Will Remote Work Kill the Office?

“Will workers go back to the office or will the workforce permanently change?”

An educative but easy listening podcast from NPR recently talked about the future of work in the age of innovation.

As reported, Google and other tech firms have pushed its return to the office back to 2022. 

Let’s dive into both sides of the debate:

Remote Work Advocates

Companies that took the lead in adopting remote work systems at the start of the pandemic are now being more cautious in bringing them back.

The options for when, where, and how the employees return to the office have been expanding as well. 

One of them came from Facebook as the world’s biggest social media company that supports working from after the pandemic. Zuckerberg pitched the idea to both fulfill employee wishes and as an effort to build more broad-based economic prosperity.

A week before, Twitter allows some of its workforce to continue working from home “forever” if they choose. 

“When you limit hiring to people who live in a small number of big cities, or who are willing to move there, that cuts out a lot of people who live in different communities, have different backgrounds, have different perspectives” – Mark Zuckerberg

The Office: Alive or Dead?

Fasten your seatbelt, things are going to change. Possibly, we’re not going to go back to the way we used to work. Many people have been assumed lately that the coronavirus pandemic might mark the downfall of the office as we know it. 

There are some explanations for why this might happen.

  • The need to keep social distancing measures
  • The increased adoption of remote work by businesses and employees alike
  • Instead of giving up working from home, employees are quitting in record numbers.
  • Employees are keen on the flexibility that remote work enabled.

The debate on whether or not the remote work will kill the office resulted in strong opinions on both sides. However, this question is not new at all. It goes way back to 1975 the so-called disco era where Norman Macrae, an influential journalist for The Economist foretold that the personal computer was supposed to kill the office. Liberate us from hellish commute to the city.

Norman reasoned that there would be a less meaningful purpose to commute long distances to work once workers could communicate with their colleagues through instant messages and video chat. 

“A digital America would soon lead the world toward the end of the urban age.”

But then the exact opposite happens and then giant tech companies like Google, Apple, Amazon start to put people next to each other and make it their second home. There were plenty of moments where experts pronounced the office dead, only to be proven wrong afterward.

The Office is Alive and Kicking

There are a lot of jobs that cannot be done remotely; dentists, surgeons, baristas, chefs, police–you name it. In fact, half of the jobs in the US cannot be done remotely. Statistically, the majority of office jobs are looking a lot like the old normal.

The data says that there are only 16% of fully remote companies globally while 44% of companies do not allow remote work of any kind. To give a rough idea, the majority of workers are still needed to live near the office. Not to mention the stigmas around remote workers and how Zoom just does not measure up the benefits of in-person meetings.

Why?

Interaction amongst workers, inside and outside the workplace is essentials. Take the office culture of tech firms as an example. When lots of tech firms and investors clustered in Silicon Valley, they created a lot of matched productivity between them.

The basic idea is that smart people get smarter when they are around other smart people. The interactions between people tend to be not planned; the spontaneity of it leads to the birth of ideas and innovations. 

Check out our post on this MINDBLOWING work from home experiment.

The Growth and Demand of Remote Work

According to a recent PwC survey that analyzes employee priorities and the future of work, the pandemic has empowered knowledge workers to demand more flexibility, higher pay, and better work/life balance from their organizations. 

It feels like the longer we stay away from the office, the harder for us to go back. One of the key takeaways from the survey even indicates that companies who force employees to return to the office regularly will face significant backlash and refusal from those who’ve grown accustomed to the flexibility of remote work.

Here are some useful statistics on remote work:

  • Remote employees save an average of 40 minutes daily from commuting.
  • Employee’s productivity was boosted by 22% when they were able to work from home.
  • 20% of all employees want to remain fully remote beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The majority of employees prefer a hybrid model with a variation of in-office and remote days.

 And according to a survey by Owl Labs:

  • After the pandemic, 92% of employees expects to work from home at least 1 day per week, and 80% expected to work at least 3 days from home per week.
  • 59% of employees choose an employer who offered remote work compared to those who didn’t.
  • 81% of employees believe their employer will continue to support remote work after the pandemic.

“A lot of people are competing over very few (remote) jobs” – Julia Pollak, ZipRecruiter’s labor economist.

Is Remote Work Completely Revolutionizing The Way We Work?

Working with remote teams allows businesses to cut costs on office infrastructure, increase productivity, reduce absenteeism and turnover. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that employers can save over 11,000 dollars per year per employee. 

For employees, remote work means they can work from anywhere they want. Why would they stay in cities like San Francisco or New York, where the real estate market is costly? 

Without the need to go to the office, workers might relocate to smaller cities without worrying about the high costs of living there. The analytics estimate that employees save between $600 and $6,000 per year by working at home half the time. The savings are from reduced costs for travel, parking, and food. It is explained as the net of additional energy costs and home food costs. 

In terms of the environment, eliminating or reducing commuter travel is the easiest and most effective way for a company or individual to reduce its carbon footprint. 

“Based on our estimates, if those who have a work-from-home compatible job and a desire to work remotely did so just half the time, the greenhouse gas reduction would be the equivalent to taking the entire New York State workforce off the road.” – Global Workplace Analytics

How Remote Work Help Us Improve Collaboration

As we have to deal with the remote work challenges, we found ways to collaborate better. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen big tech firms including Facebook, Slack, Square, and Twitter commit to remote work for the expected future. Virtual collaboration has become paramount to growth, success, or a way of survival for many organizations in times of social distancing. Remote work can help attract and retain talent, increase overall job satisfaction, productivity, and mental health. 

To ensure continued team collaboration and to make the remote work experience more engaging – and even fun, it’s important to:

Closing Thoughts

The ability to work remotely will not drive most people away from cities and offices, but it will enable many to live and work in new ways and places. 

The remote work will not kill the office. It possibly changes the office culture to be more dynamic than ever. The definition of an office no longer being simply a place of work – but rather a company social hub.

Along with the growth of remote work where more workers and employers realizing their work can be done from anywhere or even more efficiently, remote work looks promising to stay beyond the end of the pandemic.

Bonus: Listen to the Episode

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