Will Remote Employees Be the New Norm After COVID?

It is becoming increasingly clear just how many people can work from home and remain as productive — if not more so — than in an office.

It’s funny, there have been articles and studies for years saying that open office plans led to lower productivity, yet open offices continued to be all the rage, especially with startups. And working from home had been touted as a way to save businesses money and increase overall productivity.

For a long time, many businesses were resistant to having employees work from home even part-time. They worried people would work less or put in fewer hours or be more difficult to manage.

Now, though, we’ve all been forced to adapt to a world where working in an office is a dangerous concept, and staying home helps promote health not just for ourselves but for everyone around us. We are stopping the spread of the virus by just staying home.

And many organizations have suddenly learned that their business can continue to move forward and get things done with their employees at home in the PJs.

Some companies have already said they plan to continue letting their employees work from home even after the pandemic is over. Others have been posting job advertisements looking only for permanently remote people.

As a result of the pandemic, either being furloughed, laid off, or working from home, some are fleeing metropolitan cities. Over 300,000 people have filed for a change of address and left New York City in the last eight months. This does not count kids or households with multiple people where only one person filed the change, so the number is likely more than that.

Pros & Cons of Permanent WFH

Pros include the fact that companies will save a lot of money on renting office space, renovations and decor, and we have technology that allows for instantaneous communication and project management. Working from home can also be used as a “perk” for recruiting new employees and employee retention. Major pros for employees are also flexibility, autonomy, and independence for workers, as well as saving time and money on commuting and getting more sleep.

Cons include companies potentially seeing that since working from home is so effective, they could possibly outsource things for even cheaper. They also may find it more difficult to manage their people, especially with larger teams. Not everyone has the space or equipment for working from home long-term. Plus, not everyone WANTS to work from home, so will working in the office still be an option?

One concern is whether so many work from home people will negatively affect the economy — will people go out less and spend money less?

There is also the very real concern that some people do NOT like working from home long-term and have difficulty dealing with it mentally and emotionally over time. The psychological impact does not seem fully known right now, since we are not just dealing with general work from home — we’re dealing with the mental, physical, and emotional toll of a pandemic.

Many people are already lonely and isolated due to the pandemic quarantines, and working from home long-term does get lonely and isolating on its own. This is another concern.

Who knows?

Some people saying the traditional multi-floor office space is dead and there will be either smaller spaces for big meetings and key people or a boom in coworking space. This is yet to be determined but does seem likely given the current state of the working world.

Obviously, this does not account for all the jobs and industries where working from home is not a possibility, such as hospitality and retail. But for marketing, PR, tech, SaaS, service-based businesses, sales, and more, working from home long-term is an absolutely real possibility.

We also do not fully know the effect long-term remote work will have on different types of businesses. While some may see productivity up right now, there is no guarantee that will continue in the future.

The Hawthorne effect is a psychological phenomenon introduced “in the 1950s by researcher Henry A. Landsberger during his analysis of experiments conducted during the 1920s and 1930s.”

The original experiments concluded that “almost any change to the experimental conditions led to increases in productivity. For example, productivity increased when illumination was decreased to the levels of candlelight, when breaks were eliminated entirely, and when the workday was lengthened.”

This made Landsberger conclude that it is a short-term improvement in performance, though later studies suggest both that the original findings were overstated AND that these effects do clearly happen, so certainly studies remain ongoing.

Other Factors

It’s not just businesses. Employees have a major say in this, too. If businesses are getting fewer qualified applicants for in-office positions, they may have to offer working from home as an option to get the employees they want.

Technology also factors in. Some tools and equipment are simply not affordable or convenient to have at home. On the other hand, technology like virtual or augmented reality will likely help people work from home more effectively.

Freelancers have long had the experience of working from anywhere and adapting to the environment. It is a skill we learn and not one we all just have.

When I started working from home full-time 4 years ago, it was an adjustment. I’d always worked in offices and I missed (and still miss) having coworkers to chat with right next to me. Sometimes I miss the structure and discipline of being in an office, though one can create those at home, too. I certainly spend less money on “work clothes,” and spend far more time in pajamas!

There is also the issue of being always connected. It is harder to separate work from home/relaxing time when your office is 5 feet away. I answer emails at night, take work calls after dinner when necessary, and often work longer hours. On the other hand, there are days I do less work and take an afternoon nap!

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Entrepreneur, writer, editor, book coach, cat lover, weirdo, optimist. Author of “Write. Get Paid. Repeat.” & “Concept to Conclusion.” jyssicaschwartz.com

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