Since the paradigm-shifting COVID-19 pandemic reached North America in March 2020, workers have had to scramble to adjust to new public health regulations and workspace situations. Many were forced to cobble together makeshift home offices and quickly master the art of Zoom meeting protocol. With vaccines slowly being distributed, many employers must now decide if the future of their companies will remain remote or not.
Some types of work can clearly sustain a remote model (customer support, computer programming, among others) but some cannot (healthcare, manufacturing, and other hands-on work). A recent report by McKinsey found that “although some tasks can be done remotely in a crisis, they are much more effectively done in person,” such as teaching, negotiating, and collaborating.
Several high-tech companies, like Coinbase, Upwork, and Shopify, have already made the permanent switch to remote work with the option for employees to come into office if they want or need to. Some businesses already had a workforce that was mainly remote, basically remaining unaffected by the pandemic. These companies appear to have an easy decision to make but other factors also must be considered.
Physical, emotional, and mental health suffers when people don’t have active social interaction or separation of home and work environments. In the echo chamber of isolation, people’s bad habits can get worse (although good habits can also be maintained), when they have no supervisors or colleagues to keep an eye on them, for better or worse. Many workers have also complained about suffering burnout as the time saved from commuting to the office or to meetings has turned into the assumption of around-the-clock availability.
Certainly, technology, products, and habits have developed quickly as people adapt to new working situations. Zoom quickly faced competition from Facebook and Google as the latter companies updated their video-conference-calling services. Productivity apps and wellness apps also dominated the market. Headspace, the meditation app, has been so successful that it got the chance to produce a series with Netflix.
However, there is still a limit to what technology can do, and it is still not the same as being in an office. Moreover, not everyone has the same access to the technology that is needed for remote work (i.e., high-speed internet, dedicated laptops, etc.), but there is more access within an office. What a company may save in cutting out the cost of rent and resources, they may lose in reducing employee productivity and morale.
The answer to the question “to remote or not?” seems to lie somewhere in the middle. A 2020 survey by BCG found that “companies expect about 40 per cent of their employees to follow a remote-working model in the future.” Employers must decide for themselves what kind of model best fits their specific working environment, likely developing a hybrid version for different employees and the types of tasks that need to be performed. Flexibility and adaptability will be key!
Rose Ho | Staff Writer