Remote Work – Here to Stay

Now that the pandemic is showing signs of waning and life is beginning to return to normal, we are all eager to see if the workplace will also look like it did pre-pandemic. The answer is becoming increasingly clear – it will not. We are now experiencing the largest change to American living and working practices since the end of World War II.

The case for how well remote work functions has been largely settled. Even as offices stay vacant, the wheels of productivity hum right along. Employees stayed home and learned how to live and work in the same place – and throughout 2021, the profits rolled in.

It is becoming increasingly clear – never again will most office workers spend five-day, 40-hour weeks in physical buildings, full of co-workers.

As COVID fades, its legacy of teaching millions of people how to work from anywhere will last. We are now entering the world’s Virtual Reality era. This new habit of convenience and comfort will be impossible to break for any company that relies on hard-to-find workers. An increasing number of big companies – Nationwide Insurance, Pinterest, Coinbase, Dropbox – have permanently switched to remote-first, closing most or all of their offices.

Some CEOs remain in denial, believing things will return to the old normal. But reality tells us something else.

  • A Pew study has found that 17% of office workers say they are working remotely because they moved away from their office location. The truth of this can be seen in the new boomtowns and tech hubs: Murfreesboro, TN, a suburb of Nashville, has grown 20% during the pandemic.
  • While 75% of executives want to return to the office three or more days per week, only 37% of rank-and-file employees do, according to a new Slack Future Forum report.
  • 11 million jobs are open in America. If a company tries to force people to return to the physical office, that staff will just go look for jobs at companies offering remote work. Those companies offering the remote option have a huge advantage over those requiring a return to the office. According to a survey from the HR consultancy firm Robert Half, 50% of workers would rather quit than be told to return full-time to the office.

There are substantial benefits to a remote workforce. These include more flexibility, less time commuting, and lower real estate and operating costs for companies.

At the same time, there are downsides to remote work, the primary being the negative effect on mentorship and person-to-person interactions that shape a company’s culture. These concerns are most prevalent in investment banks, consulting firms, and sales organizations since mentorship is often tied to advancement. For this reason, giants in this area such as JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs are planning to return to the office in the coming weeks. However, many companies have put their return-to-work plans on hold based on resistance from staff. These include Google, Microsoft, and Apple. In January 2022 Google showed that it is all-in on a return to the office when it announced that it was spending $1 billion to buy the office space it uses in London – just down the road from where it is already building a massive new headquarters.

The rise of the hybrid workweek is a matter of market realities. In a labor market where workers are leaving jobs at record rates – the “Great Resignation” – executives are being forced to listen to employee calls for flexibility and challenge their own ideas about what can be done outside the traditional workspace.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the days of the 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday workweek are a thing of the past. In the fourth quarter of 2021, 3 million professional jobs went permanently remote. At the end of 2021, 18% of all professional jobs were remote and that number may approach 25% by the end of 2022.

While the jury is still out on productivity when working remotely, early studies show that it actually increases. A study by Stanford University of 16,000 workers over nine months found that working from home increased productivity by 13%. This increase in performance was due to more calls per minute attributed to a quieter more convenient working environment and working more minutes per shift because of fewer breaks and sick days.

ConnectSolutions is a private-cloud solutions provider for Adobe Connect and Microsoft Lync. They released a study titled, The Remote Collaborative Worker Survey way back in 2015. In this survey, 77% of those who worked remotely at least a few times per month showed an increase in productivity, with 30% doing more work in less time and 24% doing more work in the same period of time.

Ultimately, a “hybrid” work model may be the solution for many companies. A hybrid workforce consists of employees who work remotely and those who work in an office or central location. Workers decide where they are most productive – or choose a combination of both – based on their preferences. In a hybrid work situation, some employees work remotely on a full-time basis, while other employees work only in the office. Finally, some employees will work at home for two or three days per week and work in the office for the remaining days of the workweek. This helps offset the need for mentoring and human interaction.

As I noted in an article that was posted in January 2021, work patterns will never be the same again, and long-term planning and preparation is a key. The hybrid work model, in particular, appears to hold great promise for the multifamily housing industry, and owners who adjust to this reality will be ahead of the curve when it comes to attracting and hiring high-quality staff.