There’s little debate that COVID-19 has dramatically and rapidly changed how people work. But rather than a course correction, the pandemic has hastened shifts that were already in progress. When it comes to remote work specifically, there’s a good chance the working world may never fully return to the office.
Take tech companies as the vanguards: companies such as Facebook and Twitter say moving forward, a significant proportion of employees will be allowed to work remotely on a permanent basis. These digital-native businesses aren’t outliers. In a survey of U.S.-based finance leaders, 54% of CFOs say remote work will be a permanent option for employees.
The future of work is flexible
But remote work is not realistic for everyone in every role. From public-facing responsibilities to work that involves specialized equipment, the vast majority of work has some in-person requirements. In fact, only slightly more than a third of all jobs can be performed entirely from home.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Even after the Covid-19 threat is diminished, 55% of employers plan to allow their workforce to work remotely some of the time—say, one day per week. Flexible, hybrid work models can help businesses overcome some of the limitations of remote work while providing key benefits.
But in order to find the best fit, it’s important to first consider the pros and cons of flexible working arrangements.
Pros of flexible work
1. Cost savings for businesses and employees
From the cost of leasing office space to things like gas and parking, coming into the office every day carries a heavy price tag for both employers and employees. Reducing the frequency of in-person work can quickly provide cost savings because it shrinks the amount of space required for offices, and lowers commuting costs and other expenditures. For businesses, the savings of working remotely half the time can net out to $11,000 annually per employee. By not having to spend as much on travel, parking, and food, individual employees can save between $2,500 and $4,000.
2. Increased productivity
Most employees say they have an easy time putting their heads down and focusing when they’re away from the distractions of the office. When asked to rate their experiences working from home during the coronavirus pandemic,72% of employees said they could better manage distractions and interruptions, 80% said they could better focus for extended periods of time, and 80% said they could think in more creative and innovative ways. That’s a boon for productivity—and the bottom line.
3. Flexible work can be a powerful recruiting tool
How do workers feel about flexible work? They overwhelmingly like it—in one survey, 88% of respondents cited part-time or flexible remote work as desirable. This clearly gives companies that offer flexible working arrangements a leg up over their 100% office-based counterparts when it comes to appealing to prospective talent. Furthermore, flexible working arrangements allow businesses to geographically broaden recruitment search criteria. By unshackling job requirements from a need to be close enough to come into the office every day, businesses can find the best talent, rather than being limited by proximity.
4. Employees can do their best work
Not everyone thrives in a 9 to 5 office environment. By allowing employees to work anytime and from anywhere, businesses free employees to perform at their best. Not only does this help companies achieve better results—by better meeting employee needs, businesses can also improve workers’ satisfaction with their jobs, growing loyalty, and reducing turnover.
5. Confidence amid an ongoing pandemic
COVID-19 isn’t over yet—and until it is, concern over the risk of workplace exposure will persist. Nearly six in 10 workers fear becoming infected at work, a Washington Post-Ipsos poll found. Not requiring all employees to come into the office at the same time allows workers to spread out and practice physical distancing, a key recommendation for reducing infections.
Cons of flexible work
1. Teamwork and collaboration can be a challenge
While some types of work thrive in remote work scenarios, others become more challenging. Specifically, tasks that involve a high degree of teamwork and collaboration are easier in office settings, where workers can readily interact and exchange ideas. Implementing tools and processes that foster dynamic communication from anywhere can ease this challenge.
2. Being away from the office can take a toll on engagement
More than half of employees rate their ability to keep aware of what’s going on within their organization, stay on top of team priorities, and perform activities such as coaching and mentoring as worse when working remotely compared to the office. To counter these difficulties, businesses and managers should design a flexible work plan that put careful consideration into maintaining connection and engagement via robust virtual and real-life employee touchpoints.
3. Tools aren’t up to the task
Whether it’s an ability to quickly have a face-to-face chat or secure channels for sharing documents and information, flexible and remote working arrangements require the right technical tools. Slow connections, the need to use multiple tech solutions to perform collaborative tasks, and weak cybersecurity can all erode the results of working from home.
4. Flexible work introduces security risks
Data breaches can be extremely risky for businesses, with the potential to expose sensitive business information, customer data, and trade secrets, as well as to erode public trust. The risk can be heightened for remote work due to the lack of centralized security protocols.
The good news is that flexible and remote working arrangements don’t automatically come hand-in-hand with cybersecurity risk—but mitigation does require careful consideration of the tools in use. Look for solutions that protect your data between all endpoints, employing tactics such as user authentication, firewalls, and encryption.
5. Reduced visibility
Whether teams are unaware of what the others are working on, or a manager who doesn’t know what their employees are up to all day, remote work tends to decrease visibility between workers. This can impact both company and individual performance, creating blind spots and reducing opportunities for deeper levels of collaboration, and even obscuring opportunities for individual recognition and advancement. To counter this risk, businesses and teams must make communication an explicit imperative.
The right tech for flexible work
The hybrid nature of flexible work has the potential to relieve many of the pain points of 100% office-based or 100% remote work. But only if it’s designed right.
Key to optimizing flexible work is the right communications technology—enabling fast, secure exchange of information and collaboration between employees, whenever and wherever they’re working.
With team messaging, video conference, and cloud phone functions, as well as the ability to readily integrate with other business tools flexible teams are already using, RingCentral helps businesses tap into the key benefits of flexible work—while sidestepping the pitfalls of being away from the office.
Originally published Aug 14, 2020, updated Jan 18, 2023