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A Year in Review: What Have we Learned From a Year of Remote Work

Can you believe it’s already been one year of working within the notorious “new normal”? The silver lining is that the disruption actually led to several giant leaps in how we work and has no doubt ensured that we’ll never work the same way again. (Goodbye ‘meetings for no reason’ meetings!)

Here’s what we at have learned from a year of remote working. In a nutshell, remote working is an unambiguous success, but the office as a workplace will not disappear. It's a must-have for younger employees and as an important collaboration space to drive problem solving and innovation. Remote working, however, can be an important tool of employee engagement and productivity, but – as you will see – there are conditions for this success.

The Future of the Workplace Post-Pandemic

Our worldview of the workplace has shifted. Pre- and even during-pandemic, many company managers remained suspicious of remote working. These fears proved unfounded with remote work showing gains in worker performance, and for some, even happiness. For the majority of employers, the pandemic forced a shift in physical employee presence from working in an office to working in a home office. So what does this mean for the future of workplaces? Can we expect a return to the office to look like it did before COVID?

Physical and Mental Space Shifts

Probably the main thing we learned from a year of remote work is that most work can actually be done from anywhere. A survey by the British Council for Offices (BCO) found that 70% of British workers do not expect nor want to return to the traditional five-day, office-based working week. The Gensler Research Institute’s U.K. Workplace Survey 2020 echoes this sentiment. Two-thirds express wanting a hybrid of home and office work. Only 12% want to remote work from home full time.

Organisations have taken notice. In the future workplace, the office will be little more than part of a wider network of physical and digital (remote) working spaces. Thus, affording personalisation to workers to be able to choose to work in the best way for them. 

Changes to workers’ physical spaces (i.e., working remotely) brought parallel transformation to their mental space as well. Remote working showed workers they didn’t have to endure an expensive and time-consuming commute into an office in order to get their tasks done. They could, instead, choose where they wanted to work and even more easily flex their time to achieve a better work-life balance. Many studies have linked greater worker satisfaction from remote working to the positives associated with working from home, closer to friends or relatives, or even closer to the sun and sand. 

Organisations are primed to reconsider their workplace’s purpose. Size and layout of the physical space will be reimagined. The role of the office of the future will be laser-focused on driving collaboration, learning, and innovation – all activities that are enhanced by a face-to-face presence.

A Generational Twist: Implications of Remote Working 

Remote working emerged as something of an elixir for work-life balance. For some people, that is. Older or remote-experienced workers seemed to revel in the freedom remote working bestowed. Anecdotes and surveys credit remote working with creating more time for, among other things:

  • connecting with family, 
  • indulging in hobbies, 
  • maintaining the mundane chores of life. 

Work satisfaction, then benefited from the spillover of the worker’s life satisfaction.

What appears to be an algorithm for working success, however, isn’t foolproof. 

Remote employees who are older have ridden a wave of work-life balance happiness, while younger employees have had a tougher time adapting. Whilst there is a generational gap between those who enjoy remote working and those who don't, another key metric of remote work success appears to be the amount of time an employee has been in situ. 

At its heart, a company’s workplace is where culture is ingrained and learnings shaped through team experiences. For younger employees, the office is a gathering place for informal and formal information exchange, network building, and communication training. Older employees have already experienced this on-site indoctrination. They’re thrilled to have more time to manage their actual work… and life outside of work. 

Being physically disconnected from the office served to simultaneously disconnect workers from resources and socialisation. Mental health at work and soft skills for better people interaction have both suffered. Feelings of disconnectedness while remote working has become a significant workplace mental health issue. 

This is especially the case for younger employees. A MetLife study found that Gen Z employees were three times more likely to have sought help for mental health issues like stress and burnout compared to more experienced professionals.

How to Make Remote Working Succeed Across Generations

Technology has made remote work possible, but we can't all hide behind our screens. People still need human connection in a digital world. 

The trends of weakening soft skills and rising mental health issues at work are worrisome, but not unsurmountable. Experienced remote workers have revealed this reassurance. Remote workers of all ages need support and the necessary resources to succeed in their jobs. All generations may need short-term help in manoeuvring the remote working learning curve. Instruction on the tools and technology, a regular check in, and trust go a long way to making remote working workable.  

Organisations and managers need to understand that employees flourish when given choice and flexibility regarding their work. Work location choice allows for better management of work and life. Moving forward, hybrid working options that mix remote and on-site work will provide an individualised working experience that performs cross-generations.

Hybrid Working and Teams Bring new Challenges

Being forced to work in novel ways enlightened managers to the positives (and challenges) of hybrid ways of working. A global study by Slack found that 72% of knowledge workers preferred a hybrid of remote and office work.  12,000 employees in the U.S., Germany and India have told us what works and doesn’t work when it comes to virtual teams. Remote working offers a bonanza of benefits to workers: geographic flexibility, elimination of commutes, and reported better work-life balance to name a few. 

Concerns persist, however, regarding remote working’s effects on:

  • Communication and knowledge sharing; 
  • Brainstorming and problem-solving; 
  • Socialisation, camaraderie, and mentoring; 
  • Performance evaluation and compensation; and 
  • Data security and regulation.

The key to making hybrid options work for everyone will be understanding the varying needs of employees. This cornerstone will anchor how tasks are divided, processes created, and communication handled. All organised with the person-- the human-- at the centre. If we’ve learned nothing else this year, it’s that human connection is essential.

How Training can Help

By actively preparing themselves and their people for a hybrid way of working, managers can balance the up- and downsides of remote working. Proper support of remote workers is crucial for remote working to work well. Whether employees sit in the corporate office or in a home office, giving them the tools they need sets them up for success. 

Both managers and teams benefit from training focused on improving collaborative task productivity. Organisations face the high hurdle of digitally re-creating the natural, in-person moments that catalyse connectedness. That feeling of connectedness, in turn, then affects communicating, brainstorming, and problem-solving. 

The transition to a hybrid workplace will not be straightforward. Training can help. With some innovative thinking, open-mindedness, and caring, we can all create an even better “new normal” for work.

Want to learn to manage teams remotely? 

Find out about the skills, tools and techniques you need in order to effectivel and efficiently manage a remote team. With hundreds of courses starting online this very moment, we'll help connect you to the right provider straight away!

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About the author

Rama Eriksson is a Content Editor at Her writing is complemented by 15+ years as an international marketing professional. She brings her experience and curiosity to connect professionals to the right training to help further their goals.  Originally from New York, Rama has lived in Stockholm, Sweden since 2010.


Last updated: 12 Apr 2021

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