By Tara Gibson - June 16, 2020
Businesses that have been able to take advantage of remote working during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic have found they can save money on office costs, increase productivity, and improve employee retention. Consequently it appears that remote work is here to stay - albeit in various formats.
Remote working is by no means a new phenomenon. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Gallup's State of the American Workplace Report reported that 43% of employees work remotely some of the time, while Global Workplace Analytics’ analysis of American Community Service data revealed that nearly 5 million U.S. employees worked from home for at least half the week.
Consequently, when the first stay-at-home and lockdown orders were issued, businesses were fairly well prepared for the switch from office environments to home environments. A mid-pandemic survey conducted by Cybersecurity Insiders found that 67% of businesses were either well prepared or moderately prepared for working remotely, while only 6% were not at all prepared.
One of the questions asked in the Cybersecurity Insiders survey related to what percentages of workforces were working remotely because of the pandemic compared to last year. The responses showed that the number of businesses with at least half of its employees working from home had increased from 7% in 2019 to 84% during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
While the dramatic increase of employees working from home has been forced upon many businesses due to the circumstances, only 8% of businesses said they would not support increased work from home capabilities in the future, while one third of respondents said they would definitely be making some positions that were previously on-site permanently remote because of the benefits.
The benefits of increasing remote work capabilities vary according the size of each business and the nature of its operations, but already many have announced they will be allowing leases to expire or be selling office buildings. Recently Gartner reported 13% of businesses have already made cost reductions in real estate expenses, while those that keep their existing real estate footprint will find it easier to comply with social distancing requirements if more staff work from home.
Speaking with Forbes, Twitter's CEO - Jack Dorsey - commented that the move from on-site to remote work will also have the benefit that the employee pool won't be limited to what is available in the area. Twitter - and every other business working remotely - will be able to source staff from anywhere in the country; and whereas previously Twitter (for example) had to pay San Francisco rates to attract local skill, that cost may be mitigated considerably by engaging skilled employees from lower-cost locations.
While some sources are reporting a modest reduction in productivity attributable to working remotely during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, most are claiming a significant increase. Indeed, one survey among professional and office-based businesses that had a high percentage of remote workers prior to the pandemic found productivity had further increased as more employees worked remotely.
There is plenty of speculation about why productivity increases when employees work remotely. The more likely reasons are that remote employees work longer hours, take fewer sick days, and - in the current economic climate - are putting in an effort to ensure they are at the back of the queue if their employer has to make workforce reductions due to the recession.
Surveys suggesting businesses with remote work policies have better employee retention rates than those without such policies should be reviewed carefully, as many are conducted by - or sponsored by - work-from-home software vendors with a commercial motive. Nonetheless, long before the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, there was evidence to suggest employees prefer flexible working arrangements.
However, remote work policies do not guarantee better employee retention rates. Work-from-home employees are subject to a range of challenges they would not experience in an office environment (i.e. a lack of structure, a lack of personal interaction, etc.); and, in order to continue taking advantage of the benefits of remote working, businesses have to put some work in themselves.
There are various solutions to address the challenges of remote working, such as implementing a hybrid working environment in which on some days employees work from home and on other days they work from the office (which would also help businesses comply with social distancing requirements). There can also be changes to payment structures so employees are paid according to outcomes rather than the number of hours they spent at remote desks.
These types of policies cannot be introduced overnight or while stay-at-home orders are still in force. Therefore, at this present time, effective communication with remote workers is of vital importance. A comprehensive mass notification solution can help keep workforces connected both in the workplace and when employees work remotely. Our mass notification system also has advanced capabilities for managing hybrid workforces once lockdown restrictions are relaxed - and for communicating localized outbreaks.
Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12 education, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!
To address and combat the quickly spreading COVID-19 crisis, state and local governments across the United States...