The Future Of Remote Work

At its height, the pandemic forced a third of employed Americans into their home offices to work remotely. Headlines at the time made it seem as if these workers would rush through their companies’ doors once they received the call to return to the office. The reality, like much of the pandemic’s aftermath, is much different than many employers expected.

True, employees had to hastily navigate the hurdles to productivity inherent in remote work. Everything from setting up a home office to adhering to a schedule while distractions beckon makes remote work difficult during normal times. Covid-era employees also had to manage shuttered daycare facilities and schools, extreme isolation, and the anxiety surrounding a global pandemic.

But now that they have thrived in their home offices, employees are pushing back when their employers beckon them back to the office. Will the remote work trends of 2021 grow into a larger, permanent move to the home office?

The Fight for the Future of Remote Work Post Covid-19

While some companies are eager to get their employees back into the office, they’re receiving pushback from their remote workers. Two of the largest tech giants, Google and Apple, miscalculated the effect the events of these last 18 months had on their employees’ perspectives on work and life. Citing concerns over losing their unique culture and innovative edge as reasons for ushering their remote employees back into the office, both corporations suffered damaging headlines when they implemented unpopular policies.

Apple, known for its sprawling campus, cafeteria sushi, and top-down management style, issued an internal memo from its top-most leader, CEO Tim Cook. Apple’s memo declared that employees will be expected to return to the campus three days out of five beginning in early September. While on the face of it, the memo seems generous—allowing for two days of remote work—it sparked outrage from Apple employees, 80 of whom responded with a letter.

Google’s protective stance regarding its culture is understandable. The mega-corporation earned 11 awards from Comparably in 2021, including Best Global Culture. The executive team probably expected that remote workers would gladly trade in their kitchen tables for free perks like in-office gaming stations and professional massages at the Google campus. But after receiving thousands of remote work requests, they announced that employees who chose a future of work from home may face a pay cut.

Clearly, employers didn’t expect to battle over work from home trends in 2021. But what’s fueling the fight for the future of remote work post Covid?

Values Fueling Work from Home Trends Post Covid

Of course, employees want to see work from home trends expand long after 2021 because of the obvious advantages. Workers like reducing transportation costs or even childcare. Some employees may also opt to live in a less costly area if they don’t have to worry about commute time to the office.

But it’s the improvement in life and work balance at a time of uncertainty that makes the trends toward remote work unstoppable.

One thing about a pandemic: everyone facing it has at least a passing thought about their health and wellbeing. And that thought is usually quickly followed by a reassessment about how we are spending our time. For employees who previously were spending as many hours commuting as they did seeing their families in the evenings, remote work offered a different perspective.

Rather than seeing coworkers at the water cooler, employees were seeing their significant other at the kitchen table. True, there were frustrations. But the annoyance of noisy kids and bickering over the home’s office space paled in comparison to the discontent of idle chit chat across cubicles. Against the backdrop of a world devastated by current events, employees simply aren’t willing to go back to a schedule at odds with their values.

And they feel they don’t have to. Employees rose to the peculiar challenges of these remote work trends in 2020. Working from home productivity statistics indicate that remote employees work an additional three weeks each year compared to those who work in the office. Another study found that remote workers reported that their productivity remained the same or improved. Most employers seem to agree.

Working from Home Trends are Here to Stay

Remote work trends were already growing long before 2020. In 2014, The New York Times reported that 3.2 million employees worked from home, up 79 percent from 2005. Telecommuting was the fastest growing new benefit offered by companies.

Remote work may not have reached the majority of employees as some experts predicted at the time. But companies jarred by a talent shortage after Covid are revisiting the relatively inexpensive perk.  

The Great Resignation—another unexpected effect of the pandemic—has many companies looking for ways to improve employee retention. Allowing employees to work from home at least part of the time may be an effective way to remain competitive.

One survey of human resource personnel found that a desire for more flexibility is the leading reason employees are leaving their positions. And experts are expecting that remote working after Covid 19 will be commonplace. One study estimates that 20 percent of workdays will be spent working from home after Covid.

Benefit from Working from Home Trends Post Covid

Sure, employees are hoping work from home will continue into 2021 and even longer. And the improvements workers saw in their work and life balance during Covid will make it difficult for employers to coax them back into the office. But companies moving to remote work permanently, or adopting a hybrid model of flexible work, may see several benefits as well.  

Allowing remote work may make your company more productive. One study detailing remote work statistics estimates that companies that allow working from home after Covid could experience a 5 percent productivity boost. While there could be many reasons for this productivity improvement, the mental health boost of a more balanced life could explain why workers are more effective in their jobs.   

Getting on board with working from home trends now could help your company weather the next emergency. Companies whose workforce wasn’t able to work from home were more likely to layoff employees during the pandemic. While we all hope another pandemic isn’t around the corner, there are other much more minor emergencies your company can overcome with the help of remote work. For example, your company can still be productive if a snowstorm keeps most of your employees at home.

You’ll be able to choose from a wider pool of candidates. The talent shortage is real. Allowing working from home after Covid will help you expand the geographic area from which you find qualified candidates.

Your company will save on overhead costs. True, you probably won’t be able to move all of your employees to their home offices. But companies moving to remote work for even some of their employees save significantly on their overhead costs. Ralph Lauren and CVS are each unloading nearly a third of their properties in North America.

Working from home after Covid is a cost-effective benefit that will give you a hiring edge. Before employees experienced remote work en masse, there was stigma surrounding the home office. Covid made working from home normal—and desirable. According to a Gallup poll, employees who prefer working remotely outnumber those who want to return to the office.

HR Implications for Companies Moving to Remote Work

Allowing even part of your workforce to work remotely creates HR challenges. Without policies in place, performance issues become difficult to address. Without proactive relationship-building, remote employees will feel left behind. In the past, these challenges likely kept you from adopting remote work policies. Given the state of remote work in 2021, your company will benefit by embracing working from home and creating policies to support it.

Create a list of the criteria managers should consider before granting an employee’s request to work remotely. Identify positions that can only be performed effectively in the office. Likewise, identify the criteria employees must meet before being granted permission to work remotely. Working from home will likely worsen already existing performance issues.

Establish a probationary period and a set of expectations for working from home. Set the hours during which you expect the employee to be accessible. Create guidelines for what is appropriate for video meetings, from clothing to what is visible in the background.

Be proactive about team-building. Bonds naturally form when we see people every day. But when there is physical distance, managers diligently build relationships. Weekly video meetings can help everyone stay connected. Managers should make the time to check in with their remote employees regularly.

Make a plan to dismantle bias towards in-office workers. Traditionally, remote workers tend to be passed over for promotions and raises. See to it that you have data systems in place to catch unconscious preference for in-office employees.

Finally, understand that not everyone wants to work from home. Employees under 25, especially, are likely to prefer the office. These younger workers are unlikely to have a suitable space at home to work, and they also benefit from in-person mentoring. But any of your employees may simply prefer commuting to work for any number of reasons.

Final Thoughts About the Future of Remote Work

Many companies considered working from home in 2020 due to Covid a temporary measure. But now that a large number of employees went to their home offices and experienced improvements in their work and life balance, they’re protesting a return to the office. Combine their reluctance with the life-affirming impact of the pandemic, the trends toward remote work are likely to grow.

Don’t make the mistake of resisting the tide of remote work like Apple and Google. Companies moving to remote work can see just as many benefits as their employees. But you’ll need a strong human resources department to help you navigate the new challenges of managing employees working from home.If you need help creating remote work policies or developing your company’s culture when your employees are working from home, give us a call today to talk about how we can help you simplify being an employer.