The Covid-19 pandemic has all but guaranteed our lives will never be the same again. While some of the resulting trends such as more conscious public health standards will surely continue in the future, others like the increased prevalence of remote work have been met with speculation. Once it became clear that the majority of Americans would not be able to return to work, companies scrambled to transfer their operations from on-site to remote. While chaos and wide-spread job layoffs initially ensued, the eventual effectiveness of remote work has been a silver lining during this otherwise troublesome time. What Time Magazine referred to as “the world’s largest work-from-home experiment” has revealed encouraging insights about remote worker’s productivity and functionality of remote work environments.¹ With companies able to successfully transition to remote operations, additional conveniences of telecommuting can also be realized. While the aptitude of remote work differs for each individual based on factors such as the job industry and personal preference, the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic have emphatically demonstrated that we all must be open-minded about the potential for remote work in the future.
Convenience of Remote Work
It is not an over-exaggeration to state that Coronavirus has called into question the infrastructure of the American workplace on a fundamental level. The fact that one virus single-handedly brought our economy and societal functionality to a screeching halt has necessitated a more expansive and accommodating remote work environment. Only companies that were already fully remote like Lotus Labs were able to make it through this pandemic relatively unhindered. For every other company forced to abruptly alter its work dynamics, consequential profit losses were inevitable, but this transformation yielded benefits as well. With the implementation of remote work, daily commuting has been removed from the work routine, which is a substantial convenience for workers. In fact, one study indicated that even working partly remotely can be up to $11,000 per year cheaper on average than working on site full time.² In addition to getting money back, remote workers also gain back hours of their week that they would have otherwise spent commuting. This especially applies for workers living in top hotbeds like New York City and Los Angeles where workers must spend between six and fifteen hours a week commuting.³ The fact that remote work allows workers to save time and money makes it more compelling than on-site work for many workers, but they are not the only ones reaping the benefits. Since the location of their employees is no longer a factor, companies can focus on hiring top talent available across all time-zones while also saving on hiring and real-estate costs. Like any work system, telecommuting is not without its flaws, but as remote technology and tools continue to rapidly improve, remaining gaps between a remote and in-person work experience will soon be filled.
A Misconception About Remote Work Productivity
The primary hang up with telecommuting is the concern that remote workers will be less productive and require more supervision. However, studies actually show that remote workers are more productive and cost-effective for companies. According to a Gallup report, employees across various industries who spent 60 to 80 percent of their time working remotely had the highest rates of engagement. This increased productivity translates to as much as three additional weeks of work per year.⁴ The discrepancy between the study’s results and the public perception of remote work can be traced back to a general misconception that the location of work is the primary influencer of productivity. In reality, the work culture is the most accurate indicator of whether or not an employee will be productive. According to a 2018 study on remote work engagement by researchers at Walden University remote workers experienced the highest levels of engagement when working in environments where they have a personal connection to the organization’s mission and vision and where they feel the work culture is familial.⁵ One strategy that our Lotus Labs CEO Anjali Nennelli has advocated for is allowing employees to have unlimited vacation days. While this practice sounds counterintuitive, granting employees this additional freedom prevents them from getting burnt out and becoming less productive. Additionally, after implementing this practice, Nennelli observed that once her employees returned from vacation, they approached their work with a new enthusiasm. Therefore, rather than scrutinizing the home setting, companies must instead fine-tune their work cultures to maximize worker productivity.
Implementing Remote Work Is Not A Slippery Slope
While the potential of remote work in the future is tremendous, a remote lifestyle will simply not be preferable or possible for millions of people. One reason that only 30% of Americans worked from home before the Covid-19 pandemic is because many job industries, especially service-oriented ones, cannot function remotely.⁶ Without employees on the site, certain work environments such as grocery stores, car dealerships, and amusement parks, will not be able to function and very few industries can even support fully-remote work settings. While it is true remote work is not compatible with every job, we do not need it to be. Because there will always be people who cannot work from home and jobs that require in person interactions, remote work should be viewed as an adaptable alternative rather than a socially-suffocating trend. Ideally, remote work will be an option whenever applicable and not something people will have to be forced into. This way people will be able to choose which work style better fits their life.
An Uncertain Future Necessitates Remote Work
Everyone is eager for life to return to the way it was, but the sobering reality is that the future ahead of us is uncertain. The fact that Google searching “When Coronavirus will end” yields dozens of contradicting expert opinions indicates that no one truly knows how long Coronavirus will remain at large. Additionally, experts have predicted a second wave of the virus that will hit the planet around the fall of 2020. To put it frankly, we are nowhere near the end of the Coronavirus situation, meaning that global-quarantine could once again become a reality. In this worst case scenario, remote work will serve as the avenue through which we can keep society functioning. For this reason, we must not only work to maintain remote work technology, but we must also continue to improve it because we will rely on it in the future. Our society’s current implementations of remote work have already proven telecommuting is a suitable alternative to on-site work. With further enhancements in the future, the consensus on remote work could very well shift from a system that was needed because of pandemic times to a system that is generally preferred.
Ultimately, the compatibility of remote work for an individual differs on a case-by-case basis, which is why giving people the option of on-site or remote work offers the most personal liberty for each person. Since on-site work is the norm, remote work has faced some pushback as people doubt its effectiveness and sustainability. However, current remote working environments have not only proven to be just as capable, but they have also surpassed the traditional ones in terms of effectiveness and convenience. While people may still prefer on-site work, extreme circumstances (like a global pandemic) will require companies to be able to seamlessly transition their businesses to fully remote operations. When times like these arise, we must be ready and not miss a beat.
: Shelly Banjo, Livia Yap. “Coronavirus Outbreak Is World’s Largest Work-From-Home Experiment.” Time, Time, 3 Feb. 2020, time.com/5776660/coronavirus-work-from-home/.
: Digneo, Greg. “6 Important Remote Work Statistics To Know in 2020.” Biz 3.0, Time Doctor, 11 Mar. 2020, biz30.timedoctor.com/remote-work-statistics/.
: Kasperkevic, Jana. “New York City Commute Isn’t Just Long and Stressful — It’s a Pay Cut.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 19 Mar. 2015, www.theguardian.com/money/2015/mar/19/new-york-city-commute-report-long-stressful-expensive.
: Hickman, Adam, and Jennifer Robison. “Is Working Remotely Effective? Gallup Research Says Yes.” Gallup, Gallup, 21 May 2020, www.gallup.com/workplace/283985/working-remotely-effective-gallup-research-says-yes.aspx.
: Thomas, Mike. “What COVID-19 Means for the Future of Remote Work.” BuiltIn, BuiltIn, 2020, builtin.com/remote-work/covid-19-remote-work-future.
: Brenan, Megan. “U.S. Workers Discovering Affinity for Remote Work.” Gallup.com, Gallup, 19 May 2020, news.gallup.com/poll/306695/workers-discovering-affinity-remote-work.aspx.