Looking to the Future: Remote Working or Office Working?
Sonja Angerer discusses how the printing industry must decide whether it’s employees will have to return to physical workplaces full-time or whether remote working will become the new norm. What impact will this have on the industry?
Rarely have employers and employees been in such disagreement regarding remote working versus office working. The majority of employees want the option of working from home at least part-time, which would offer a hybrid approach of employees working both at home and in the office. But businesses often prefer their employees to work predominantly in their office. In this article, we will explore both the advantages and disadvantages of remote working and what the future of working in the print industry may look like.
Advantages and disadvantages of the Home Office
Working from the comfort of your home can have many advantages for employees. One of the benefits is the ability for employees to arrange their working hours around family and home life to create a positive work-life balance, increasing job and overall satisfaction. Usually, there are less distractions at home, as there are no spontaneous meetings and less chatter from colleagues. This allows employees to fully concentrate on their projects and tasks, which increases productivity.
High levels of self-discipline and organisation are required for employees to effectively work from home. It is common for remote workers to feel overwhelmed and distracted at home, and not having direct contact with colleagues and superiors can cause feelings of remoteness. This can weaken team spirit, many companies within the print industry already suffer with skilled worker shortages, so an increase in staff turnover would create additional problems.
CAPTION: While working remote, good communication is essential to keep teams functioning. Photo: Dream AI / S. Angerer
Remote working is not for everyone
Printers with production facilities, as well as administrative and creative staff, face additional difficulties with remote working. This is because many jobs in pressroom, finishing, product development and project management cannot be done remotely. This can easily lead to friction between staff.
Points of contention can arise around core working hours. For example, it is convenient for remote employees to work their hours while their children are at school. But important processes can be delayed, if they are unavailable for questions and meetings from the production team after 2.00pm. If this causes on-site staff to work overtime, this can easily lead to staff frustrations.
In addition, employees will likely get annoyed if they can be transferred to a home office (in whole or in part) without issues and are denied their request for operational reasons. Although binding company agreements on working hours and availability should be used, most communication problems can be solved with some compromise.
CAPTION: Difficult balance: Remote working is not always without distractions. Photo: Dream AI / S. Angerer
Do Employees Want To Go Back To The Office or Work Remotely?
In most EU countries, all major restrictions that were in place during the Pandemic have now been lifted. As a result, many companies are demanding their employees return to the office.
The digital printing industry is more dependent on innovation and collaboration than, almost, any other industry. Spatial proximity and informal exchange contribute towards the emergence and development of new ideas, as innovation often happens by chance outside of existing structures.
Face-to-face conversations tend to be more productive when discussing complex issues or solving problems. Additionally, returning to the office after an extended period at home can boost morale, restore lost focus and establish confidence in employees' abilities. Overall, returning to the office offers numerous benefits for companies.
CAPTION: Employers also in the printing industry want employees to return to the office as permanently as possible. Photo: Dream AI / S. Angerer
Making the Transition Back to the Office
Employees across all industries struggle to see the benefits of returning permanently to their office. This is not particularly surprising, as the pandemic has caused people to become accustomed to a certain flexibility and autonomy in their working lives.
In addition, modern communication channels such as team chats and video meetings can replace face-to-face interaction up to a certain point. Therefore, there is often no need to work from the office every day.
Companies should therefore ensure their skilled workers return to a traditional working environment for at least a couple of days per week and offer a hybrid working routine. This would allow employees to work both remotely and in the office during the working week. To achieve this, employers must first clearly communicate expectations and policies regarding returning to work. This includes, for example, re-decorating offices and equipping employees with up-to-date technology. Health protection issues and communication protocols also need to be discussed and adapted if necessary. These are necessary steps to ensure a smooth transition back to the office.
The Future of Work in the Printing Industry
In many industrialised countries there is a significant shortage of skilled workers, which is mainly due to an ageing society. Moreover, existing skilled workers are usually not trained for modern-day requirements. Experienced employees are increasingly forced to give up their jobs to take care of their families, due to a lack of care facilities for children and senior citizens. High commuting costs also make on-site jobs very unattractive and sometimes impossible for prospective employees.
Remote working can help with retaining skilled workers and the recruitment of creative and sales roles in the printing industry. This is because the employer is not dependent on the talent pool in the local area. Some activities such as print data preparation can be performed virtually anywhere in the world, around the clock. This flexibility helps employers and employees in the printing industry.
However, in the long term not all activities required in the print industry can be organised remotely. Professionals are increasingly realising that home offices do offer many advantages, but they can be costly. This is especially true if an additional room in the home needs to be rented or reorganized to ensure undisturbed remote working.
Like many other sectors within the manufacturing industry, the printing industry is likely to move increasingly away from traditional, full-time, on-site jobs in the medium to long term and establish hybrid and remote working models in many departments. There are certain risks associated with this, but overall, the benefits are likely to outweigh the risks.
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