Running the numbers on remote working

At the start of March I was supposed to spend a week in Zurich working with a new client. With the number of Covid-19 cases rising in the country, we took a last-minute decision to conduct the work remotely.

That meant I had an opportunity to see how remote working affected a simple project. The numbers are compelling.

  • I saved around 13 hours of travel time. Yes, I would have been able to work reasonably productively on my laptop for around six of those 13 hours, but that still means I gained an extra day.  I was able to put that time into running another workshop and getting a better outcome for my client.
  • There were no travel expenses. The cost of hotel, flights, and trains came off the project - another bonus for my client.
  • I saved around 260kg in CO2 emissions. I estimate my video conferences ‘cost’ around 8.5kg of CO2 in total. That’s quite a bit, but the return train trip to the airport would have been around double that. On top of that, flights would have been a massive 250kg of CO2. Switching to video conferencing was a huge environmental saving.

Conducting this work remotely didn't feel like a stretch. My clients were all happy with video chat. And cxpartners has worked on projects with much larger teams collaborating on opposite sides of the Atlantic, so I had experience and advice from colleagues to draw on.

So what if you're working on something more complex, or if you work somewhere where 'remote working' means emails in the evening?

A wider toolkit

For a start, most of our projects involve a wider set of tools than just video conferencing.

A typical project also includes remote file sharing, software development tools, project management software, collaborative document editing (for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and so on), and of course group chat software.

A lot of organisations need to rapidly roll out their deployment of those tools if they’re to avoid disruption.

It's good to talk

Remote working isn’t just about access to the right tools: successful remote teams require great communication skills. Often managers assume that ‘talking’ is less important than ‘doing’, and that time spent communicating is ‘unproductive’. But remote teams only work if they talk - a lot.

What’s required is a shift in management culture to recognise that effective teams need to talk to maintain their shape and direction. Talking makes the team more effective.

Covid-19 will remain a problem for weeks, months, and maybe even years. It’s likely to permanently change the way companies do business. When travel restrictions are lifted, companies that have adapted quickly and successfully may find they like the new ways of working.

And when, like me, they stop to look at the numbers, they may find the benefits are greater than they imagined.

Giles founded cxpartners with Richard Caddick in 2004. He's author of 'Simple and usable' and an invited speaker at design conferences around the world.