The COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant increase in remote work, from 17% prior to COVID-19 to 44% during the pandemic. Even businesses that eschewed the remote work trend of the last few years were forced to accommodate remote workers when the pandemic led to social distancing requirements, online schooling, and shuttered daycares.
Now that vaccines are available, employers must decide whether to keep remote work policies in place or to bring employees back into the office. For businesses, it takes balancing the advantages and disadvantages of remote work to make an informed decision.
While you may initially expect all the benefits of remote working to be all on the employee side, there are many pros for the employers, as well. There is evidence that remote work has been successful for both. According to a January 2021 survey by PWC, 83% of employers saying the shift to remote work has been successful for their company, compared to 73% in June of 2020. Let's look at some reasons why.
Contrary to some concerns, remote work can actually increase productivity. That productivity increase includes less time spent traveling to work or on business trips. According to one study, remote workers put in more than 1.4 days each month or three additional weeks of work per year than their counterparts who commute to the office each day. It makes perfect sense when you consider that the time those employees would have spent on the road or running between offices for meetings is now spent online and engaged in work.
A Deloitte survey shows 77% of professionals have experienced employee burnout at work. There is plenty of evidence that demonstrates employees are happier and less likely to burn out when they have a better work-life balance. Another source reports that not only do 71% of remote workers report job satisfaction over 55% of employees who work in the office, but 45% of on-site workers report that having work flexibility would significantly improve their overall quality of life.
One of the most compelling reasons for employers to favor remote work over in-person work is the cost savings. Here are just a few items that can be reduced or eliminated completely by moving to remote work:
While we hear a lot about the benefits of remote work, it isn't always as obvious that there are still some disadvantages. It can take diligence and focus to successfully overcome the difficulties. The following are some considerations for why remote work isn't all positive.
Evidence exists showing that remote work can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Those feelings can take a toll on engagement, performance, and productivity. It is important for remote workers to stay engaged and in touch through virtual meetings on apps like WebEx or Zoom. When you aren't physically in the same space, creating relationships and making personal connections are much easier when each person can see a face along with the voice.
Communication can be a challenge, particularly when employees are new to remote working. Unfamiliarity with communication technology like Slack, Google Chat, Zoom, or WebEx leads to frustration and makes employees feel unable to communicate effectively. According to Forbes, 52% of employees report background noise on calls disrupted their communication, while 23% said it led to miscommunication with clients. When there is no in-person contact, critical work issues may not always be discussed.
When the manager/employee relationship is new, and the employee hasn't yet had time to prove themselves as reliable, it may be difficult for the manager to trust whether the employee is really working when they can't see them. If their work product doesn't immediately speak for itself or is difficult to track, there are other ways to mitigate the lack of visibility. Remote monitoring tools can help managers assess their remote workforce. Remote monitoring software can track the time a remote worker spends on a specific app, site, or task, so managers have a better handle on what the employee is spending their time doing during work hours.
The new normal will most likely look much different than it did before, leaning more toward remote work and relying less on business travel or physically co-located teams. While the reality of a fully remote workforce can be complex, the benefits for both the employees and employers still outweigh any drawbacks. Companies like Amazon, American Express, Twitter, Dropbox, Facebook, and many more have recently moved to a long-term remote work strategy, showing that even the largest companies are recognizing the advantages of a remote workforce. Most difficulties can be alleviated through effective procedures, training, and technology, allowing businesses to grow and thrive with a remote workforce.