If there’s been one important business trend that has emerged during the pandemic, it’s Working From Home. Once just the luxury of jet setting executives with plush home offices, remote work has become a reality for millions of workers around the world across a multitude of sectors. For some people it was a necessary evil of the pandemic and for others it’s been a true highlight of an otherwise difficult period.
What is remote work?
Before we go any farther let’s define remote work. Remote work (or WFH) means that instead of traveling back and forth to a central office everyday, workers perform their daily tasks at home or at the location of their choice. Remote work can be 100% location independent or a mixed model where workers shift between working in the office and working from home. Depending on the sector, this can be easier or more difficult to organize.
Sector dependent According to a report published by McKinsey “The computer-based office work arena includes offices of all sizes and administrative workspaces in hospitals, courts, and factories… This is the largest arena in advanced economies, accounting for roughly one-third of employment. Nearly all potential remote work is within this arena.” For many office workers, remote work is possible and has revolutionized the traditional workday.
In contrast, as we saw throughout the pandemic, many important sectors cannot be easily transferred to remote work conditions. Grocery store clerks, teachers, health care providers, bus drivers, city sanitation workers among many others are location dependent. What’s more, our personal and economic well being are tied to their ability to show up at work every day.
What do you need to move out of the office?
Depending on the type of position, starting the remote work journey may be as easy as having a computer and access to high speed internet. For other types of jobs there are file sharing, confidentiality and other logistics to consider. Regardless of the technical needs of moving your work out of the office and into your home, there are other factors to consider.First and foremost there is the question of space. Do you have a quiet area where you can set up a home office? For parents of young children this has been a particularly fraught issue as many remote workers have had to juggle work and childcare responsibilities. For city-dwellers already crammed into small apartments, carving out a space to work can also be a challengOther important considerations are workplace injuries while not actually being in the workplace, home office furniture expenses, internet and electricity bills and the other costs associated with working in a non-traditional work environment.Imagine you fall at home while walking from your kitchen to your desk during the workday. Is this a workplace injury with the associated workplace benefits? If you have to buy a new chair, desk or computer, should your offer reimburse you for your expenses? And what about the cost of an internet connection and the increased use of electricity?
The pros of working from home
For many workers, the simple benefit of avoiding long daily commutes far outweighs the challenges posed by working from home. Consider this: even if you have a 30 minute commute in each direction, a reasonable trip in most large cities, avoiding that commute would give you an extra 5 hours a week. 20 hours a month, or over 9 days spread over a whole year (not including vacation time). That’s 9 whole days of time saved, double that if you have a long commute fighting endless traffic jams or facing long train or bus rides to get to and from the office.
The cons of working from home
The downsides are a bit more nuanced. As mentioned previously many workers simply don’t have an appropriate space to dedicate to a home office. There are also the issues of the social aspect of work and the accompanying opportunities found outside the home. Many remote workers miss the camaraderie of the office and social components of shared lunches, coffees or even a stroll through the city after work.
What’s the future of remote work?
In terms of productivity, many studies have found that workers are far more productive working from home than in a traditional office. However, more work will need to be done on this topic tracking long range outcomes. In terms of flexible work location options, many workers now consider them to be a top priority for job satisfaction. In a study shared by Forbes Magazine, 80% of workers in the United States shared that they would not consider a job that didn’t offer some form of flexible or remote work options. More and more companies are considering moving to a remote or flexible work model. The clear benefits to companies are savings on office infrastructure and access to better talent.Remote work looks like it’s here to stay. The next steps are to make sure that workers, regardless of being in or out of the office, are fairly compensated for their work and have the necessary tools to be efficient and productive. From there, the market will likely dictate policies since many companies not willing to offer flexible positions might lose workers over time. Government involvement will also be necessary to create legislation to protect workers rights outside of the office.
More broadly, from automation to outsourcing, many sectors will face seismic changes in the coming years. Remote work is one of the many shifts currently felt in the way we work.
Trend: a general direction in which something is developing or changing.
Jet setting: characteristic of a wealthy and fashionable person who travels widely and frequently for pleasure
Plush: richly luxurious and expensive.
Highlight: the best part of an event or period of time
Location independent: a career or job that is independent of any requirement to be in a specific physical location
Show up: To arrive or turn up for an appointment or gathering
Juggle: To be able to balance several activities.
City dwellers: People who live in a city.
Crammed: force (people or things) into a place or container that is or appears to be too small to contain them.
Reimburse: to repay (a person who has spent or lost money).
Commute: distance traveled to arrive at work then return home.
Downsides: the negative aspect of something otherwise considered as good or desirable
Nuanced: characterized by subtle shades of meaning or expression.
Camaraderie; mutual trust and friendship among people who spend a lot of time together.
Outcomes: the way a thing turns out; a consequence.
Seismic changes: large or significant changes.