During the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of businesses and individuals were forced to adopt remote work and hybrid work policies. But now that the pandemic is over, the majority of these businesses and individuals aren’t interested in going back to the office.
Why is this the case? And what does this new normal mean for the future of work?
Remote work didn’t start with the COVID-19 pandemic. By the mid-2010s, hundreds of forward-thinking businesses had already adopted a remote or hybrid model. Most remote positions were focused on exclusively digital work, such as graphic design, content creation, or web development, but we saw a slow transition into remote work for other roles, such as customer service and HR management as well.
Startup entrepreneurs and CEOs saw this as an opportunity to differentiate themselves, saving money on offices while simultaneously appearing as thought leaders. Far from being a new normal, this was typically, in equal measure, a practical move and a gimmick for garnering attention and respect.
The COVID-19 Pandemic
During the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work evolved from a rare luxury to a widespread, arguably necessary phenomenon. Due to state-level mandates, cultural pressure, or both, businesses were forced to cease in-person operations – which meant that remote work was the only alternative to no work.
Just a few months into the pandemic, we began to see the rise of coworking spaces – most of which are still thriving today – and the development of new tools to facilitate remote collaboration.
Suddenly, people were beginning to realize just how feasible remote work could be.
Realizing the Benefits
In the months that followed, business owners and data analysts started to realize just how beneficial remote and hybrid work models could be.
- Productivity. Working from home increases productivity by an average of 13 percent. There are many possible explanations for this effect. It could be that people are more comfortable in home environments, and less likely to be distracted, so they can get more done in a given day. It could also be that remote workers feel pressure to prove themselves to their supervisors and managers, so they’re incentivized to work harder and keep this benefit.
- Office costs. If you can continue working productively without an office, or with a downsized office, you can dramatically reduce operating expenses.
- Talent pool. If you’re forced to hire someone within a 30-mile radius of your central workplace, your talent pool is severely limited. But if you’re willing to hire remote workers, you can hire people from all over the world. This means you can gain access to better talent, better fits, and more options overall.
- Flexibility and availability. Employees and employers both benefit from increased flexibility and availability. When there is no physical office for congregation and most communications occur over email and project management platforms, timing isn’t as critical. People can also skip the commute, leading to more free time and a more relaxed, pleasant schedule.
- Employee satisfaction and retention. While there are certainly some people who still prefer working in an office, most employees are much happier and more satisfied in a remote or hybrid environment. Assuming the work culture is also positive, this can lead to increased rates of employee retention.
Refusing to Go Back
Most remote workers don’t want to go back to the office – and it’s not hard to understand why. Employers who ask their remote working employees to come back to the office are asking them to spend an hour or more every day commuting to a less comfortable, less flexible environment. And there are so many remote work jobs available that most employees have plenty of non-office options.
Some employers have addressed this by offering incentives to employees who come back to the office, but not all remote workers are so easily persuaded. After months or years of working from home, it’s hard to make a persuasive case for why office work is necessary.
The Future of Work
So what is the future of work? Are remote and hybrid work going to remain the new normal indefinitely? Or are we going to eventually see a move back to the office?
It’s hard to say for sure, but assuming a job can be adequately done remotely, the benefits of doing it remotely far exceed any benefits that might come with working in an office environment. There will always be both businesses and individuals who strongly prefer working together in a physical environment, but even now, those numbers are starting to dwindle.
Working from home evolved from being an aberrant novelty to a normal, expected feature of modern business. And until something truly disruptive happens, it’s likely to stay that way.