Working from home has become the new normal for millions of office workers. Now that most states are engaged in phased reopening, companies are having to decide whether to bring their workers back or keep them at home. The decision is actually more complicated than you might think. In the end, we might all be surprised by how many remote workers never make it back.
Dallas-based BenefitMall recently published a blog post explaining that remote work is not new. They cited data showing that the remote working trend has grown by nearly 160% over the last 12 years. Just in the last five years alone, remote work has increased some 44%.
Though we do not have hard data on current trends, the official numbers are likely skewed dramatically as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But perhaps the number of people now working remotely is less important than the number who will continue doing so.
In No Rush to Return
Companies previously averse to remote working were forced to embrace it when the states began shutting down. Furthermore, they were required to invest heavily in remote technologies to keep things going. Some of those companies are in no rush to return to the old way of doing things. They have invested in technology; they intend to get the most out of it.
For example, Walmart said in late May that thousands of its tech workers will continue working from home for the foreseeable future. The company is reassessing how it utilizes team members and office space – specifically for the purpose of making it easier to work from home.
Likewise, Twitter has informed remote employees that they can continue working from home for as long as they want, as long as their roles allow it. Facebook is on the bandwagon too. The company founded by Mark Zuckerberg says that up to 50% of its workforce could be remote within the next 5 to 10 years.
Good News Only for Some
Let’s assume the majority of companies that sent employees home during the pandemic choose to keep as many home as possible. This might be good news to some, but it wouldn’t be to everyone. Remote work has its ups and downs like anything else.
For businesses, maintaining a permanent remote workforce could be a wise financial decision. It could cost less to maintain the required technology as opposed to maintaining office space. Remember that office space comes with a lot of overhead.
Saving money would be good for businesses and their shareholders. It would be devastating for the commercial real estate market. Imagine big corporations with millions of square feet in a city like New York or San Francisco suddenly vacating space and not renewing leases.
Remote work could be good news for employees not fond of long commutes on congested highways and packed subway cars. The commute from the kitchen to the home office is a lot more pleasant. On the other hand, there are those who thrive on human contact. Making them permanently remote could lead to feelings of isolation that could ultimately be harmful to mental health.
Time Will Tell
It is clear that some of the biggest names in technology are not rushing to bring their remote workers back anytime soon. Don’t be surprised if the trend spreads beyond the tech industry. Companies that have suddenly discovered they can embrace a remote work model without skipping a beat now have very little incentive to go back to the old way. Time will ultimately tell how many of their employees never return to the office.