by Chris Dyer
The COVID pandemic brought tragedy and hardship for families and businesses alike. It’s only fair that we should also seek out silver linings in this dark cloud. One of the brightest ones is the major change in attitudes toward the state of remote work. As we look ahead to the post-COVID world, most people recognize that it will be a “new normal.” Company leaders who believe that all their remote employees will happily return to the office may be due for a wakeup call.
You may have heard the old vaudeville song, “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm, After They’ve seen Paree?” It was about American soldiers from rural areas who went to Paris and other big cities in Europe during World War I. And sure enough, there was a large migration from rural to urban areas following the war.1
Flexible Work Is Now A Reality
Similarly, now that our best employees have had a year-long taste of it, the idea of the old 9-to-5 grind within traditional office spaces isn’t too attractive. In fact, a McKinsey & Co. survey found that only 37% of remote workers want to return to a full-time on-site model. A similar study of global workplace analytics prior to the pandemic showed just about the opposite — 62% of people working preferred office-based work.2
Put these remote work statistics in the context of the increasing competitiveness of the job market, and companies that don’t offer remote or hybrid models may lose top talent. Ben Popken, writing on NBCnews.com, says that job vacancies rose to 15 million in March 2021, up from 10 million prior to the pandemic.3 With the economy re-opening, companies will be looking to hire even more employees. Top talent will have more choices than ever on their job search.
Commute Time Is Down And Productivity Is Up
Why would we want to change that? Working remotely gives people control of their time. Think about your typical pre-pandemic day and count up all the minutes you’ve reclaimed by working remotely. Commute time is probably the biggest chunk, but consider not having to shave or put on makeup every day, or deciding what to wear, stopping for a bagel, going out to lunch . . . some people may have reclaimed two hours a day by working remotely. Talk about improving your work-life balance.
When considering the future of remote work, a staunch few maintain that workers will be less productive in a remote teams model, but that group is dwindling. In May 2020, Forbes reported a 47% increase in productivity among remote workers.4 A Pew Research study found in 2021 that “Remote work has been an overwhelming success for both employees and employers.”5
Changing Dynamics Of Trust
Another reason employees may be reluctant to return to the office is trust. Before COVID, the issue of trust focused on whether managers could trust employees to do their work. Now, however, the issue is about whether co-workers will be diligent in following appropriate health and safety protocols.
For example, in April 2021, Monmouth University published the results of a poll indicating that 1 in 5 Americans remain unwilling to get the COVID-19 vaccine.6 Some people are choosing to wait until the vaccines are proven safe, but a significant group states that they will never be vaccinated. Companies can implement precautionary protocols, but taking temperature readings with those now-ubiquitous thermometer guns is not an absolute guarantee that a person isn’t an asymptomatic carrier.
Employees who have weathered the pandemic from the safety and comfort of their home offices may be wondering if their coworkers will wear masks. The Understanding Coronavirus in America tracking survey, managed by USC, indicates that, while a large majority believe mask wearing is effective in the battle against COVID, people are inconsistent about wearing them.7 In a wide variety of high-risk activities, including visiting other people’s homes, shopping in public and gathering in groups of 10 or more, large percentages of people choose NOT to mask up.
Additional concerns include uncovered sneezes, poor handwashing habits, and inadvertent physical contact.
The attractions of remote work (including altogether remote companies), are too strong for it to go away now. Of course, there are some jobs that simply require employees to be on-site.
However, if companies want to keep their top talent, remote work needs to be a prominent part of the new normal — whether it is full-time remote or a hybrid model.
2. Alexander, A. et. al. (2021) What employees are saying about the future of remote work. Available from: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/what-employees-are-saying-about-the-future-of-remote-work#
3. Popken, B. (2021) There are now more jobs available than before the pandemic. So why aren’t people signing up? Available from: https://www.nbcnews.com/business/economy/there-are-now-more-jobs-available-pandemic-so-why-aren-n1263669
4. Westfall, C (2020) New Survey Shows 47% Increase In Productivity: 3 Things You Must Do When Working From Home. Available from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/chriswestfall/2020/05/20/new-survey-shows-47-increase-in-productivity-3-things-you-must-do-when-working-from-home/?sh=c018c5d80dc8
5. PwC (2021) It’s time to reimagine where and how work will get done: PwC’s US Remote Work Survey – January 12, 2021. Available from: https://www.pwc.com/us/en/library/covid-19/us-remote-work-survey.html
6. Monmouth University Poll (2021). National: One In Five Still Shun Vaccine. Available from: https://www.monmouth.edu/polling-institute/documents/monmouthpoll_us_041421.pdf/
7. Key, J. (2021) Half of U.S. adults don’t wear masks when in close contact with non-household members. Available from: https://dornsife.usc.edu/news/stories/3388/understanding-coronavirus-in-america-mask-use-among-us-adults/
Chris Dyer is the founder and CEO of PeopleG2, where he manages 30 full-time remote employees and 3,000 independent contractors. PeopleG2 is routinely ranked as one of the best places to work and has been listed as one of Inc.’s 5000 Fastest-Growing Companies. Having made the transition to remote during the recession in 2009 with stunning success, Chris Dyer is now a world-renowned expert on remote leadership and productive company culture.