Remote working has been on the rise well before COVID-19 – from 2005-2019 the number of non-self-employed remote workers in the US grew by 173%. With so many roles being remote compatible, will we continue to see an increase in employers offering flexible working arrangements after the pandemic or will this just be a temporary spike?
Is Remote Working the Future of Work?
With this pandemic forcing us to rapidly adapt to remote working we can certainly expect that there will be companies and employees that have become intrigued by the potential benefits, but the future of work is not likely to exclusively consist of full-time remote workers. Aside from roles that are genuinely not compatible with working off-site, there are employers that advocate for in-person collaboration, and not every employee is going to excel at working remotely.
The future of remote working options is looking promising, and we can expect that a greater number of employers are going to be more open to allowing their employees to work from outside of the office at least occasionally. The degree of support for remote work will naturally vary greatly based on the company itself and the employee’s role, but there are strong indicators that the future of work is remote-friendly.
Options For the Future of Remote Work:
- Fully Remote: The company is entirely decentralized, with employees and executives alike working remotely. Smaller teams may work together in shared coworking spaces, but there is no distinct “office” that employees are required to commute to.
- Hybrid-Remote: Employees work outside of the office most of the time, coming together occasionally for purpose-built interactions. Employers may dictate that employees need to be in office for X days per week or there may be a predetermined stint where employees come back to work in the office for a dedicated period of time.
- Remote-Flexible: Employees are offered dedicated office space if they need it, but they can work from home if they so choose. This sort of arrangement will be useful for roles that have a mix of components that benefit from regular in-person contact and tasks that can be done remotely.
Modern-Day Technologies Make Remote Work Possible
This coronavirus isn’t the only pandemic in our recent history. We’ve seen a semblance of this sort of thing before in 2003 when SARS piqued interest in digital mobile telephony and teleworking. SARS was quite a bit different, though - there was no comparable shift of employees being forced to work from home like there has been during COVID-19.
The technologies available have also changed quite a lot since 2003. Back then, the technologies that let employees work from home were certainly around, but they weren’t anywhere near as commonplace. Skype was launched around that time but it wasn’t yet wide-spread and broadband was still relatively new and oftentimes prohibitively expensive for home users.
In this pandemic, a lack of options for remote-friendly technical infrastructures is much less of a barrier. Broadband internet connections are much more affordable and digital work platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams have made remote collaboration much more viable.
A basic work-from-home setup is also becoming increasingly more affordable, particularly when employers can easily justify providing equipment stipends when they compare that expense to the costs associated with dedicated business real-estate.
We’ve Tried Remote Work, and We Like It
While working arrangements that support location independence isn’t for everyone, a survey from Global Workplace Analytics strongly indicates that the demand will remain steady well after COVID-19: 77% of the employees surveyed said that they want to continue working from home at least once a week and 16% don’t even want to come back to the office at all.
Now that the ‘genie is out of the bottle’, so to speak, employers that don’t want to continue to offer flexible working options after the pandemic aren't likely to be doing so because of a lack of experience. Going forward, the greatest barriers to remote work are going to be centered around concerns regarding data security, company culture, and remote workforce management skills.
This crisis-driven push for remote work has employers already invested in many of the core technologies that will allow remote workers to thrive long-term. Virtual private networks (VPN), authentication technologies, employee monitoring software, and cloud-based collaboration tools are now part of the tech stack of many employers - rather than letting all of their investments go to waste, these technologies can continue to provide greater capabilities for remote workforce management in the future.
What Other Lasting Changes Can We Expect After COVID-19?
Aside from the high potential for an increase in employers allowing their employees to (at least occasionally) work from home, there are a number of shifts in business norms that could happen as a result of the pandemic.
- Travel Expenses: The widespread adoption of virtual conferencing technologies is going to make justifying the expenses of business travel a lot more difficult. While in-person meetings have their place, employers are going to be far less incentivized to invest heavily in expensive long-distance travel if viable alternatives are available.
- Business Continuity: This pandemic has served as a much-needed wakeup call for companies that haven’t factored disease outbreaks into their business continuity planning. Businesses that were unprepared for this unprecedented event will be much better equipped to manage similar crises in the future.
- eCommerce Boom: Consumers that previously shied away from applications and digital services have now been introduced to the world of eCommerce. Whether it’s online shopping, grocery deliveries, or other digital services, many first-time customers during the pandemic will become long-term users of these services in the years to come.
- Local Economies: Businesses that relied heavily on global supply chains were in a difficult situation during COVID-19. In an effort to maintain business continuity many of them have made connections with local suppliers. While we may not experience a complete shift to localized supply chains, after the pandemic is over we can expect that many of these relationships will be at least partly maintained.
Will remote working become the new norm, or is it just a temporary phase that’s being overblown? Only time will tell - while we can absolutely expect significant changes to the future of work after the pandemic subsides, everything that’s being discussed is largely educated speculation. What other changes do you expect to see in the future of work after the COVID-19 pandemic?