As I digested the latest data from Global Workforce Analytics and McKinsey & Company, the post-COVID WFH or WFA (Work From Home or Work From Anywhere) surveys and statistics are starting to become clearer.
The genie is out of the bottle, and it’s not likely to go back in. The demand for flexibility in where and how people work has been building for decades. Before the pandemic, surveys repeatedly showed 80% of employees want to work from home at least some of the time. Over a third would take a pay cut in exchange for the option. While the experience of working at home during the pandemic may not have been ideal as whole families sheltered in place, it has given people a taste of what could be. The longer people are required to work at home, the greater the adoption we will see when the dust settles.
While specific industries will have client/customer contact positions where employees need to be in the workplace, even those industries are investing in technology to serve their constituents remotely.
Imagine a hospital with a nursing and support staff. We still need care, but telehealth that was on the rise pervious to the pandemic has exploded into fully-compliant and private video conference appointments. Many of the phone calling, scheduling, pre-screening, diagnosing, follow ups, etc. can be done remotely.
When we think of these sectors that have to be customer-facing and then the ones that are not, new statistics show that 56% of the workforce in the U.S. holds a job that is compatible with remote work.
Prior to the pandemic, 43% of the workforce did work from home some of the time, but only 3.6% worked from home half-time or more.
The slide will be in that group that will now continue to work one or more days a week from home. That number is expected to grow to a rate that could hit 30%.
All in all, that number of 3.6% working remotely half-time or more is expected to rise to and could go as high as 25% all in a two-year period.
Reduced Concerns About Trust and Productivity
For me, two words have always defined how executives and managers have thought about remote work – Trust and Culture.
One of the biggest holdbacks of remote work is trust. For decades, the fall back argument was that managers simply didn’t trust their people to be as productive when working untethered.
But most managers now know the answer to, “How will I know they are working and working hard?” They also have had to work from home themselves and found ways to be productive, so a greater empathy and understanding has evolved throughout the pandemic.
This is also a reason for the rapid change in the numbers presented above. Yes, competition, retention, and need are the biggest drivers; but the changing mindset will aid greatly when the masks come off, but workers don’t come back.
Management experts have been preaching the need to manage by results for decades. Those who were old-school “micromanagers” and managed by “butts in seats” and walking around entered foreign land in 2020 with their subjects leaving their kingdom. They are the exact type of manager that employees who perform well without non-results-oriented tactics will either not return to or simply go someplace else to avoid returning to, now that they have tasted life without micromanagement and know that they have the drive and integrity to perform and get results without it.
Many companies may have to look at management changes as what “worked” prior to COVID-19 may be the thing that leads to an exodus of employees that were getting results from home and simply don’t want to “go back in time” to the unwanted stress and anxiety of micromanagement that had nothing to do with their results.
Now there is that thing called culture. For decades we have championed retention and employee satisfaction and engagement on the critical component of culture.
In fact, millennials and those younger surveyed prior to the pandemic listed corporate culture and why a company was in business higher than compensation. They wanted a progressive, green, culturally diverse environment that they could feel driven by.
Executive boardrooms moved to bringing culture to the forefront in the last two decades. Their widget factory would beat the other widget factory by having more fun in the workplace, a more diverse workplace, teambuilding events during and outside of work, and they would regularly survey their employees so that all would share what a great place their widget factory was to work.
Once the pandemic arrived and workplace culture went virtual with workers, companies have struggled to connect with employees like they did before. And there is truth that an employee working from home for one widget company could just as easily be doing work for another widget company if a culture adaptation is not achieved.
While there is much more that could be discussed regarding culture, sticking to the topic of a permanent shift and increase in remote work will continue to force companies to find ways to stay connected to employees to have them feel appreciated again working for a company with a positive mission that is still investing in them and their development even if it is from afar.
And, from a sustainability perspective, we have seen a dramatic reduction in traffic, congestion, and pollution. While sustainability had not been a primary driver of remote work prior to the pandemic, being able to actually see the difference it can make is flipping the switch for employees. And it is the same for employers – especially when they see the reduction in expenses and opportunity costs that go along with feeling better about a better environment.
There is Cost Savings (Or Increases in Bringing Staff Back)
Over the past several years, the primary driver of work-at-home programs has been the attraction and retention of talent, but during the last recession, it was largely about saving money. Organizational leaders, desperate to shed costs, found they could do more with less real estate. Since that time, occupancy studies have shown just how inefficiently office space was being used. Now consider a further dramatic shift in employees not at their workstation – as much as 60% on a day-to-day basis after the pandemic.
Executives continue to rethink the need for travel to meetings, conferences, etc. They have the experience to determine that while virtual meetings may not have all the same benefits of being face-to-face, the savings may outweigh the costs and reduce the number of in-person meetings.
Global Workplace Analytics shows that a typical employer can save about $11,000/year for every person who works remotely half of the time. Employees can save between $2,500 and $4,000 a year (working remotely half the time) and even more if they are able to move to a less expensive area and work remotely full time.
This will be part of the equation that each company has to navigate until they develop a new equation – how much culture is sacrificed for retention and cost savings. The better companies will create a new equation that has columns of data to ensure an acceptable score for these metrics.
So, this article was not a pitch or have anything really to do with River Run and IT network and cybersecurity managed services. But, with more and more employees not returning, how you protect them and your data is more important than ever before while maintaining and increasing productivity. Seeing technology and cybersecurity as investment is an important part in the permanent shift to a larger remote workforce.
Our executive team and I are more than happy to meet for a cup of coffee or stop by to discuss your overall strategy for remote work and if interested, how you will plan your technology needs around your strategy.
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