When was the last time you went to your office? If you’ve been keeping track – and you probably have – we’ll soon hit a remarkable milestone. Two months and counting. During that time, we’ve become experts at social distancing, we’ve seen the shuttering of non-essential services, our hair has become shaggy, and a lot of us are trying desperately to juggle work with home schooling for our kids.
Remote work has steadily grown in popularity over the past couple of decades. However, many companies have dragged their feet, preferring to have bodies in seats at a physical office.
Until recently, that is. Despite over 50 percent of US employees having jobs that can be done remotely, it’s estimated that only 3.6 percent of US firms actually offered employees a telecommuting or work from home (WFH) policy, and even then often using it as a special perk. These policies have now expanded almost overnight to include virtually any office worker who is able to work from home. There are millions – if not billions – of people at home while offices remain empty.
Now that we’re here, it raises an important question: If we can remain productive and connected to our colleagues, from anywhere, will workers ever need or want to go back to to the traditional workplace?
We’re already a mobile workforce
For many people, working remote is a relatively new experience, while others have been doing it for years. It’s easier now than ever before, thanks to faster cellular and Wi-Fi networks, much-improved collaboration tools and generally better equipment.
Marketing and sales teams, for example, can conduct up to 95% of their work from virtually anywhere, without a significant hit to productivity or quality. There will always be those spontaneous conversations with colleagues around the office that aren’t as easy to recreate, but fundamentally many departments fall into this category. It definitely takes extra effort to stay engaged with teammates and to maintain a regular routine, but with a little flexibility, there are certainly ways to stay creative and connected.
This is not to say that there aren’t some inconveniences that go along with remote work. Not having the luxury of big screens may be one of them. Having extra distractions is another. But there are pluses, too. Not having to commute in rush-hour traffic is a huge positive that saves time, money and stress.
Of course, this ‘new’ lifestyle wouldn’t be possible without a laundry list of sophisticated connectivity, computing, security and cloud technologies that have all but eliminated traditional barriers to working remotely. Access to fast, reliable internet means that workers can connect to the data and applications they need, whether they’re locally deployed or, as is increasingly the case, hosted somewhere in the cloud. And most have adapted quickly to using collaboration tools like Asana and Google Docs, or juggling multiple video chats throughout the day on platforms such as Zoom, Webex or Microsoft Teams. Most find a way to remain connected to colleagues, whether they are in the same room or half-way around the world.
What’s the future of work?
What’s the future of work?
All of this may not have seemed natural at first, but there are some trailblazing companies that have already proven that the remote working model can work. Some companies are already completely virtual, having started that way from the beginning for any number of reasons. Other organizations, like Twitter, have decided that employees can choose to permanently work from home if their function allows it.
Yes, there are still many millions of people in the wider economy who simply cannot work from home because their jobs aren’t suited to remote work. Healthcare and restaurant workers, teachers, drivers and construction workers are just a few examples. But it’s becoming easier to argue that as we become better and more accustomed to remote work environments, employers may also be willing to maintain more flexible telecommuting policies even after our economies open up.
The knock-on effects are potentially significant. Not only would employees be happier, the companies, too, could lower overhead costs by opting for smaller office spaces (or none at all). A reduction in traffic congestion and commuting times are also very likely positive outcomes.
It’s also worth noting that most cost-cutting strategies tend not to be popular among employees. But in this case, offering – or even encouraging – employees to work from home may prove to be one of the great exceptions. We all want life to go back to normal as quickly as possible, and when it does, we are likely to see some long-lasting changes to our work environment. This may be the start of a revolution.
What do you think? Will working from home become the new normal, will we just go back to our offices, or will we land somewhere in between?
If you’re an employee or an IT administrator, check out some resources that may help you work remotely: