As we are well into the global pandemic, countries around the world are still struggling amongst new outbreaks, virus variants, and lagging vaccination rates. Since the Spring of 2020, COVID-19 has forced us to stay inside, catapulting many professionals into the world of remote working. Employers have been forced to find new communication systems, relax policies on personal devices, and re-design working strategies to adapt to the health crisis.
Since then, working from home has become the norm for many office employees, with many reporting satisfaction with the new working system. But have the new ways to work permanently become remote? And are remote positions ultimately a benefit or a detriment to businesses and employees?
We’ve had the technological ability to work remotely for some time
Remote work exploded into the forefront with the pandemic, but in reality, it’s not an entirely new concept. Skype, one of the first online video chatting softwares, has been around since 2003, and its popular counterpart Zoom since 2011.
Since the widespread accessibility of the internet and tools such as email, an ever-growing number of professionals have turned towards remote working as a way to maintain flexible schedules and work where they choose. It has grown in popularity within the last decade, but through 2019 it had remained a niche sector, concentrated specifically in the digital sector and with freelance contractors. The vast majority of positions required full-time, in-person presence in the office.
It wasn’t until the global pandemic forced virtually everyone to adapt to being at home that remote working became a part of mainstream business operations.
Is remote working a good thing?
But is remote work a benefit to businesses and their employees? The answer is more complex than it seems. Since working from home is new within a large-scale context, studies are conflicted as to whether its benefits outweigh its challenges.
On one hand, organizational issues such as remote coaching, long-term safety within the “office” at home, and work-life balance have all become significant hurdles to overcome in a digitally connected office.
The reduced interpersonal collaboration between coworkers has caused a “creativity crisis” according to the Financial Times, and the lack of secure personal devices has led to a 400% increase in crime since the pandemic started.
However, those who have transitioned to working from home report high levels of satisfaction with the change. A recent survey of remote workers conducted by The New York Times and Morning Consult, 86% of workers stated they were satisfied with working from home. Only 1 in 5 stated that they wanted to go back to the office full-time, with 1 in 3 surveyors saying they would move to a new city or state if remote work continued indefinitely.
Stress was lower overall, with 40% noting a higher number of walks and breaks. 33% said they were exercising more thanks to the flexibility of the remote worker’s schedule.
Time, energy, and money spent on commuting, or even on living in highly expensive urban areas, can be re-directed towards personal growth.
But not everyone can work from home
Remote working is only an option for positions which allow tasks to be performed, of course, from home.
According to a McKensey and Company study, while 20-30% of the population in countries such as the US has the ability to work from home over three days a week, over 60% of the population cannot due to their job duties. Occupations in sectors such as customer service, health care and manufacturing have very little flexibility for online working.
Remote working’s effect on diverse and minority populations is also a double-edged sword. Some state that it disadvantages minority communities and women, who disproportionately work in non-flexible fields; others maintain that the flexibility in schedule and location offers wider opportunities for underrepresented communities which otherwise could not afford to apply to certain positions.
So will remote working become the new norm?
While some large industry players are resisting remote work models, virtually all projections show an increase in remote working across all sectors.
Different industries will be expected to take up remote working as a permanent concept within their workforce to different levels. Most experts agree that, as vaccinations move forward and societies slowly start to return to a sense of “normalcy,” some will begin to return to the office (if they haven’t already) while others remain at home.
In any case, the working strategies and tools gained during the pandemic will remain an integral part of work-life culture.
What are the new ways to work?
Here are some of the primary changes we will see in work culture:
The Flexible Work Week
Many employers still believe some level of office presence is beneficial to overall productivity. Employees, however, are not willing to give up on the freedom and schedule control that remote working has provided for them.
High satisfaction ratings and lower stress levels are enough to convince people to continue to work at home. Companies are therefore considering a hybrid working model, in which employees alternate to varying degrees working from home and clocking days in the office.
Re-Evaluation of Salary and Benefits
Unfortunately, those who used remote working as an opportunity to move to a more cost-effective location could see a re-evaluation of their salary and benefits packages. Google has already announced intentions to reduce salaries for those who choose to permanently work from home in another state, and other large corporations are expected to follow suit, siting lower costs of living.
As the concept of “the office” morphs and evolves, so will the complexity of issues such as worker compensation, sick days, and paid vacation.
Permanent Integration of New Skills and Technologies
Gone are the days of hopping into a car for an hour just to make a single meeting across town. Thanks to the now widespread social acceptance of video calling in a working environment, managers and employees alike will alternate from Zoom to in-person presence based on their schedules.
Combination in-person and onscreen conferences will become increasingly normal occurrences. The added benefits of organizational apps such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, Asana, and the like have created new ways to work, allowing people to complete tasks and manage projects in a much more efficient way.
Employees will be able to retain more consistent, personal contact with their clients.
Staying relevant in a post-pandemic workforce
As skilled industries such as business, finance, management, and technology continue to move towards remote and hybrid models, maintaining a professional profile with relevant skills becomes increasingly important.
More location flexibility means more competition, and candidates with digital knowledge and skills have an advantage over their analogue counterparts.
EDHEC online programmes offer a top business school education while providing hands-on experience for the 21st century professionals. As one of the top leaders in online business education, EDHEC Business School is a co-founder of the international Future of Management Education (FOME) in collaboration with Imperial College London and several other prestigious Business Schools and world-class universities. The programmes are held completely online formats, modeling the current trends of the workforce.
The work-from-home model isn’t right for everyone, and not all industries can benefit from it, but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the concept of remote working to mainstream industry. As technology continues to improve and systems are developed, tested, and proved to address some of the current issues remote working presents, more and more companies will embrace remote or flexible working options as new ways to work.
Business professionals, regardless of how much time they end up in the office, will be expected to have knowledge of these new systems as we continue to move into a digital, post-pandemic world.