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Now that we’ve had a taste of remote work can we ever go back?

Have you ever had a truly mind-blowing eating experience? I have. It was a few years ago in Chicago. I was there visiting a friend who happens to know I’m somewhat of a cheeseburger connoisseur. With that knowledge, he decided to take me to a restaurant called Au Cheval. 

Au Cheval sits in the West Loop of Chicago–now a hot spot for hip restaurants–and though they do plenty of things well, what they’re known for is their burger. We went on a Saturday in the early afternoon and there was still a three hour wait to get a table. 

After pursuing around, and even getting a quick bite elsewhere, our table was finally ready. We sat down, ordered two burgers and about 10 minutes later our food arrived. The burger was glorious. I was elated, until a thought crossed my mind: does this ruin all other burgers for me? 

Remote work has a similar dilemma. For lots, it’s the platonic ideal for work. There’s more flexibility for workers, lower overhead for business, and improved overall productivity. However, there are still many companies doing everything they can to restore an in-office presence.

So, how do we move forward? 

The benefits of remote work for employees

There are any number of reasons why someone may want to work from home, but in my mind there’s really only one core reason: flexibility. Now, that may seem like an oversimplification, but when you think about it, it starts to make a lot of sense. 

When you work from home, you aren’t tied to a physical location. You’re empowered to go and work from any place you like, as long as there’s reliable internet. Having that agency means you can go visit friends, family, or just a new locale, without needing to take time off work. 

Along with location, in a lot of remote working environments working hours tend to be a bit more flexible, too. Again, since you’re not confined to when an office is open, it’s very possible you could have more options of how to structure your day. Being able to do so makes things like coordinating child care, doctor’s appointments, or even getting to the gym, easier. 

What that all adds up to, for many, is a better work-life balance. Having the increased flexibility means you’re able to better structure your work time to ensure you’re still able to make the most of your home-life, too. Also, cutting out the commute potentially saves hours of your day. 

In fact, research shows one of the top benefits people look for when applying to jobs is flexibility. Remote work fulfills that desire in a variety of ways. 

The benefits of remote work for employers 

Over the past few years fully remote companies have become more common. For those who came of age in a more conventional working environment, it may seem like a less-than-ideal set up. However, research shows employers benefit just as much, if not more, than employees do from remote workers. 

As mentioned earlier, remote workers tend to have higher levels of productivity when compared to their in-office counterparts. Some research suggests as much as 35-40% more productive. Along with higher productivity, remote workers also save organizations around $11,000 per person, per year, due to lower overhead costs. 

Remote workers also tend to be more engaged than in-office workers. Higher levels of engagement also mean there’s less turnover for remote employees, which further contributes to cost savings for an organization, as it usually costs around 20% more to hire someone to replace an existing employee. 

Finally, remote positions greatly increase the potential talent pool for any given role. Since it’s not tied to any specific location, you’re free to interview candidates all across the country, or even globe. 

The challenges of remote work

When thinking about remote work, it’s easy to simply focus on the benefits. Though there are many advantages, there are still some challenges, too.

One of the most salient issues that comes to mind with remote work is the potential for overworking. In a traditional working scenario, you go to, and leave, the office. Those are both explicit markers for starting, and ending your day. As a remote worker, you don’t have those same mechanisms in place. The net effect being you never fully switch off and risk burnout

Another challenge of remote work is isolation. Being at home is great for many aspects of life, but socializing isn’t one of them. If you think about it, in a standard working situation you see your co-workers probably as much as, if not more than, you see the people you live with. As a remote worker, you tend to only have in-person interaction with co-worker in short bursts. 

The final challenge of remote work is potential distractions in the home. Whether it be household chores, or kids wanting to play, there are any number of distractions you might face at home, that you wouldn’t otherwise. So, staying focused and productive can be doubly difficult. 

Where do we go next? 

For the moment, remote work still makes a lot of pragmatic sense for many companies. We’ve already seen large tech companies like Facebook and Google commit long-term to remote working options, but does that mean post-pandemic things will go back to normal?

Near the end of 2020 we ran a customer survey and one question we asked was around remote working. Only 3% of respondents said they planned on going fully back to the office. Nearly 50% said they planned to be totally, or most remote moving forward. 

Though no one can say for sure, it seems the best bet is the future of work will be more of a hybrid than before. For example, companies may have a few small offices where employees can come work from, but it won’t be a requirement. Or, perhaps they’ll have a few days a week where people need to be in the office, but the others they’re able to work from home. 

Since COVID forced the hand of many, now most companies are set up to support remote working. So, it only makes sense that they’ll want to capitalize on the investment they’ve already made. Also, for some employees it will make more sense to stay remote. In fact, one survey found 65% of people would like to continue remote working moving forward. 

Along with that, about 31% of respondents said they want a hybrid environment. With the large majority clearly wanting a remote option moving forward, and even willing to take a 10% pay cut to do so. With that level of enthusiasm for remote work, it’s hard to think remote work won’t become a more standard part of work culture moving forward.

Conclusion

The last year has brought so much change. One big change has been the larger shift toward remote work. Though it won’t be the long term solution for everyone, it does seem that it’s here to stay on some level. So, if you’re an employer, or employee, be sure you’re cataloging what’s working and what’s not, since it seems like remote work is here to stay. 

No matter what happens, this past year has taught us that we’re all probably more adaptable than we may have thought. As long as we’re committed to keeping an open mind, we should be able to tackle the future. No matter what it brings.

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