We are witnessing a revolution, and there may be no point of return. The genie is out of the bottle. I’ve recently spoken with leaders at dozens of companies, and they all have one thing in common: they are all planning to convert up to two-thirds of their jobs to remote only positions.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic has begun, we’ve seen as much as 42 percent of the U.S. labor force working from home full-time. Stanford economist, Nicholas Bloom, has said that more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity— measured by gross domestic product and based on earnings— comes from the work millions of Americans are doing from their kitchen tables, basements and bedrooms.
Forty percent of U.S. employment opportunities can successfully be completed at home. Social distancing has highlighted a new reality for many people in which remote work is feasible.
Remote work has not always been as publicly supported as it is currently. The willingness to work from home has been prompted by safety concerns regarding Covid-19. Without this flexibility from employees and employers, the American economy would have collapsed, and many more people would have died; However, the flexibility workers have displayed when transitioning to remote work has illustrated new opportunities for business leaders.
Since March 2020, online meetings and conferences have increased exponentially— and why not? They’re our only (safe) option. And they are here to stay.
A new study by Erik Brynjolfsson at MIT, and five other economists highlights that even when stay-at-home orders were relaxed, many workers voluntarily continued working at home. Even when a COVID-19 vaccine eventually comes out, it is my impression that companies will be reluctant to return to dense offices. In other words— the way we used to work no longer works!
Apart from safety, there are many reasons why companies— including mine— may be inclined to continue remote work. One benefit employing people from their homes is that companies can attract talent from all over the world. Employers can focus on getting the best people regardless of geographical borders. And with all the virtual work going on now, we’re creating a new generation of workers who will have learned to adapt to working outside of an office with ease.
Another benefit of remote work is the inclusiveness it can promote. While employing people to work from home, companies are able to create environments that are inclusive to people like introverts who may prefer less social interaction or parents who appreciate the flexibility for childcare purposes. Additionally, people with various disabilities may benefit from being more free to create their own work environment. The possibilities for improvement are endless because each employee can build their ideal, custom work environment.
While there are many benefits to the virtual work culture, there are challenges that employers are facing in adapting to this new climate.
Two of the biggest challenges employers are facing is ensuring that all employees have access to quality internet connection and work from home environments that is conducive to productivity.
Unexpected challenges in assessing costs for employers to maintain their work space are plaguing business leaders across the globe. In the Netherlands, the National Institute for Family Finance Information has calculated that employers should boost workers’ pay by €2 ($2.40) per day to cover the costs of electricity, water, coffee and toilet paper used by staff on the boss’s time. Companies may be considering options such as reimbursement policies for office materials and wifi. But some businesses are looking to cut back on the costs of work from home environments, arguing that employees are already benefiting from saving time and money on commutes.
The many difficulties of adjusting to a largely remote economy are daunting for employers, but there are steps they can take to manage their employees effectively as people embrace virtual working. A large concern during the pandemic has been mental health, and that concern is not likely to change. Some leaders are putting structures in place to offer online professional mental health assistance in addition to encouraging virtual meetings and happy hours with coworkers to encourage a supportive and engaging virtual work culture.
As leaders, it is up to us to make sure people can comfortably work from home. Employees want to see that their leaders are willing to walk the extra mile for them. Be flexible, be innovative, be aware and be inclusive.
Make sure to have heart to heart discussions with everyone on your team to see how remote work will best work for them, and what support they need whether it be an office chair, new lights, better computer cameras or anything else.
Finally, leaders must remember to teach themselves to be engaging online. I’ve spent the last few years studying meetings, online training and webinar sessions to understand why most virtual gatherings bore groups to sleep. Teach yourself the skills of being a remote-only leader and push “reset” on yourself to start over in this new age. Set the bar for yourself and your team, and embrace the new way of work. Most importantly, don’t look back, because that is not where we are heading.