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Remote Work Is Here to Stay: Reasons Why & Potential Drawbacks

August 10, 2020 Casey Godfrey

Massive disruptions can lead to permanent overhauls in the way we work. While these disruptions are often aided by advances in technology, it sometimes takes an outside factor to really force wider adoption in the workplace. Case-in-point: COVID-19.

This defining aspect of 2020 altered the way we work, particularly as it relates to telecommuting. While plenty of organizations already allowed employees to work from home, it wasn’t universally accepted by some of the more, let’s call them “traditional”, companies until a global pandemic forced their hands. Although some resist it even still, telecommuting will continue to be the new workplace norm into the foreseeable future.

While a more decentralized workplace has positive implications for organizations and their employees, there is plenty to keep the skeptics, well… a bit skeptical.

Employee Productivity (Usually) Remains High

There is a bunch of data out there that shows employees are generally as productive – or even more so – when working from home (at least when there’s not a global pandemic going on).  Productivity, of course, can mean a lot of different things and it tends to vary by job role, the organization, and the employees themselves. Generally speaking, employees spend more time on “core tasks” (AKA their most important responsibilities) at home as compared to in the office.  The workplace can provide several distractions and things like lunch breaks and commutes can really eat up our efficiency. At home though, we concentrate more on the task at hand; One California company, for instance, recently found their employees were nearly 50% more productive at home, citing a massive increase in the use collaborative tools and CRM activity.

Productivity Pitfalls

Within the context of COVID-19, however, the jury is still out as to whether productivity will remain high as remote work occurs every day on a massive scale. Being the unprecedented crisis that it is, the pandemic has added a tremendous amount of stress, worry and anxiety to our daily lives. There’s some evidence to suggest this stress is contributing to a drop in productivity, particularly in the US where the situation is more severe.

This anxiety is a major challenge for those working in a remote capacity, as it can quickly become a hinderance to output and efficiency. Even before the crisis, telecommuters already reported difficulties unplugging from the job and feelings of isolation. Now that people are spending almost all their work and social time at home, whether by choice or by government mandate, we’re feeling more isolated than ever. And those lines between work and personal life continue to blur when working from home means working from your couch. We’ve spoken with plenty of colleagues who have expressed a desire to return to the office just to get out of their homes and counteract some of that burnout and demotivation.

How Companies Can Help

Working from home, like anything else, is a balancing act. But when we’re forced to do it daily while also having nowhere else to go, it could become a potential drawback. Organizations need to take extra care to prioritize worker well-being however they can: Keep up collaborative initiatives, stay in touch with regular check-ins and department-wide group video chats, encourage simple-yet-significant things like having a dedicated workspace, not checking in on work activities late into the evening or on weekends, taking mental health days and practicing self-care daily. These can all help counteract potential productivity pitfalls while safely returning to the office remains an impossibility.

The Cloud Is Growing & So Are Contingent Workforces

The cloud was powering remote work setups before COVID-19, and it’s without question going to be main the driver going forward. Organizations with some measure of cloud capabilities transitioned more smoothly to a remote work setup during the first wave of lockdowns. A recent report shows that over 80% of IT leaders have ramped up their cloud usage in direct response to the pandemic. What’s more, roughly 65% of those surveyed say they plan to continue their cloud use once employees return to work. This is evidenced in the increased rate of digital transformation efforts and use of collaboration tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams.

Combined with the growth of contingent workforces, this could pave the way for a more decentralized and widespread remote work setup going forward. If this trend continues, it’ll benefit recruiters and staffing firms as well, being able to hire talent from nearly anywhere, so long as end-clients permit telecommuting.   

Cyber-Security Risks

Remote work can pose immense challenges from a cyber-security perspective as well.  Spam attacks and phishing campaigns are up as cyber-security criminals take advantage of a more decentralized work environment.  Some companies are rising to meet these challenges. Surveys indicate cyber security spending will  increase in 2020. But it remains to be seen whether that growth will outpace the attacks as hacks become more common every year. Organizations should make a habit of constantly educating their staff on best practices to keep themselves and their companies safe online, leveraging their HR departments and IT support to guide general users.

It is unlikely that employees will be returning to the workplace en masse any time soon, so organizations will have to mitigate these tech challenges any way they can. Most disruptions, after all, aren’t without their difficulties, and it will certainly take time to work out the kinks. Working remotely isn’t just a blip on the radar, it’s here to stay. The faster organizations ensure employees can do so securely, the better off they’ll be.

Telecommuting Is in High Demand

Emphasis on striking a healthy work-life balance has been all –but required for attracting younger employees, but the numbers indicate that this is becoming a priority for the workforce at large.

 A survey conducted at the end of 2019 showed an almost unanimous 99% of workers across age groups want to work from home at least part time for the rest of their careers.

Again, COVID-19 has made what was previously a benefit into a widespread necessity. Several large companies like Google & Twitter have introduced year-long or even permanent work from home options to their employees. And it’s not just the mega-tech companies either. A recent Gartner Survey found that 3 out of 4 companies plan to move some percentage of their employees to a permanent remote setup. It’s easy to view this as purely a concession to the workforce, but it could be a benefit to organizations as well, eliminating commutes and potentially saving on overhead costs.

Any major disruption is bound to produce complications and we certainly won’t get it 100% right the first time. But for now, with a great deal of uncertainty about the pandemic, it looks like remote work is here to stay, and it will likely become bigger part of our lives in the years to come.