In early 2020 when Gallup was reporting that the share of the US workforce that worked remotely doubled to 62 percent, journalists and researchers were already predicting the future of work had changed forever. In fact, 62 percent of hiring managers were already expecting to have more remote workforces going forward, finds Upwork.
While many people pointed to the pandemic as a temporary pause before returning to the office, some experts were already saying, remote work is here to stay. As they predicted, remote work has become a mainstay, rather than an emergency option, for many employers. Some businesses, like Quora, was one of the first companies, mid-pandemic, to go to a remote-first workforce.
Here are five early reports that outlined predictions about why remote work would not be just a temporary present but a permanent future.
1. The Ease of Working Remotely
Remote work has become a whole lot more convenient, as Glassdoor argues in “Why the Future of Work Is Remote.” From the convenience of workers having more control over their work–life balance, to technologies that make remote setups a breeze, to the ease of finding remote talent (no moving expenses!) remote work can be simple to implement while also being highly effective. This article appeared pre-pandemic, so you can add employee safety to the benefits list as well.
Plus, the article notes, the rise of remote work will be a win for consumer convenience and service. Since remote workers can more easily set their own work hours, they can more easily get in touch with companies outside of “traditional” business hours. If you’re supplying the customer service, instead of having the dreaded late shift on the East Coast, you can remotely hire folks living on the West Coast to work with people in the same time zone. Let’s call that a win-win.
2. Why Pay for So Much Office Space?
For employers, one of the biggest draws of remote work is the potential to save money on office space. As USA Today reports, offices won’t disappear completely and could even expand in the short term to accommodate social distancing. But long term, companies will take a hard look at whether the costs of office space, particularly in high-rent areas, outweigh the benefits. Although remote is not the same as face-to-face, many remote workers have been pleasantly surprised to find that the creativity and collaboration they thought could happen only in on-site offices can readily shift online.
3. Creating a Happy Medium
If you’ve been working remotely, you know that some of the “absolute musts” of on-site work have changed. For example, companies can shorten—or even scrap—some meetings, especially ones that require travel, as The New York Times Magazine reports. However, down the line, the creativity, innovation, and person-to-person bonds that come with on-site work may start to fade.
Over time, whether you’re an employer or employee, you’ll need to make remote work viable by finding a happy medium. That doesn’t necessarily mean a 50/50 split of remote work vs. on-site work. But spending even a little bit of face time with colleagues, such as at an annual company retreat, can go a long way toward staying connected, which can improve performance.
4. Reaping the Bigger Benefits
If you were used to working from home prior to Covid-19, the pandemic has not caused too much of a lifestyle shift. As OneZero writer Will Oremus explained in a March 2020 article, the pandemic “feels, in some ways, like a dress rehearsal for a future that was already on its way—one in which more and more of us self-isolate voluntarily, interacting with the outside world only from behind screens. Dreary as that might sound, the advantages would be enormous.”
For example, Oremus points to benefits that became clear to many newly remote workers and society in general, such as less traffic, cleaner air, and empowerment for people with disabilities who might otherwise face logistical challenges with on-site work. At the same time, those working remotely and those hiring them need to be aware of the possible downsides such as social isolation (especially for people who live alone), less interaction among people from different walks of life, and economic consequences for businesses like restaurants that miss out on revenue from nearby office crowds.
5. New Rules, New Roles
Although remote work technologies predate the pandemic, this does not mean that most companies have figured out how to execute this model well, explains Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown University, in an article for The New Yorker.
But the pandemic could be a tipping point, he notes. If, instead of having a small percentage of remote workers, a large portion of a company’s workforce is distributed, then the company’s whole approach needs to shift. Newport writes, “To see themselves through the I.T. revolution, companies hired chief information officers. Perhaps the coronavirus pandemic will make chief workflow officer an equally important role.”
So, How Will You Leverage Remote Work?
Since remote work is here to stay—and we’re pretty happy about that, actually—you should think about how you can leverage it. If you’re an employer, how can you use the strengths of remote work to save money, improve productivity, and increase the overall well-being of your remote (and on-site) workers? If you’re an employee, how can you use your savvy and this opportunity to create both good work and good life? In particular, if you’re just starting out in your career, you have an exciting chance to carve your own path. Like in the early days of social media, when older execs often turned to recent college grads for guidance, new workers have a chance to innovate instead of getting stuck in traditional on-site work.
Before getting too deeply into the Pollyanna, let’s acknowledge that most businesses and employees have experienced plenty of growing pains. Also keep in mind that the pandemic experience doesn’t necessarily predict remote work in the long term. The current remote work increase was in response to a global pandemic, but the remote work of the future will be a response to everything we’ve learned about how remote work works.