The global pandemic has led to the largest work-from-home revolution we have ever seen. Although essential businesses, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, must retain in-person staff, many aspects of other companies are able to keep running smoothly even with an entirely remote team. Small businesses and major corporations alike are considering the potential benefits and drawbacks of allowing employees to work from home permanently if they’d like, even once the threat of COVID-19 is over.
Of course, the remote work trend can cause major disruptions to employers and their employees. Could the benefits of a permanent work-from-home position outweigh the benefits of having your full team under one roof? Here are some of the predicted outcomes and potential drawbacks of this nationwide remote work phenomenon:
Perspectives from Employers
Major companies including Mondelez, Nationwide, and Barclays have already discussed reducing office space, setting up hybrid schedules, and helping employees permanently make the transition to working from home. For example, when insurance company Nationwide was able to quickly and successfully transition to a 98% remote team across the nation due to stay-at-home orders, leaders noticed that everything continued running smoothly. Nationwide CEO Kirt Walker said, “Our associates and our technology team have proven to us that we can serve our members and partners with extraordinary care with a large portion of our team working from home.” It’s been so successful, in fact, that Nationwide plans to exit all office locations by November 1st of this year.
Other employers have been pleasantly surprised that employee productivity doesn’t decrease when they’re not physically in the office. Mondelez CEO Dick Van De Put wondered aloud in one interview, “Maybe we don’t need all the offices that we currently have around the world.” One a similar note, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman said that the virus outbreak has shown that his company requires “much less real estate” than he previously assumed was necessary.
Closing down physical stores can help businesses save on operating costs, and not requiring employees to commute to work everyday will have a positive effect on the environment.
"Anything that reduces vehicle miles helps improve air quality and reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming," said Jack Williams, a professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “There's no silver bullet to solve climate change, but there are lots of silver BBs, and allowing people to work from home is one of them.”
Thousands of Americans now working from home are enjoying having a more flexible schedule, being able to spend more time with their families, and saving costs on daily transportation. Numerous studies and countless interviews with telecommuters have shown that creating more remote positions can:
- Increase employee productivity by an average of 35-40%.
- Improve the chances of finding a qualified employee since employers won’t be limited within their geographical region.
- Provide additional opportunities for those who may be unable to commute due to financial limitations or disability.
- Attract and retain more employees.
- Reduce the number of “sick days,” as employees won’t have to call in to the office in order to care for their children, go to a doctor’s appointment, or complete other essential personal tasks.
- Contribute to a happier and healthier work-life balance.
If work-from-home solutions become permanent, it sounds like companies can continue saving money on operating costs, employees will have more free time, productivity shouldn’t be affected, and pollution caused by daily commutes will be greatly reduced. However, as professor of informatics Judith Olson says, there are some issues that people need to be prepared for:
- Feeling isolated from colleagues and missing their daily social interactions can be difficult for people to manage. "The hardest thing for somebody to deal with long distance is silence," Olson explains.
- It takes more effort to stay up-to-date on important decisions occurring within the company. People may feel as if they’re invisible or being ignored.
- Communication methods must be prioritized. All remote teams should have designated Slack channels, email communications, text messages, or whichever communication strategy works best for them. The last thing you want is for an employee to miss a string of essential, time-sensitive emails because they forgot to check it for 2 weeks straight.
With remote work becoming the “new normal,” what steps are you planning to take with your own business? If you’re not sure and want to talk with other like-minded entrepreneurs who know exactly what you’re going through, check out the resources available through the Entrepreneurs’ Organization network!