The Future Is Remote

by Mitchell Hendricks

 

If you’re reading this, I’d like to congratulate you. You’ve almost made it to the end of 2020. If you’re reading this in 2021 and happen to have a time machine, please only come back if you have good news to share with us. We can’t take any more bad news.

It has been a year unlike any other. By now, you don’t have to be given the spiel about why that is, unless of course you’ve somehow managed to find a suitable rock big enough to crawl under. If so, is there room under there for two?

With the holiday season in full swing, we all have the tendency to look ahead. The prospect of a new year can bring feelings of optimism and hope. It can also bring on worry and apprehension, perhaps this year more than any other in recent memory. While it feels like we’ve learned a great deal about our new reality, there are still just as many questions as there are answers. The future of what life will look like post COVID-19 is a question no one has the answer to. Perhaps one of the bigger question marks is what will the future of the workplace look like?

We’ve all been forced to change in a lot of ways this year, no matter who you are. It’s natural to feel as if nothing good has come from the current situation we find ourselves in. One thing that can be viewed as a positive is the fact that we have all been given the opportunity to adapt. The workplace has adapted too and some would say that it shouldn’t have taken a pandemic for that to happen. Regardless, COVID-19 was laid at the feet of businesses across the globe and their solution was largely this – everyone go home.

There have always been critics of the idea of the workplace, especially here in the U.S. Gone are the days of simply being satisfied with a time-punching job where you watch the clock for 40 hours a week. The modern workplace is filled with employees who expect more from their employers. Work-life balance, benefits and workspaces have all become increasingly more important to employees recently. But even with all of these newer attitudes becoming increasingly more important, a lot of things about the office have remained. One big aspect of the modern workplace that has largely stayed the same has been the actual place itself. However, this year changed everything including where employees actually do their work.

For the first time in history many companies around the world realized that a remote work place was the best option for protecting employees and continuing operations. For all intents and purposes, remote work looks like it is the future of the workplace. But what does that future look like? What are the benefits of moving toward a largely remote workforce and what are the potential drawbacks?

Pros

The stigma surrounding remote work is fading.

The increase of working remotely has forced companies to see its value. While remote work isn’t a new concept, it has largely been deemed as a secondary option until it became the only option for many companies following the COVID-19 outbreak. Today, 42% of Americans are now fully working from home. There have always been misconceptions about working from home. Many employers may have once feared that allowing team members to work from home may have resulted in a “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” scenario, conjuring up images of employees abandoning work responsibilities to catch a baseball game and cover a Beatles song in a parade all on company time. According to a recent Gallup poll, the opposite is actually true. Team members are actually around 5% more engaged at home than they are at the office. Employees have also been proven to be around 13% more productive when working from a remote location. The stigma that surrounds working remotely is simply that. Employers are learning that working from home isn’t just a valid alternative to working at the office, it can be an even more effective model when looking toward the future.

The option to work remotely is a talent magnet.

The perks of working from home for team members may be more obvious at first glance than the benefits for employers are. Setting your own schedule, the freedom to work how one pleases and the ability to spend time with loved ones are the first things that probably come to mind. While these things are definitely a benefit for employees, they can be just as beneficial to employers. Remote employees only take 14-21 days vacation on average annually. Companies that allow employees to work remotely actually save because their employees are less likely to feel that they need a vacation.

The work/life balance benefit of working from home is an attractive feature to potential employees. It also helps retain talent. Over half of remote employees say they would leave their current company if they were no longer given the option to work remotely. Remote team members are also 13% more likely to stay in their current role longer than those that work in an office. In a recent poll, 40% of employees said they preferred to have a choice in when and where they get their work done. While it can be tempting to view the transition toward a more remote workplace as employees just wanting to have their cake and eat it too, it is actually great news for companies that are looking for advantages when it comes to acquiring and retaining talent.

Going home, going green, or saving green? Why not all of the above?

With the reduction of commuters, there are less cars on the road. A recent study found that pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide had decreased by 60% due in part to the decrease in daily commutes. With more people working from home, companies and individuals can actually reduce future emissions and improve air quality in their surrounding communities. This not only would be a benefit for the environment and the world as a whole, but it could also save companies money in the long run by helping reduce the cost of healthcare for employees due to improved environmental health. The reduction of carbon footprints also helps replenish natural resources and materials that are vital to manufacturing and production for many of these companies. This isn’t the only way companies can save money from implementing remote work models. Working from home means less necessary office space for companies. This could mean a reduction in rent, utilities, cleaning costs, food costs and supplies for companies.

