are people working in this way? What are some of the key benefits and challenges associated with this way of work?

The study, which asked almost 1,300 self-employed people about their views and experiences of remote working, found that this term itself meant different things to different people.

Ninety-seven per cent of respondents said they worked remotely from home only occasionally, with many claiming they hardly worked from the same physical location often. In fact, only a quarter of all self-employed people said that they always worked from the same location. For most, it was a mixture of home, while travelling, in a public space or at a work hub.

On average, people who worked remotely spent almost two thirds of their typical working week doing so, with the remaining time spent with clients or at client premises. Interestingly, almost half of respondents wanted to spend more time working remotely (45%) with only 16 per cent wanting to do less.

So why are more and more people enjoying this way of working?

As with self-employment in general, the key benefit of remote working was the increased flexibility it provides, with 55 per cent saying this was a key advantage; for example, parents being able to work around childcare and being able to spend more time with their families.

Other clear benefits of remote working were the time and money it saves, especially in relation to travelling to and from places of work. One fifth of respondents also said that it helped reduce their stress levels as they were able to choose when and where to do their work.

This in turn can lead many to feel more productive in their work, enabling a better work-life balance. The research found that overall, remote working is widely seen as a very positive way of work, with 93 per cent stating that it enhances their freelancing experience.

As with most things, however, remote working is not without its challenges. The main disadvantages reported were around difficulties in communication. This included difficulties with receiving clear communication from clients and receiving regular feedback.

Feelings of loneliness and disconnect from a lack of interaction with other people were reported by almost one fifth of the respondents as a key disadvantage of working remotely. A further quarter also said that remote working made them feel like they weren’t part of a team.

Certain things can help support remote working and make it more effective. These include things like having access to office equipment, including mobile devices, computers and printers.

Communication with clients can also be made more effective by making sure self-employed people have access to the right tools and that clear deadlines and expectations are set.

By far the most important tool for remote working was access to a fast and reliable internet connection and this was cited by over three quarters of respondents.

For many, access to fast and reliable internet may seem like a given in the twenty-first century. However, Ofcom research has found that 42 per cent of UK microbusinesses do not have access to superfast broadband, rising to 85 per cent of businesses in rural areas.

The growing trend of remote working is showing no signs of slowing down – in fact, 35 per cent of self-employed people predict that in the future, all work will be done remotely.

Therefore, the report has outlined a number of recommendations to enable remote working to be an even more positive experience and tackle some of the challenges. These include asking the government to commit to 100 per cent access to broadband across the UK by 2020 and to support and enable the creation of work hubs; and ensuring clients provide the self-employed people they take on with access to the right tools and networks they need to work effectively.

Founder and CEO of PeoplePerHour, Xenios Thrasyvoulou, said: “It is really encouraging to see how remote working is being embraced by the self-employed and the businesses who hire them. Businesses who are open to working with remote workers give themselves access to a wider pool of the best talent.

“It is now important for government to help with the infrastructure needed to make this way of work sustainable; better and faster broadband access as well as better access to shared workspaces will be a good start.”