For professionals around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic had a massive impact on their daily lives and especially their work routines. Self-imposed isolation, quarantines, and lockdown restrictions pushed tens of millions of people around the world to work from home. It's as if the workplace experiment that struggled to gain traction suddenly accelerated on a global scale.
Today, we're well into the pandemic and can now see the benefits and limitations of remote work with more clarity. As economies reopened, many people are returning to their workplaces – and some might never stop working remotely.
In surveys carried out recently, executives admitted that hybrid models of remote work for some employees are definitely here to stay. It's clear that the work-from-home model broke through technological and cultural barriers that prevented it from flourishing in – and set in motion a deep structural shift across entire industries.
But is remote work here to stay now that vaccine programs are gaining steam all over the world?
In this article, we share some reflections about remote work based on surveys and research to show you where remote work stands and how employees and employers approach it today. We also share some predictions about the future of remote work after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The current state of remote work
According to McKinsey, more than 20% of the workforce could work remotely from 3 to 5 days a week just as effectively as they do when working from the office. Imagine that remote work has become the new standard. This would mean that 3 to 4 times as many people would be working from home than before the pandemic. Naturally, this would have a profound impact on the urban economy, consumer spending habits, transportation, and many other aspects.
A report from Global Workplace Analytics showed that 56% of the US workforce had a job that is compatible (at least partially) with remote work. The organization predicts that the longer people are required to work from home, the greater the adoption of remote work we're going to see once the dust settles and we all go back to living our normal lives. Their estimation holds 25 to 30% of the work being done from home on a multiple-days-a-week basis by the end of this year.
Employees will demand work from home options
The pandemic had a massive impact on the job market. As more and more workers embrace remote work, it's likely that the demand for flexibility in both where and how people work will finally come to its peak. After all, this trend has been building up for decades. Before COVID-19, surveys often showed how much employees wanted to work from home for at least some time during the week. Many workers would even agree to take a pay cut in exchange for this flexibility.
People enjoy the work-from-home setup. Even 63% of the global workforce feels that they're more productive working from home than in an office.
On the other hand, 86% of respondents to another survey said that they feel the need to prove to supervisors they're working hard and deserve to keep their jobs. And more than half of parents surveyed said that balancing household demands while working from home was a challenge. So, if remote work is here to stay, employers need to create the right environment for it.
Sure, the experience of working from home during the pandemic wasn't ideal as entire families were forced to shelter in one place. But it still gave people a taste of what it could be like. Now that they know it, there's no turning back. So, it's likely that employees are going to demand this flexibility more and more often.
Less fear around remote work from executives
One of the blockers to remote work around the world was trust. The truth is that many managers simply don't trust their employees enough to allow them to work away from the office.
Some managers are used to managing by presence rather than results. But just because they can see the back of someone's head doesn't really mean that the person is actually effective. That's why management by results is a much smarter approach.
We know that micromanagement doesn't work. And managing by walking around the office also stopped to make sense in the increasingly globalized and mobile world. Our digital technologies are at the stage where forcing people to stay in the office at all costs just doesn't seem smart. And this is exactly what the pandemic revealed. It suddenly forced people to work from home for an extended period, and managers learned that results matter much more than presence.
Research from Global Workplace Analytics shows that managers who had to work from home themselves are now more likely to endorse this model for other employees. That's because they experienced it firsthand, and their fears about lost productivity or control are weaker now. They got used to all the virtual tools like videoconferencing and instant messaging, which showed that remote collaboration is possible.
Without the stress of commuting, workplace interruptions, and being away from their loved ones, people are happier and more engaged in work. Managers aren't blind to this, and they're more likely to embrace remote work with trust.
Serious cost-saving opportunities
Before the pandemic, the primary point of work-from-home programs was attracting and retaining talented employees. But last year, organizations did all they could to save money, and remote work was one of the strategies.
Organizational leaders working to reduce costs discovered that they could do much more with less real estate. Occupancy research shows how inefficient office space was being used. For example, it revealed that employees around the world aren't present at their desks from 50 to 60% of the time.
Keeping a desk like that makes no sense. It's likely that this experience will inspire employers to rethink the where and how of work in the future.
Impact on sustainability
One reason why climate change experts find inspiring people to change their habits difficult is that it seems impact is next to impossible. But during the early days of the global response to the pandemic, we saw a dramatic reduction in congestion, pollution, and traffic.
While sustainability didn't serve as the primary driver for remote work in recent years, many people now see the difference. This experience could become the motivation for employees and employers to change their habits and embrace remote work.
The annual environmental impact of remote half-time work is the greenhouse gas equivalent of taking the entire workforce off the road. There's no faster and cheaper way to reduce a person's carbon footprint than by reducing their commuter travel.
The same goes for reducing business travels. This caused many organizations to rethink the need for travel to meetings and conferences. While virtual meetings might not bring the same benefits as face-to-face encounters, organizations will now weigh the costs of these travels against their benefits - not to mention their impact on sustainability.
Cost savings are real
According to research, an employer can save around $11,000 per year for every person who works remotely half of the time. Employees can save between $2,500 and $4,000 a year while working remotely half of the time. They can save even more if they move to a less expensive area and work remotely full-time.
Global Workplace Analytics revealed that work-from-home initiatives in the United States saved employers over $30 million a day during the pandemic that would have otherwise been lost productivity during office closures. This might be exactly what remote work needed to grow.
What's the future of remote work?
The shift towards remote work was one of the most fundamental impacts of 2020. When looking back at last year, we should acknowledge how game-changing the pandemic has been and how it affected practically every area of our lives. It was probably the most disruptive force in the global economy, affecting changes in every home, business, social organization. With scattered teams and virtual means of communication, many companies were forced to rethink their business processes so they could be completed virtually instead of based on paper.
Employees definitely got used to the time and cost savings that come from eliminating their commute. A mobile work environment is now being pushed among a lot of companies that experienced a technological shift and launched their digital transformation initiatives. They invested in mobile technologies and learned that they work. These companies are especially comfortable with change – and if embracing remote work leads to better results, they're ready to do that at all cost.
Yet while some jobs can be easily done at home just as efficiently as in the office, the same can't be said for all roles.
Reports and research studies clearly show the benefits remote work brings, starting from employee lifestyles to cost savings and sustainability. This makes us believe that remote work is likely here to stay. For people working in the IT industry, it's nothing new. Many professionals in IT consider this type of flexibility is one of the key perks of working in the industry.
Codete embraces remote work thanks to the right culture and digital environment. Want to work fully remotely from any coroner of the planet? Check out our open positions, we’re always on the lookout for talents: https://codete.com/career