It’s a great big beautiful tomorrow!

Individuals and companies have learned to adapt in a lot of ways this year. The idea of video communication has been around for a long time, so long that I would almost swear that Uncle Orville from Disney World’s Carousel of Progress can probably be heard griping about it from his bubble bath (google it or ask your parents). This year more than any other, companies have hopped on the virtual bandwagon. Video communication apps such as Zoom, GoToMeeting and Google Hangouts have gained popularity. They have helped people stay in touch during times of social distancing, but they’ve also given companies a valuable tool to use to keep employees connected.

Companies aren’t just encouraging the use of video communications apps to complete work. They are also encouraging the use of apps like GitLab to be used as leisure apps for team members to stay connected on a personal level. Companies are also using time tracking technology to help employees stay on task and monitor production. Apps such as Time Doctor and Toggl are being used more frequently by companies to make the transition to a remote workplace possible and efficient.

Cons

Cyber Crime Zone

The prospect of remote work being the way of the future isn’t all rainbows and butterflies unfortunately. Many worry about what this means for cyber security. One huge benefit of working in an office space is that you are usually safer on an organizational network than you are elsewhere simply because a companies can likely afford more secure networks and more effective cyber security than the average person. By allowing employees to work from home, companies are now exposing themselves to new threats. This has lead to a 63% increase in cyber crimes during 2020. If remote work is the way of the future, companies are going to have to find ways to protect their employees and themselves from cyber threats when working remotely. This will likely be no small task and could be an expensive one as well. Of course the benefits of avoiding such cyber threats you can’t put a value on. One thing is certain and that is if the future of the workplace is remote, solving this problem won’t be optional for employers.

What are friends for?

“They say on your deathbed you never wish you spent more time at the office. But I will. Gotta be a lot better than a deathbed. I actually don’t understand deathbeds. I mean who would buy that?” -Michael Scott, “The Office”

Work relationships are important. You are most likely to develop a friendship in the workplace. Most of us spend more time with the people we work with than we do with family or friends. Remote work changes that. While it may seem like that it is for the better sometimes, it isn’t always the case. Time away from work is important for mental health, but human interaction is just as important. This is especially true when you’re part of a team working toward a goal. Luckily, technology like Zoom that has emerged as a necessity during the pandemic has helped bridge that communication gap.

While applications like this are wonderful, it doesn’t completely replace seeing people on a regular basis. 19% of remote workers say they feel lonely or isolated while working remotely. Working from home can have a major impact on mental health. While there is a major focus on the physical health of employees right now, companies are having to take the mental well-being of employees who are working remotely into account as well. This is something that will become increasingly more important as working from home becomes more common. Employers are already looking at hybrid models for workplaces to address these mental health factors in the near future. These models will be more flexible than traditional workplace models and will integrate remote work while also utilizing technology to keep team members connected.

You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

There’s a lot to be said for working from home. Employees have a level of flexibility and comfort that an office space can’t provide them. That flexibility and comfort isn’t without its drawbacks though. When your home becomes your work space, it can actually have a negative effect on work/life balance as many employees find it hard to stop working. Around 2 in 10 people report that they have trouble powering down and ending their work day when working from home. These can obviously lead to negative effects on employee mental health as well.

The importance of time tracking technology is one way in which employers and employees can be transparent about how much time they are actually working. Not only do applications mentioned previously like Time Doctor and Toggl help employers track time for payroll purposes, they can also be used to help companies monitor whether or not team members are being stretched too thin when working remotely. Hybrid workplace models that companies are looking to implement can help in this area as well. A hybrid model could help give remote employees more structure and draw a more defined line between working from home and being at home.

There are a lot of uncertainties about the future. One thing is certain: working remotely is here to stay. What it will look like in the future remains to be seen. If companies take anything away from this year it should be the insight that allowing employees to work remotely isn’t just a temporary solution to a global problem. It is the future of the workplace. The fact that it took a global pandemic to realize this is not ideal, but we are all learning to adapt.

There are certainly benefits and drawbacks that companies need to take into account to better understand the future of working from home. There is a lot to learn. But perhaps that’s the greatest take away from this for all of us. We’ve been dealt a hand we never thought we would have before 2020, but we have been given an opportunity to learn and adapt. Much like the workplace, our future depends on what we all do with that opportunity.