Covid-19 has rapidly accelerated the future of work. Before the pandemic, a few million people chose to work remotely. Now most of the world is forced to work remotely due to social distancing and imposed lockdowns.
Remote work is the future of the global workplace. In this article we discuss the future of (remote) work and some of the very few positives to come out from the terrible Covid-19 pandemic. Hundreds of millions of people are now working remotely from home and that is the future.
Coronavirus will change how we work. It will make us more productive, more efficient, and far more focused on outcomes, instead of time. This article should help implement best practices for employers who are suddenly working remotely, so this can be an opportunity rather than a challenge.
Many businesses are struggling with the pace of change and how they can adapt now. In this article there are also tips and discussions to aid this transformation, helping businesses to future-proof processes for the remote workplace of the future.
Covid-19 Has Accelerated the Future of Work
The Covid-19 pandemic has not changed how we will work in the future. It’s just pressed the fast forward button. The gradual shift to remote working was expected to take 20 years. It’s taken less than 20 days in March 2020. Studies show that in 2019 around 5 – 7 million people were working 100% remotely, including at home. Today’s figure is in the region of 500 – 700 million.
What has changed to work during the Covid-19 pandemic?
March 2020 has seen the biggest change to the global workplace since WWII. Employers and employees are quickly waking up to the benefits and pitfalls of remote work.
- Hundreds of millions of people have been instructed to work from home, due to social distancing regulations.
- There has been a massive global surge in unemployment – the unemployed can currently only gain employment through remote work.
- Employers have been forced to establish work from home policy procedures, to manage their workforce.
- Businesses need to cut their costs, in response to a fall in revenue and an impending recession.
What will be the future of work after the Covid-19 pandemic?
It’s impossible to imagine that the workforce will return to its former state. These changes were already happening. They’ve been accelerating since 2015 when millennials and generation Z become the majority of the workforce. In 2018, Forbes predicted that 50% of the US workforce would soon be remote.
The January 2020 World Economic Forum placed an emphasis on how workplaces can be more flexible and decentralised. One of the sessions specifically asked how can businesses challenge themselves to disrupt traditional practices.
Recent studies suggest that remote work will compete with traditional office settings by 2025. In fact, some experts argue that many business owners in the post-pandemic era will embrace a reformed idea of work. This means that many businesses will be run entirely or partially remotely by distributed teams.
The pandemic simply means the future is remote and it’s happening now.
- More people will want to work from home, at least part of the time, because of its various benefits.
- Established procedures will make it more difficult for employers to reject requests to work from home.
- More businesses will hire remotely and there will be a huge increase in the volume of remote jobs.
- Many businesses will switch to a 100% remote workforce, partially because it’s cheaper and saves huge amounts on office space.
This is Why the Future of Work is Remote
Remote work has been growing steadily at 10% a year. But it’s estimated that 62% of worldwide full-time employees can perform their job remotely, a staggering 2 billion people. So why did less than 10 million work remotely before the coronavirus pandemic?
The quintessential perception is that if you work from home, you don’t do any work. Or you don’t do as much work. Even worse, you may have fun while working, or be looking after the kids, or be doing a million things other than work. Most companies have been very resistant to remote work, because of these perceptions. Fortunately, these stereotypes are rapidly being debunked and deconstructed, as everyone discovers that remote workers are more productive than those in an office.
The most change-resistant businesses are the least likely to survive. Yet some billion-dollar companies are unaffected by the pandemic. For example, InVision and Automattic already have a 100% remote workforce. Others, such as Google and Apple, have clearly established remote working procedures. The rest are already playing catch up to those that future-proofed their operations.
The Individual Benefits of Remote Work
The Covid-19 pandemic has created massive change for life and work. So it can be hard to identify the benefits of remote working. Hundreds of millions of people are forced to stay at home – many of them would love to work at the office, just for a change of scenery. But right now, remote work is just about the only work. And in the future, it’s the best work to have. The benefits for employees?
- A better and more flexible work-life balance.
- Less or no time spent commuting.
- More autonomy.
- Instant access to global employment opportunities.
- Increased productivity and higher performance.
- Reduced stress and a way of working that promotes employee well-being.
The Business Benefits of Remote Work
Crucially, remote work creates a shift from input to output. Employment isn’t about the exact number of hours worked (input), but the end product and what is actually achieved. Increased employee productivity and performance is a proven benefit, along with:
- Improved employee retention.
- Access to a wider talent pool.
- Lower costs, especially office overheads.
- Reduced salaries.
- Better use of technology.
- More competitive in recruiting the top talent.
How Can Individuals Prepare for the Future of Work
5 – 7 million remote workers have long established personal procedures. The Covid-19 pandemic means hundreds of millions need to suddenly change how they work. Differences between working in an office and working from home are not that enormous. They just require a subtle shift in focus and here are five core focal points.
