Why Remote Work Works — and Is Here to Stay
More than half of the US workforce whose jobs can be accomplished outside the office report working remotely all or at least the majority of the time, according to the Pew Research Center. This corresponds with a 2021 report from Quantum Workplace that shows that 89 percent of employees say they want an environment that offers hybrid or remote work arrangements.
There's been a lot of debate surrounding the return to the office in the post-pandemic world. Many believe that remote work is the way of the future. Others say it's not sustainable. Some business leaders have expressed an interest in bringing remote workers back — while others already have. Some of those companies have been publicly criticized for being tone-deaf and ignoring how the world has changed since COVID-19.
In a tight labor market especially, shrugging off workforce demands and shifts in dynamics can have devastating consequences. The Great Resignation is in part a response by employees whose employers long turned a blind eye to their personal lives, insisting on having them in the office eight hours a day, five days a week — often doing tasks that did not bring fulfillment.
Employers that did not heed the warning signs ended up on the losing end of that movement. Organizations that insist on returning to the old way of working today stand to experience the same response. Understanding what employees want and why will be critical to ensuring organizations set out the best policies for their circumstances and their employees.
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Remote Work Is One Answer to the 'Great Reshuffle'
Research has shown that since early 2021, employees haven't been exiting the labor market altogether. They simply chose to resign from an unsatisfactory job or environment. In other words, employees are leaving for better opportunities. Hence, the increased adoption of the term Great Reshuffle instead of Great Resignation.
That trend isn't expected to ease anytime soon, either. CNBC reported on March 22 that 44 percent of employees are “job seekers,” according to Willis Towers Watson’s 2022 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey. This means despite having employment, they are keeping their options open.
With work opportunities now spanning across geographical borders, employees are very much in control. They seek employers that value them as individuals. This includes adequate compensation as well as a flexible workplace both in scheduling and location.
"As the economy and job market bounce back, the changing work setup along with a surge in demand for candidates has helped create a perfect storm for job seekers,” said James Neave, head of data science at job search engine Adzuna, noting their platform advertised 8.65 million job vacancies in February 2022. “This is leading to higher wages, hybrid and remote roles becoming more normal, counteroffers to employees looking to leave, and questions around how to engage and retain employees with quit rates at an all-time high."
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Remote Work Enhanced Productivity
Concerns over declining productivity when workers are remote proved inaccurate during the pandemic. A report from Great Place to Work Institute measured employee productivity from March to August 2020 — the first six months of lockdowns — and compared it to the same six-month period the previous year. Results revealed that productivity actually improved while working remotely.
Neave said increased levels of burnout and dissatisfaction are what leads to declining levels of effort and performance among staff. The desire for flexibility and remote or hybrid work is a strong driver for those seeking a new employer, and organizations that are paying attention stand to have a winning edge.
Searches for remote jobs have more than doubled year on year, but advertised vacancies for remote jobs are just 5 percent of total openings, or approximately 500,000, Neave reported.
“Employee quits won’t get better this year, and empowering people to choose when and where they work is critical to being able to stand out as an employer right now," he said.
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Remote Work Supports Diversity and Employee Engagement
Employers also stand to benefit greatly from a remote workplace. To unlock the opportunities organizations need to do more than enable remote work for their current workers. They need to adapt their own processes and practices, particularly across three key areas:
The remote workplace is beneficial for businesses because it's transformed the way companies can find and hire talent, said Carlos Castelán, managing director of consulting firm The Navio Group.
“Now, the playing field has no limits," he said. "Before the pandemic, most companies had to hire people who lived close to the office. Hiring employees was location-based, not talent-based. That’s changed."
Diversity can also be increased by expanding the talent search beyond local borders. "Companies should consider recruiting beyond their office locales to open up their candidate pools and attract more diverse candidates," said Anita Lim-Fritz, senior director of people and talent at AI firm Mythic. "Outside of major metropolitan areas, there are tons of incredible candidates that have been traditionally overlooked by the technology industry."
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"The same is true for recruiting at the executive or even board level, with new CEOs joining companies or boards from across the country — something that wasn’t even possible a few years ago but is now the ‘norm’ due to the technology and collaboration platforms available today,” said Paroon Chadha, CEO and co-founder at OnBoard. "By recognizing opportunity, companies can create more flexibility for new talent and strengthen their work culture, from entry-level employees all the way up to the boardroom."
Productivity and Engagement
Job van der Voort, co-founder and CEO of Remote, said productivity and retention can also be improved with a remote workforce.
"With remote work, employers show trust in employees and acknowledge they have fulfilling lives outside the workplace," he said. "Employees that are encouraged to have their own lives are happier, which improves company culture and increases productivity and retention."
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Remote Is Appealing to the Next Gen Workforce
A March 2022 survey from Yoh on workplace preferences revealed that the majority of employees prefer to stick with their current working environment. In other words, those working remotely full time said they prefer to stay remote; those in hybrid working environments prefer the flexibility of in-person and remote work; and those who work in-person full time said they prefer to remain in an in-person setting.
More specifically, among those who currently work remotely all of the time, 62 percent said they wish to remain fully remote, 32 percent prefer to switch to a hybrid environment, and 6 percent expressed a desire to work in the office full-time.
A report from BankRate shows that men and women shared similar desires for remote work. Looking at age differences, however, the study found greater swings. Approximately 32 percent of Gen Z requested more flexibility at work within the past 12 months, compared to 24 percent of millennials, 13 percent of Gen X and 12 percent of Baby Boomers.
It should be pointed out that some industries are better suited than others for remote work, and there is a chance that younger generations have jobs within sectors that are better suited to that model — tech being one example.
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New Communication and Connection Roles Support Remote Work
Sara Cooper, chief people officer at Jobber, said perhaps the greatest challenge with remote work is helping employees form connections with colleagues and leaders.
"Companies need to be concerned about connection because it directly impacts engagement, performance and retention. As a result, the creation of employee experience/engagement roles will rapidly grow in popularity, even among companies that have so far been resistant to the idea,” she said.
“The role itself will also become more structured and standardized across the HR industry as best practices are established from early adopters."
Organizations and employees alike can benefit greatly from the growth of remote work. Greater employee satisfaction, increased productivity, higher levels of retention, enhanced diversity and a stronger culture are all outcomes of a flexible workplace that nurtures engagement and loyalty. The key for organizations is implementing the most suitable structure for the success of their mission.
About the Author
Scott Clark is a seasoned journalist based in Columbus, Ohio, who has made a name for himself covering the ever-evolving landscape of customer experience, marketing and technology. He has over 20 years of experience covering Information Technology and 27 years as a web developer. His coverage ranges across customer experience, AI, social media marketing, voice of customer, diversity & inclusion and more. Scott is a strong advocate for customer experience and corporate responsibility, bringing together statistics, facts, and insights from leading thought leaders to provide informative and thought-provoking articles.