In the years immediately prior to the COVID-19 crisis many were already extolling the virtues of flexible working practices—promoting its many benefits from productivity to well-being, and downplaying the perceived drawbacks. In fact, while office hours were relaxed for some, very little really changed. In 2019 only around 7% of U.S. workers had the option to regularly work from home (according to the 2019 National Compensation Survey
(NCS) from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Now, two years later and counting, things have changed dramatically—a change in working practices that may be irrevocable.
Within a few months the crisis accelerated the digital transformation of organizations in virtually all sectors, acting as a forcing factor, smashing through previous resistance by dint of necessity. Business saw a rapid and mainly successful move to remote working for white-collar workers—by some estimates as many as 70% of employees have been working remotely full-time. This has certainly been good for keeping our economies alive through various lock-downs, but how the world of work will emerge once the pandemic recedes is uncertain.
There are conflicting arguments on the net impact to work/life balance—few will miss their morning commute for instance—but a blurring between the realms of home and work carries risks too. It is hard to overstate the scale of the shift undergone in this period, and the challenge of learning to thrive and not just survive with an increasingly remote and hybrid workforce is rightly at the top of many HR agendas worldwide.
It seems only a matter of time until remote work goes global”
For Georgetown University’s Associate Professor Jason Schloetzer, the globalization of white collar jobs is one of several rising concerns within this agenda, “As companies become accustomed to supporting and integrating remote workers into business processes, and the need for physical presence in the office declines,” he estimates, “it seems only a matter of time until remote work goes global.”
Another key issue that will accelerate onto the horizon is remote work as a gateway to increased automation. Professor Schloetzer explains, “The prominent view of AI in the workplace is that the future of work will require human skills: discernment, judgement, empathy, intuition, creativity, curiosity, ethics, reasoning, and the comprehension of complex interactions among people. However, there has been much less discussion regarding the implications of widespread remote work. What gives me the most hope is that the rise of remote work does not diminish the importance of humanity. Rather, we may now become more aware of what we truly value about being together in the same room.”
Leaving aside the uncomfortable fact that with its new variants COVID has not yet gone away, there is no doubt that remote working is here to stay. The questions then are: to what extent? In which sectors? How much home work vs. office work? And how to best arrange remote working practices to increase team performance and boost employee satisfaction?
The so-called Great Resignation of 2021 suggests there is a need to assess the impact of remote work on employee retention. The impact of remote work on other aspects of corporate culture and the quality of employees' working relationships must also be considered—particularly as it applies to team dynamics and the mentoring and development of new employees.
We were delighted to be joined by Associate Professor Jason Schloetzer, founder of the Future of Work Initiative, at McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University, on Friday 21 January, for a lively exploration of these burning questions in a live, virtual event—including new research around the link between remote work arrangements and employee satisfaction, and you can use this in your own remote work strategies. This is a video recording: