Back in 2013, then Yahoo CEO and ex-Google wunderkind Marissa Mayer sent out a memo to all remote employees. It read: “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”
The memo called for the sweeping change of forcing remote employees back into the office within three months—or they lose their jobs. What was seen as one of the world’s leading organizations for remote work—and one of the leaders of fantastic work culture—suddenly started raising eyebrows from professionals everywhere. Was this the end of remote work? Are offices truly more productive than working from home?
Several years later, it’s clear that remote work hasn’t gone anywhere—in fact, remote work grew by 44% over the last five years, with 159% growth in the last 12 years. Predictions consistently show an upward trajectory toward more adoption of remote work. Even Yahoo seems to have changed their perspective, ironically releasing this article last year: “Why It Pays to Let Employees Work Remotely.”
The COVID-19 jump-start of remote work
Yet, despite positive remote work trends, many companies are still reluctant to adopt it. Reasons could range from older leadership styles and privacy concerns to issues of trust and productivity. As a result, entire infrastructures and cultures have never been suited to support working outside of the office.
However, businesses stuck in the past learned the hard way in the midst of COVID-19. As organizations around the world closed down their offices, the idea of working from home turned from an idea into a necessity overnight. Organizations implemented technology and processes necessary to keep business operations going, and most have weathered the storm so far.
Combined with several months of enforced remote work, teams that were previously restricted to their offices are growing accustomed to this new style. Employees have adapted their work-from-home setups, found video conferencing best practices, and optimized their schedules to drive productivity. IT teams have also prioritized workloads to support a 100% remote workforce. For many, remote work has become the new normal.
The question is, will this new normal stick? If we’re talking about widespread, ubiquitous work-from-home flexibility, then no. Most employees will eventually start to head back into offices. But the lasting impacts on business’s perceptions of remote work is clear—remote work is an option every organization needs.
Remote work popularity continues to rise
Trends show that despite backward steps from a handful of major organizations (IBM recalled their remote workers in 2017), remote work is inevitably here to stay. A survey by LinkedIn showed that 50% of employees who responded worked from home at least once a week, and 57% want to work from home three days a week or more. Statistics also show that 95% of workers want remote work options.
The technology and processes are both in place, and all evidence indicates that old models of work are becoming outdated. Not a single study suggests that the traditional work schedule of eight hours a day, five days a week in the office maximizes employee productivity. In fact, studies show that in an average eight-hour workday, only three hours are spent productively. The rest? Reading news websites, discussing non-work-related things with coworkers, and perhaps most striking of all, searching for new jobs.
Trends are starting to show favorability towards flexible work and distributed teams. In the Global Talent Trends 2019 Report by LinkedIn, there’s been a 78% increase in job posts that mention work flexibility. At the same time, remote employees show significantly higher levels of job satisfaction, translating to higher levels of retention, happiness, and productivity.
Forward-thinking organizations are starting to realize that, beyond being mandated to close down offices and letting employees work from home, remote work enhances productivity and drives business performance. With the technology, systems, and research in place, the writing is on the wall for the future of remote work.
Communications technology is breaking down cultural barriers around remote work
One obstacle that remains is culture. The desire for more remote work is clearly there, but many organizations around the world still cling to absenteeism. After all, it’s much easier to collaborate when you can walk to a colleague’s desk and start talking, and teammates can simply turn to a colleague to get instant responses.
It’s true that face-to-face interactions can’t be substituted. Many roles thrive on developing close relationships with their colleagues and clients. What better way than in office environments, where chance encounters with coworkers can turn into budding friendships? But if close bonds depend on proper communications, then technology is breaking down those barriers.
Communications tools like team messaging and video conferencing make it easy for employees to be anywhere in the world and still communicate and collaborate with their teams. Video conferencing can even simulate chance encounters by the water cooler that foster closer relationships in offices, while simultaneously allowing employees to work remotely. Now that most organizations have some form of an online communications system, the professional world has opened its eyes to the power of remote work.
Remote work won’t be widespread, but we’ll see a lot more of it
The most successful businesses today realize that in order to be successful, they need to prioritize the employee experience, and that means embracing flexible work. Companies such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon have made flexible work an essential part of their company culture, and as a result, they see high employee retention, high job-satisfaction ratings, and record profits year after year.
Organizations that want to succeed must offer flexible work options wherever possible, and that means changing outdated perceptions of the traditional work schedule. Employers should reward employees based on merit instead of daily attendance and how late one stays in the office. Because in the end, it doesn’t matter if an innovative idea comes from an employee’s desk or her kitchen table. Remote work isn’t about location—it’s about results.
How the new normal will look
As businesses continue to realize the benefits of flexible work—along with millions of businesses forced to adopt remote work technology due to COVID-19—the future of flexible work looks positive. We won’t immediately see a surge in fully remote employees. Rather, in the next few months, we’ll see businesses begin to allow one or two days of remote work per week. As organizations see the surge in productivity, lower levels of employee stress, and better business outcomes, we’ll start to see the proliferation and normalization of remote work.
Your communications and collaboration technology plays a vital role in making remote work a success. Learn more about the RingCentral app and how a unified platform for messaging, video, and phone prepares you for the workplace of tomorrow.
Originally published Apr 25, 2020, updated Sep 10, 2021