In early March, Twitter and Facebook were among the first companies to close down offices and send staff to work from home—even before government agencies issued lockdown orders to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Just two months later, the two social media giants declared that most employees will one day be able to telecommute permanently.
Large organizations continue to extend their work-from-home policies. In many cases, they’re even making remote work a permanent fixture. Google, for example, initially told employees to work from home until June. Then it extended the policy through the end of 2020. Most recently, the search giant announced that workers could telecommute until July 2021.
It’s not just Silicon Valley tech companies. Most employees for investment banks like Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan are still working from home. Entertainment company ViacomCBS and music labels such as Universal Music Group, Sony Music Group, and Warner Music Group have told workers to work remotely through the end of 2020.
Now that we’re about half a year into the remote work experiment, many employers have determined that the advantages of letting employees work from home outweigh the negatives, according to NPR.
That begs the question: is remote work here to stay in corporate America?
Most employees want to work from home
Studies show that 43% of those who previously commuted to work telecommuted during the height of the pandemic—and they enjoyed it. Remote workers say they are more productive and have better work-life balance since they don’t have to commute and can work a more flexible schedule. In fact, workers also report significantly higher levels of engagement when they work from home.
When the global health crisis is over, most employees still want the option to work from home at least part of the time. According to a survey by PwC, nearly three-quarters of employees (72%) said they’d like to telecommute at least twice a week after the pandemic is over, while nearly one-third (32%) want to work from home full time.
In a survey of 9,059 workers, 48% work from home during the pandemic and have a Workforce Happiness Index score of 75 out of 100, which is four points higher than employees who still have to go into their offices, according to a May report by CNBC and SurveyMonkey. Remote workers are also more satisfied with their jobs: 57% of telecommuters say they are very satisfied versus 50% of non-remote workers who say they are very satisfied.
Companies want more remote work, too
As COVID-19 lingers, many are planning on making remote work permanent. The reasons are two-fold. In the short term, extending work from home keeps both employees and the company safe from safety-related events. In the long term, the flexibility of remote work breeds higher employee satisfaction and engagement, leading to significantly higher performance and retention.
In June, 54% of finance leaders support making remote work permanent for positions that allow for it, up from 43% in PwC’s CFO March survey. In a different study, the numbers were higher: 74% of CFOs surveyed by Gartner said at least some of their employees will be allowed to permanently work from home after the pandemic ends.
Not every employee can work from home
While remote work is something both leaders and employees want, it’s not an option to most. Only 37% of jobs can be done from home, according to two University of Chicago economists.
And for employees who can work remotely, 68% still want at least some access to the office. Of those, 8% want to work full time in the office and 60% want to take a hybrid approach and be in the office one to four times a week, according to PwC’s remote work survey.
The top reason people say they want to go into the office (50% of survey respondents) is to collaborate with other team members. Difficulty collaborating is also a major reason people give for being unproductive while working from home (39%). They miss face-to-face interactions.
Others are simply more productive in the office because they have too many distractions at home. PwC found that 38% of remote workers feel balancing work with home duties, such as childcare, made them unproductive while working from home.
Coronavirus reshapes remote and office work
When the health crisis is over, employees for some companies will return to their offices full time. Some companies will transition to 100% remote work. But most will likely take a hybrid approach, where employees work at home half the time and in the office half the time.
A permanent, flexible workweek has broad support among both executives and office workers, according to PwC’s latest remote work survey. While 83% of office employees want to work from home at least one day a week, more than half of employers (55%) anticipate that most of their workers will do so post-pandemic, the survey found.
For example, insurance company Nationwide is moving to a hybrid model. When the pandemic began, the company allowed 98% of its 27,000 employees to work from home and discovered that employee performance did not suffer.
As a result, Nationwide executives have announced plans to reduce 20 physical offices down to four main corporate offices, which will help the company save money. Employees in the closed down locations will work from home permanently, while employees at the four remaining offices can split time between home and office, according to a Fortune magazine article.
Preparing for the remote-first future
Remote work has earned a permanent spot in the corporate world, and as we recover from the pandemic, more and more people will work from home partially or fully. That’s because not only is remote work better for safety purposes, but also fosters higher engagement and job satisfaction. Apprehensions around productivity have either been quelled or diminished, and it’s ready to usher in a new era of work.
At the same time, it’s also clear that many workers can’t work remotely. From restaurant staff to hardware engineers, many industries will return to normal after the pandemic. At least for now, most offices won’t go anywhere—but that can change in the near future.
Companies planning to expand remote work opportunities will need the right tools to maximize productivity amongst remote teams. While office workers can simply walk to a colleague’s desk to collaborate, remote teams don’t have the same convenience. It’s up to a company’s tools to facilitate communication and collaboration.
Unified communications solutions like the RingCentral App bundles team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone into a single platform in the cloud, allowing employees to access all of their communications from anywhere, on any device, and at any time. Employees can easily switch from messaging to voice or video calls with a single click, keeping collaboration as effortless as possible to start.
Learn more about unified communications in our post, “5 Advantages of Unified Communications in the Post-COVID Workplace.”
Also see why offices in city centers are eroding in the post, “Office Work Is Simply Unsustainable. Here’s Why.”
Originally published Aug 10, 2020, updated Jan 28, 2021