During the COVID-19 pandemic many businesses elected to have employees work from home whenever possible to lessen the spread of the coronavirus in an office environment. While some businesses – such as those in the transportation, manufacturing, and service industries – rely on some of their employees performing work in person, many other businesses don’t, and they quickly shifted to remote work for as many of their people as possible. As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, though, the question of whether or not employees will continue to perform remote work or will return to the office becomes more important. As always, though, there’s no simple answer to whether remote work is here to stay or not.
In truth, remote work – or working offsite — has been around for quite some time. For decades, the remote work model was known as telecommuting. But prior to the coronavirus outbreak, telecommuting wasn’t mainstream or widely accepted by many employers except for those in the startup and tech company sectors. Starting in 2020, though, COVID-19 began changing all that.
No business will last for long in the 21st century if it isn’t nimble and adaptable. As the coronavirus disrupted traditional business models worldwide, many businesses adapted and began instituting remote work policies that revolved around working from home. Tech companies such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft were among the first to implement company-wide remote work programs, though in mid-2021, many companies are now saying they’re eager to bring as many employees as possible back to the office. Productivity is a major reason for this shift, as some surveys have revealed that while productivity initially increased greatly it soon leveled off and, in some cases, even declined as stress, anxiety and an overwhelmingly negative COVID news cycle began to impact even employees working remotely.
Remote Work Challenges
Though specific challenges of working remotely vary by the industry, general issues are still seen across all sectors. Many remote workers are reporting problems with burnout and isolation, for example. Other remote work problems may include an inability to effectively engage with teammates, setting work-home boundaries, and maintaining a proper and healthful work-life balance. Working from a home office may not be the ideal environment when it comes to work-life balance due to employees struggling with poor boundaries and overworking (such as logging back in to work, even after normal work hours have been completed). Finally, “Zoom fatigue” seems to be a real phenomenon, as companies try to work remotely yet continue on with the same schedule of meetings or with the expectation that answers to questions will be answered immediately.
Remote Work Benefits
By the same token, there are several well-documented benefits to having as much of the workforce as possible working at home or performing remote work. Some surveys have also revealed increased productivity as employees report being happier because they don’t have to deal with a daily commute. Office workers may sometimes spend 2 to 3 hours daily on commuting, which is time that can be spent more productively in work or life endeavors. Employers are also saving money on commercial real estate. The cost of long-term leases, upkeep, and maintenance have all declined as some companies slim down their office property holdings due to not needing the space for employees who are now working from home.
Is It Here to Stay?
No doubt, some level of remote work is now here to stay. In about a year, remote work or work-from-home employment has gone from something seen mostly in tech startups to becoming a standard perk offered by many employers across a wide variety of industries. Though most companies still retain some physical office presence, a few are now going completely virtual, with no physical offices or a headquarters. It remains to be seen whether such virtual companies will become the norm, or whether some form of hybrid work environment – in which physical workspaces are at least partly active and teams come into the office occasionally to collaborate with colleagues – will develop. Heavily-labor-dependent industries, including mining and manufacturing and other traditionally blue collar occupations, may see little in the way of remote work, but many other industries likely will continue growing their remote capabilities in the years ahead.