The Sudden Impact of ‘Remote Working’

February 4, 2021
Jill Garrison
Timer  Read Time: 6 minutes

We try to avoid hammering down on the pandemic while we’re doing our 2020 reflective research, however, there’s just no getting around it here. It has reshaped the way we conduct business, down to the fundamental levels of space and proximity. The virus accosted barriers preventing the exploration of ‘remote employees’, kicking off an overnight wave of technological adoption that would allow employees to continue to be productive from the safety of their own homes. While not everyone can work remotely, the fact that this practice was made possible for so many people will likely reshape the working landscape forever.

How widespread is this new change though?

Here are some stats:
Before the pandemic 47% of people surveyed say they never worked from home, now that’s dropped to 17% and 44% state they now work from home 5+ days a week. (BBC) 

The above statistics show a monumental swing for a practice that seemed to be implemented nearly overnight. Now that the change is here, many employers are wondering, is this sustainable? What are the lasting impacts? And, how can HR professionals create a positive impact?

Remote work is here to stay, kinda.

A report from McKinsey predicts that hybrid models of remote work are likely to persist in the wake of the pandemic, mostly for a highly educated, well-paid minority of the workforce. This is a permanent effect of what 2020 has created for the working world, in that companies have realized not all work needs to be done from the office, but sometimes it’s still helpful. With a hybrid model, employees would mix office and remote life, so they would only be onsite when physically necessary.

Of 800 corporate executives surveyed by McKinsey, 38% said that they expect their employees to work in a hybrid model (2+ remote days a week) after the pandemic, compared to just 22% before it.

JPMorgan plans for its 60,950 employees to work from home one or two weeks a month or two days a week, depending on their line of business. (McKinsey) 

Regardless of the model a company might move forward with, whether it’s back to the office, fully remote, or a hybrid of the two, when things settle down again, it’s estimated that 20% of the country’s workforce could still work remotely 3-5 days a week and still be as effective as they would be when they were working from a company office. If this prediction lands, it would mean 3-4x more people would be working remotely permanently than before the pandemic, which would cause considerable impacts and changes to transportation-based economies, urban lifestyles, and consumer spending patterns. (BBC) 

However, this changing face of the working landscape is highly dependent on industry, so depending on your company’s focus, some of these sweeping changes may not impact your field at all. Computer work and jobs that don’t require a physical touch will obviously be more fluid in maintaining a fully remote culture or switching to a permanently hybrid model. With the pandemic-working environment, it’s estimated that 76-86% of those in the finance and insurance fields are able to complete all their work remotely, while the same is true for only 7-9% food service and agriculture fields. (McKinsey) 

What are the economic ripple effects?

It’s tough to capture all the effects of such a sudden change to the ways employees are working. We’ve already seen many industries take a severe hit from the varying levels of quarantine and distancing measures taking place across the country, and if remote work holds and people are no longer commuting, it’s estimated that there will be significant consequences to the transportation, automotive, fuel, restaurant, and real estate industries. For example, in San Francisco, after many tech companies announced that their remote working strategies would become permanent, this meant that people would no longer be required to live in proximity to their offices and the median price of a one-bedroom rental in the city dropped by 24.2% since this time a year ago. Going further, at the start of September 2020, there were 15,000 rental apartments empty in NYC, which is the most vacancies the city has had in the 14 years since this data started being recorded. (CNBC) 

Of 248 US Chief Operating Officers surveyed by Moody’s Analytics showed that 1/3 plan to reduce operating space when their current lease comes to an end. The overall US trend toward remote work seems to empower this survey as well, as the office vacancy rate in the US will hit 19.4% soon, and if the trend holds, its likely this will hit 20.2% by the end of 2022. (USA Today) Regardless of the percentages of companies that have a future remote workforce, the landscape as we see it will absolutely change many aspects of the economy. What about our own individual company’s workforce though, and what concerns do employers have around productivity?

The HR Impact

Employees aren’t the ones who will be asking to return to the office, in fact only 12% of a 4,700 person survey of workers actually wanted to return, while 72% are hoping for a permanent hybrid model. (BBC) It’s what employees want, but what does that mean for business productivity? Many employers had a strong resistance toward remote work because of this uncertainty, but a McKinsey survey completed in May 2020 shows that 41% of newly remote workers stated that they were actually more productive at home than when they’ve been in the office. So, even though this data might bode well for companies as a whole, what does that mean to HR professionals now that their employees are no longer housed in a central location?

Jagdish Chugani, SVP of Talent at PlanSource, offers this advice for HR professionals looking to the future, “Flexible work policies will be a major talent differentiator while productivity and performance will be top of mind for employers. The traditional office space will not be redundant but nicely blend into the hybrid workplace model which will allow businesses and employees to choose when to come in for collaboration. The hybrid model will be particularly key for those companies who have a strong entry level hiring program.”  Hear more from Jagdish on how to support your employees, here.

Jagdish’s HR Tips!

  • Focus on fostering a welcoming hybrid workplace company culture, make it a priority to normalize this new way of operating within your company.
  • Make reskilling a priority. Securing experienced talent is a top challenge to carrying out strategic change initiatives. This is urgent as digitization changes more job descriptions, and especially as employers may rehire a different set of employees than the ones they let go as the pandemic hit.
  • Invest in reskilling your managers to support their teams in the new environment of managing to performance and productivity expectations.
  • Build a sense of purpose, meaning, and a sense of belonging within the evolving culture.
  • Recognize the importance of wellbeing amongst your workforce. If you don’t have one in place already, consider adding, at a minimum, an EAP so your employees can reach out when they need extra support, and in turn they’ll know your company/HR team truly has their back.
  • When hiring early talent, stress the importance of hiring them where you have a major base. This will reap big benefits in the long term.

Developing a strategy now that integrates remote work into the future of your company is what’s truly going to make the greatest impact. Studies, surveys, and researchers show how this sudden disruptor to our working life is definitely here to stay in some capacity, so our future productivity depends on how we work with remote culture, and not against it.

Also, we would like to point out that we still never used the ugly, irritating, and over-used term ‘new normal’ in this blogpost, no matter how badly it warranted it, and that is an accomplishment in itself.

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