Question of the Year: Is Remote Work Here to Stay?
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Working offsite, or remote work has been around for a long time. For years, we've known this work model as telecommuting. Yet, before the coronavirus pandemic, remote work was not mainstream. Rather, it was an unusual perk for employees of tech companies and startups.
In the past year, companies across industries had to resort to remote working and many liked it. After a full year of work from home, it's time to ask the most pressing question in the business world: is remote work here to stay?
Remote work in 2020
With disruption happening worldwide, businesses were quick to adapt to circumstances. Remote work policies were put in place centering around working from home. And while early in the pandemic productivity skyrocketed, after some time, it dropped. The stress, anxiety, and an overwhelming news cycle have caught on with employees worldwide.
Late in 2020, tech companies started rolling out work-from-anywhere policies for their employees. The likes of Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Microsoft were the first to admit that flagship locations that cluster thousands of employees in one place weren't going to cut it from now on. Others, like Goldman Sachs, Netflix, and Amazon pointed out they can't wait to go back to the office.
The pandemic kickstarted heated debates about the future of work and business leaders are busy weighing the pros and cons of a remote workforce.
Challenges of remote work
After a year of the forced work from home experiment, most companies and employees are well aware of the downsides of remote work. These may differ across industries, but most of them are universal for all companies.
For full-time remote workers, burnout and isolation are the most impactful challenges to tackle. Engaging with teammates, setting boundaries, and maintaining work-life balance requires deliberate efforts. The home office is not ideal for work-life balance, as people often struggle with poor boundaries and overworking.
Employers are now implementing programs and incentives for workers to take time off, set availability hours, and communicate transparently.
Zoom fatigue is another issue, and it relates to companies trying to work remotely without implementing asynchronous communication. Meetings are a relic of the office way of communication that centers on immediate answers.
Meanwhile, async communication relies on documentation. There isn't an expectation of real-time answers all the time. An occasional Zoom call is okay, but flooding people's schedules with meetings can lower their productivity. Endless virtual meetings can drain your employees and leave them with no time to do actual work.
Cybersecurity protocols are a challenging aspect of conducting business online. With cloud storage and applications, company data could be at risk. Remote teams need robust procedures and security mechanisms to ensure risks are mitigated, and company data is safe.
Managing remote teams is a challenge filled with potential. It can seem difficult initially, but good managers adapt quickly to running their teams remotely. Collaborative apps and tools like Slack make this job easier than ever. Introducing remote-specific management techniques could prove useful for any team, as they rely on trust, transparency, and documentation.
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Benefits of remote work
Increased productivity is the most well-known benefit of remote work as it has been widely reported in the past year. If we count out the stress caused by the pandemic, it's easy to see why employees who have more time for themselves are happier and more productive. While productivity increases are the favorite remote work feature for employers, there is nothing employees love more than ditching the commute. While office workers spend 2-3 hours commuting to work every day, their remote colleagues get to keep that time for themselves.
Saving money on commercial real estate is another upside of working remotely. The costs of long-term leases, maintenance, and upkeep can quickly add up, especially in cities like New York or San Francisco. With remote work, it's easy for companies to use this money for other things, such as better employee benefits. When it comes to hiring, remote companies have access to wider talent pools. This makes hiring specific positions easier and enables more diverse hires across the board.
Finally, remote work enables a redefining of our cities. Lowering traffic volumes and moving away from a model that centers office towers as the lifeline of a city is a benefit everyone can enjoy.
Remote work post-pandemic
The growth remote work was seeing in the past few years has sped up exponentially. It has gone from the unusual perk of tech startups to the new normal in under a year. Moving forward, companies across industries will likely want to adopt remote work at least to some degree. There are several ways to introduce the remote model, and each one of them could be adapted to tailor the needs of a company.
The path of going fully remote means a company has no physical offices or even a headquarters. All employees are hired and onboarded remotely, and only meet each other in person on company retreats and offsites. Some companies limit their hires to the US only, while others choose the global routine. Having a team distributed across the globe can bring different perspectives and some incredible hires.
The rise of hybrid work opened up the question of whether flexibility is the key to keeping the best of both worlds. The hybrid model enables physical workspaces to remain active, at least partially and with a changed purpose. Teams that shift to hybrid would be able to choose how often they meet with colleagues to collaborate and whether they do it at all.
Whichever model your company decides on, one thing is certain. Remote work is no longer a flashy perk, but a new normal and it's definitely here to stay. Full-time office days with a 9-5 schedule will diminish and make way for the future of work.