Technological advancements over the past decade have made remote working a viable option for many employees, however, some business owners have been slow to embrace the model. Now, they are being forced to speed up. As of mid-March, COVID-19 has demanded many businesses take on some level of a work-from-home model in an effort to keep employees safe while staying afloat financially. Video calls, teleconferencing and mobile chats are becoming the operational norm for the time being. But could they become the new norm post-pandemic as well?
According to The American Psychological Association (APA), prior to COVID-19, only 7 percent of businesses were offering telework options to all or most of its employees. As a result of the pandemic, Global Workplace Analytics is now estimating that as much as 30 percent of America’s workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by 2021, and the number will continue to rise.
As businesses continue to figure out the best ways to manage telecommuting during the crisis, it seems to be more and more likely that when this is all over, the culture of the workplace will be forever changed. Employers that were uncertain about a remote-working model may find that it holds surprising benefits, including less overhead, greater efficiencies and even increased productivity. In addition, many employees are enjoying their newfound freedom with greater flexibility in their schedules and work routines.
At the forefront of our ability to access work from virtually anywhere is the influx of teleconferencing and telework technology. It wasn’t so long ago that Skype was considered revolutionary, yet today there are limitless options when it comes to conference calls and virtual meetings. Businesses new to video conferencing are quickly realizing its benefits, while those who felt technophobic prior to the crisis are coming to terms with a new way of conducting their work. Face-to-face, co-workers can still pick up non-verbal cues and have an easy back-and-forth discussion just as they would have in the office. It seems likely many business owners will continue to utilize the practice, long past the virus.
On top of spending less on office space, most research demonstrates staggering benefits for business leaders who choose to implement telecommuting. Global Workplace Analytics’ Pros and Cons of Remote Workers show a 63 percent decrease in unscheduled absences when employees work from home. Likewise, Business News Daily estimates that those working from home dedicate an extra three weeks of time per year to their companies.
These statistics can be explained in a few ways. When individuals are given goals rather than hours to fill, it seems they often appreciate the trust shown by superiors and want to do their best to meet the goals they are given. Instead of taking off for a sick day, for example, they may still choose to accomplish work from home considering they don’t have to come into the office. On days when they have an appointment or need to drive family members to the airport, they may still complete their work, but it may not be during the eight to five window. In traditional workplace settings, these scenarios often cause a full day’s work to be missed.
According to last year’s Owl Lab’s State Of Remote Work-study, 83 percent of those surveyed said they would be happier if they had the option to work remotely. For those already working from home, this study found that 91 percent of the individuals surveyed cited having a better work/life balance, with 78 percent citing that they appreciate the time and money saved by avoiding their previous commute. It seems those given the flexibility to step away from their computer to fold laundry or go on a walk actually show greater productivity than those confined to a desk for eight hours.
For millennials and younger generations, a post-COVID world of telework will only open up the door to more possibilities. Gallup’s State of The American Workplace Report shares flexibility as one of the highest-ranking benefits by millennials, even surpassing student loan reimbursement. While older generations may have been hesitant to experiment with new technology, those who have grown up with it will be more likely to leverage it to their professional advantage.
COVID-19 is certainly bringing us many challenges, but when it comes to the future of the workplace, it could be pushing us into a more efficient future – a future where business operations cost less, employee satisfaction is higher and productivity is increased. The technology for a new American business model has been waiting for us, and now it’s our opportunity to embrace it. In fact, it may be our only option.
State Rep. Dean Schamore is a business owner and chairman of the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board, which serves Breckinridge, Grayson, Hardin, LaRue, Marion, Meade, Nelson and Washington counties. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.