In reflecting on the many changes we’ve all endured this year, both personally and professionally, I’ve wondered why it’s taken a pandemic for us to appreciate the importance and impact of remote work – or what companies now call “work schedule flexibility."
What I’ve come to realize is that they’ve had to respond to a whole world of change in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic forced companies to adopt a more remote and distributed working model almost overnight. According to the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, 42% of the US labor force is now working from home full time.
Remote work, in the form of a hybrid approach at minimum, seems to be here to stay. Tech giants such as Facebook, Twitter, Square, Slack, Shopify and Zillow are now allowing employees to work remotely permanently.
So, what was once seen as a temporary measure looks likely to remain in play for some time. And here’s a thought: what if that’s actually a good thing? What if, instead of rejecting it, companies embrace remote work as an opportunity for growth that not only has benefits for the business but also for employees?
The old-school mentality of embedding staff in an office focuses on measuring a worker’s value by how much time they spend behind a desk, rather than the actual outcomes they deliver. That kind of rigidity and lack of trust could be fatal in this new environment. Companies that don’t build flexibility into their post-pandemic business model will face a significant increase in turnover as employees leave to accept better opportunities elsewhere, and open positions become more difficult to fill.
Remote employees report feeling less stressed and also more productive. In one study, one-quarter of respondents said they’d even be prepared to take a 10% pay cut to keep working from home. A more flexible workplace has big upsides for businesses, too, from lower staff turnover to reduced office overheads. Global Workplace Analytics estimates savings of $11,000 a year for every employee who works remotely for even half the time.
Businesses that have never adapted to remote work are the ones struggling now to remain efficient. Those that previously embraced it haven’t lost a step. Of course, it’s still important to hold your team to account by establishing a measurement system and KPIs. But it’s also about believing in the value your team is contributing to your organization. Otherwise, you’ve probably made a hiring mistake in the first place. As Apple’s Steve Jobs once said, “It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do.”
Expect blowback if your company defaults to ordering everyone back into the office. Structuring your organization to accommodate remote work – whether as a permanent or hybrid business model – will be critical to its success moving forward.
Why Changes to How Many of Us Work Will Outlast the Pandemic
I’m betting that work-from-home will be a new norm rather than a temporary response, and the research makes the case. More than two-thirds of IT executives believe that remote work will be a long-term or even permanent option going forward, according to a June survey of 575 technology leaders across industries by 451 Research, a division of S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Among the big tech companies, Twitter is leading the way in putting their employees where their cloud is – everywhere. The company, which announced in May that it will permanently transition to a remote-first workplace, doesn’t have a definitive re-opening date and will only return to 20 percent capacity when it does.
Twitter’s head of human resources, Jennifer Christie, told BuzzFeed News the company would “never probably be the same” in the structure of its work. “People who were reticent to work remotely will find that they really thrive that way,” she said. “Managers who didn’t think they could manage teams that were remote will have a different perspective. I do think we won’t go back.”
Flexible scheduling, the ability to care for family, pets and sick or aging relatives, reduced anxiety and stress, cost savings and the lack of commute were the top five advantages cited by US workers in a recent Statista survey, Benefits to Remote Work 2020.
Allowing employees to work from anywhere in the world also expands the possible pool of talent a company can attract, says Andrea O’Sullivan, director of the Center for Technology and Innovation at the James Madison Institute, a think tank in Tallahassee, Florida. Rents in the Bay Area are already plummeting as people no longer shackled to the office leave in droves. “No longer would young computer science grads be forced to pay several thousand dollars a month to have the privilege to live in a shoebox and ride company buses into luxurious campuses just to sit in front of a computer,” she told Reason.com.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has said he expects one-half of his 45,000 full-time employees to be working remotely within the next decade. Facebook and Shopify are among a number of companies that are paying staff a stipend to help cover their expenses, such as increased electricity bills, internet upgrades and general supplies. San Francisco software innovator Anaplan pays a monthly “work from home wellness stipend,” while food delivery service DoorDash has done deals with local businesses that allow remote employees to order lunch each day on the company.
Joan Burke, chief people officer of San Francisco tech company DocuSign, told The New York Times that working from home is “a great thing for the company and for the employees, who don’t want to get back in cars and commute for two hours. That’s lost productivity. I see it happening way more often in the future.”
With travel restrictions and physical distancing still in place, technology has played a huge role in smoothing the transition for companies and employees faced with a sudden remote work environment. Collaborative tools such as Zoom, Slack and virtual whiteboards have evolved exponentially in the past few months to meet demand. New features, such as a choice of background screen for Zoom video calls, have been a godsend for professionals whose “home office” is actually a desk in their bedroom.
The Best of Both Worlds?
As the Statista survey found, the fluidity of remote work reduces stress and creates a better work-life balance – you can pick up your dry cleaning or coach your kids’ Little League team without feeling judged for leaving the office early. At the same time, we’re social beings by nature; humans are meant to be in a tribe.
One post-pandemic strategy many managers are exploring is a hybrid model. It involves a blended approach that gives people the option to work from home if and when they can, but maintains a communal workplace.
A recent McKinsey & Co report, Reimagining the office and work life after COVID-19, looks at how the crisis has challenged the conventional wisdom that offices are critical to productivity, culture and winning the war for talent: “To maintain productivity, collaboration and learning, and to preserve the corporate culture, the boundaries between being physically in the office and out of the office must collapse.”
Again, Twitter is leading the way. Even with most staff likely to remain off-site, the company plans to retain all its office space, transforming much of it into more collaborative areas. We’re seeing the same trend among our clients. Several are already looking at ways to give employees more flexibility to work from home when they’re not needed in-house.
Some companies will implement a more structured approach, perhaps with a “stay home” mandate on certain days of the week. Others running off-site teams might set up a mini satellite office or a pod happy hour to create a social connection.
Whatever model an organization chooses, it will operate most successfully where employees feel comfortable to “manage up” – whether it’s sharing an idea or a problem – and know their voices will be heard.
Back to the Future
So, will we see a permanent change in what’s been described as a corporate culture of companies building “elaborate temples” for their workers? Previous experience sounds a warning to managers looking to compel a full-scale return to the office. In the past, both Yahoo and IBM have faced a staff backlash after ordering an end to remote work.
Flexibility will be the expectation for most employees moving forward, now they have seen the benefits. There are already reports of top talent stipulating remote work as a condition of employment. The ability to adapt is fast becoming a competitive advantage, as businesses realize it’s more important to recruit the right person with the best skills than settle for a mediocre hire based on geographic proximity.
Ensuring your organization is structured to accommodate this reality – and excel in its implementation – will be critical. The same principles apply whether you’re collaborating with staff working remotely from home, in another state, or from an outsourcing destination offshore.
Accelerance has more than 20 years of experience with optimizing geographically dispersed, remote work teams. It’s part of our DNA as the world’s foremost global software outsourcing authority®.
If you need to build the skills or capacity of your current software engineering team, an Accelerance advisor can help you find the ideal nearshore or offshore partner for your project, more quickly and cost-effectively than you can on your own. We’ve curated the world’s largest network of proven software development providers in more than 40 countries, by personally vetting and certifying the top 1% – minimizing your risk and maximizing the return on your investment.
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