Calling the spread of COVID-19 disruptive would be an understatement. With millions of people filing for unemployment and sectors like tourism, sports, and even fintech taking massive blows to their revenue, the far-reaching consequences of the pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns are difficult to predict. So what is going to happen to remote work after COVID-19?
The companies that could manage the migration took to remote work as a means to dampen the damage the lockdown brought about. The work-from-home model has already been showing promise even before the onset of the pandemic. Seeing that as many as 80% of people (possibly even more) have shown a desire to at least occasionally telecommute, there are clear benefits to it that resonate with employees.
This unique situation with the pandemic has raised curiosity about what will change in regards to remote work and its growth. And some trends already point to an amicable future for telecommuting.
The Importance of Workplace Technology Highlighted
The businesses that decided to power through self-isolation via remote work had to learn hard lessons about operating in such a setting. Naturally, the ones with more experience with telecommuting fared better, but the vast majority came to the conclusion that implementing the appropriate technology solutions into their infrastructure was vital.
Among the largest obstacles to tackle was that of maintaining effective communication and collaboration. The ability to transfer their traditional workspace into a virtual space and have it run as smoothly as before meant the difference between success and disaster. To that end, platforms like Asana, Slack, Trello, and others proved extremely useful. With comprehensive, yet intuitive layouts, these platforms provide tools that can even scale to very large companies (such as with Slack’s channels that can be organized in a variety of ways).
Whereas these technologies yielded effective means to organize and collaborate on projects, other programs like Zoom or Skype came in as a useful supplement for the more up-close-and-personal facets of work. Most businesses conducted matters like meetings and conferences via video chats. These very closely emulate the physical setting of the average meeting (barring technical issues like latency or audio/video equipment).
Even activities not strictly falling into the category of “work” during office hours have technologically driven alternatives. Hangouts and group chats can serve the function of water cooler talk or happy hour at the local bar fairly well. Though not bearing the same natural “flow” as actual get-togethers, these methods can still give employees the much-needed human contact and respite from these difficult times.
Without these solutions in place, any organization tackling remote work would soon come across grave difficulties in its day-to-day dealings. Challenges like individual productivity (which can be improved by creating a fruitful home office setting) may only demand resolve from said individuals; the aforementioned tools are the backbones that hold entire enterprises together. This is why they are considered indispensable additions to the telecommuting workforce — now more than ever.
Some Chunk of the Workforce Will Remain Remote
In the above cases, telecommuting offers little more than “good enough” counters to aspects it’s lacking when compared to office work. However, telecommuting actually outperforms on-site work in very important ways. Cost-effectiveness is a great example that more than redeems remote work.
These cost cuts mostly stem from not having to cover real estate charges or maintain office technology and utilities. But the savings go both ways. Employees that don’t have to commute and spend their earnings on office lunches or other expenses end up with approximately $4,000 extra money every year.
This pivotal perk of remote work will inevitably lead to many companies opting to simply stay remote (at least partially, if not whole-hog). Taking into account the fact that telecommuting has, at the very least, decent solutions to compensate for its shortcomings, there are really few reasons not to. For the most part, even productivity remains unhampered by remote conditions (assuming that the staff has the proper means for work).
Mind you, all of this is not simply conjecture: there is already evidence to suggest numerous C-suite leaders are already planning this. Namely, Gartner’s research reveals that a whopping 74% intends to remain at least somewhat remote. The pandemic-caused lockdown seems to have demonstrated to many that telecommuting has a lot to offer.
Experience Will Be Even More Valued
Through the duration of the lockdown, companies that had previous experience with remote work fared significantly better than others. A staff that already knows the ins and outs of working from home understand what it takes to make that environment work in their favor.
Unfortunately, the same does not apply to novices in the telecommuting world. Being suddenly ripped from the office setting and thrust into a remote model is a confusing and frustrating ordeal. Staying as productive and keeping in touch with colleagues works much differently here than at the office. If unaddressed, these difficulties dampen the sense of belonging and the feeling of satisfaction with working conditions.
This all has an impact on workers’ overall output, and the data confirms that notion. Slack has pointed out that 31% of inexperienced telecommuters feel less productive working at home, compared to 13% of the more seasoned ones. That said, everyone is dealing with struggles outside of work alone which could contribute to the hardships faced when at work. As such, this disparity could be exacerbated by the underlying context.
Coming out of the lockdown, companies looking for remote employees will have a better understanding of how valuable seasoned workers are. From better productivity to greater independence, the perks of experience with remote will enjoy even more of the spotlight.
Remote Workplace Policies Will Become More Robust
Having shown its strength, many companies will decide to permanently incorporate remote teams. For the most part, these will be “hybrid firms” that have distributed teams across both offices and employees’ homes. While that is a wise plan for many businesses, they still have to have a proper infrastructure in place to ensure smooth cooperation and communication.
To that end, more comprehensive remote policies will become far more prominent among organizations. These will be put in place to ensure that company culture doesn’t corrode with distance, among other reasons. There is also the need to keep productivity at optimal levels and provide a support system for making telecommuters feel included. In addition, they will have to address key cybersecurity measures their off-site workers will have to respect.
One particular trend that we will see in the future is that of using monitoring technology to keep tabs on remote workers. These will, in all likelihood, be programs that track keystrokes and/or periods of activity. That data will then be used to measure productivity both in the short and long term. It will also offer insight into the working habits of remote staff, taking into account the frequency and length of breaks. While these tracking methodologies are very much present in offices, there should be a considerable uptick in companies enforcing the same on their telecommuters.
What do you think is going to happen to remote work after COVID-19? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter, or Facebook. You can also comment on our MeWe page by joining the MeWe social network.