1. Find Your Optimal Working Pattern
Work remotely and there are less interruptions. You won’t take a break to make a drink and chat to colleagues. There’s no staff room to eat lunch. The regular rhythms disappear, so it’s easy to fall into a trap of sitting behind a desk from morning to early evening. There can be a tendency to prove you’re working, forgoing the flexibility benefits of remote work.
Most remote workers spend more time working than their office-based counterparts, because they no longer waste time. But you need to be realistic about taking breaks and finding the best working pattern. Everyone is more productive at a different time of day and with different schedules.
So experiment. Take the dog for a one-hour walk at lunchtime (if social distancing rules allow). Switch up when you do independent, stimulating work, and when you perform more mundane tasks. Work from different places in your home. Drift away from the fixed routine and find what’s best for your productivity.
2. Stay Professional, Especially in Video Meetings
Video meetings are the norm when you work remotely. They are more efficient than office meetings, except it’s easy to be distracted. The number one rule is to turn on your video camera and dress professionally. Working from home doesn’t mean a business meeting in your dressing gown. Concentrate your attention on the meeting and don’t be distracted, especially not by website browsing.
3. Create a Boundary Between Life and Work
Work from home and it’s easy for your home to become work. For office-based work you eat breakfast, commute, arrive in the office and check your emails. Work from home and you start reading your emails over breakfast.
Soon there is no definitive line between work and life. You’re replying to emails at 10pm, then responding to work messages on your phone while in bed. Work remotely and you will be more connected. So it’s essential you switch off. Decide when you are working and stick to it. Power down and switch off, including your phone.
It helps if you can work from a separate office as you can close the door on work. If you can’t, resist the temptation to power up your computer after the work day has ended.
4. Stay Visible When at Work
Sometimes it’s terrible to be visible in an office, like when you’re hungover or really haven’t done what you needed to do. It’s easy to hide when you work remotely and this is the number one thing employers are concerned about. You don’t need a webcam showing your desk, but there are simple and effective ways to stay remotely visible.
- Be very responsive to messages, especially questions, whether it’s on Slack or on a collaborative document.
- Communicate what you working on and schedule regular updates to your team and boss.
- Foster remote conversations with colleagues, just like you would do in an office.
5. Prioritise Clear Communication and Document What You Do
Remote work relies on smart communication and you can no longer share conversations with colleagues over the coffee machine. Nor can you delay important communication as you are waiting for a colleague to arrive in the office. So it’s easy for work to become misunderstood, or not communicated.
It’s important to document more than normal. Now you don’t share little pieces of information in the office, you need to record what you have done, so anybody else can pick it up later. Remember to share how you feel, including what is going well and where you are having challenges.
Smarter communication also means collaborating virtually, like a Miro virtual whiteboard and working on documents in real time with Google docs.
How Can Employers Prepare for Remote Work
It’s very easy for any business to claim their employees do less work at home. Yet most employees will do less work during the coronavirus pandemic, because there is less work to do.
Maybe their normal tasks are no longer needed, or simply don’t make sense in the changing environment. The actual work is going to change for everyone. And if that is not communicated correctly, of course people will work less during the pandemic, whether in an office or at home.
But here is a crazy statistic for all employers to take careful note of. Before the pandemic, 9 out of 10 remote workers said they planned to work remotely for the entirety of their career. Employers need to plan for after the Covid-19 pandemic. They need a plan that will future-proof them against the next virus as well. That plan starts with three essential elements.
Communication will define whether a remote team can thrive. You need a clear communication tool for day-to-day interaction. Most remote teams use Slack. You will also need a defined tool for video meetings, such as Zoom.
How often you communicate is just as important. And as you shift to remote working, online collaboration becomes a necessity. With Google docs and so many technology solutions in the cloud, it’s easy for remote workers to collaborate on the same document in real time.
With remote teams it’s easy for tasks to get lost in translation. Defining clear responsibilities is essential, on a day to day basis. Write them down, define accountability, and ensure there is a channel for clearing up confusion.
There is no standard procedure for remote teams, just like there is no standard working procedure for every office-based team. In the office you know the procedure – it’s just what everybody does. That’s not the case for a remote team. So it’s essential that work procedures are properly documented at all times.
The number one reason employers give for refusing a remote work request is a lack of remote work policy. Policy is the formal procedure that ensures everybody works from home works in the same way. It’s beyond teams and projects and applies to every employee. Here are some elements every remote work policy should include:
- Absence and vacation time
- Availability and working hours
- Expenses for work equipment, e.g. a laptop
- Data security
- Time tracking
- Dress code
The Future of Work After Covid-19 Means More Remote Jobs
500 – 700 million people are currently working from home. Forbes predicts more than 2 billion people will soon be working from home, and that was before the Covid-19 pandemic. As employers establish procedures and employees realise the benefits, there is going to be a massive surge in remote jobs and people working from anywhere.
Working remotely is the future of work and it’s happening now. Search Remotely is a platform connecting job seekers with remote jobs all around the world. It also lists online courses that help individuals learn the in-demand skills for a globally remote workforce. It’s the platform that will set you up for the future of work.