Nearly three years since the Covid-19 pandemic turned the entire world upside down, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the way that work is done in many industries will never be the same again. Many service-oriented jobs necessitate in-person work, but many other jobs, particularly office-based jobs have been forever changed as employers have recognized the benefits of a fully remote or hybrid work environment.
Setting the Stage Before Covid
Prior to Covid, remote work was rare. Some very progressive companies recognized the importance of a work-life balance and offered a day or two working from home as a benefit to their employees. Other companies were built to be fully remote, but again, this was a pretty rare occurrence. According to a study by WFH Research, approximately 5% of paid full days were worked from home. Intuitively, this makes sense. The office was seen as part of life. If you were lucky, you had a short commute. If you were unlucky, you had a long commute. And if you were really unlucky, you added hours and hours to your workday sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Either way though, your commute brought you to an office building where you spent time with your coworkers, meeting, collaborating, and eating the occasional birthday cake.
What Happened When the Pandemic Began
Once the Covid pandemic took hold in March 2020 though, things shifted on a dime out of necessity. Nearly all office workers began to work from home and employers had to adapt quickly to the new environment. According to the same WFH Research study, over 60% of paid full days were worked from home. That number includes all survey respondents. For those that ever worked from home, that number was over 95%. Both employers and employees were forced to quickly adjust to the new paradigm and learn how to work remotely.
In some ways, this was a massive unintended social experiment, and for those that have long advocated for remote work, it proved to be a massive success. According to a study by Zippia, workers were 13% more productive when working from home, and 77% of workers who worked from home showed an increase in productivity.
Settling Into the New Realities
As the effects of Covid began to settle with vaccines and improved treatments, employers suddenly had a big decision to make – whether to return to the office or to continue working remotely. While some companies (infamously) returned to traditional office-based work (i.e., Twitter), the majority have continued to allow remote work in some form, either fully remote or in a hybrid environment. The traditional arguments against remote work have largely proven to be myths given the increased productivity, and employees have shown a strong preference for the flexibility that working from home allows. From the WFH Research study, the percentage of days worked from home settled around 50% after the initial spike at the beginning of the pandemic.
What Do Managers Think?
According to a GoodHire study, 73% of managers said that productivity increased or stayed the same with remote work. Yet, 75% of managers also said that some type of in-person work was preferred. Note that this figure doesn’t mean a full return to the office, and includes hybrid work environments.
Given the complexities of managing a team, this makes sense. While productivity is critical, managers also think about a variety of other factors when thinking about their teams. Steve Jobs famously said:
Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.
Additionally, some managers may consider how the culture of the team or learning and development might be affected by fully remote work environments.
However, even before Covid, technology was connecting people more effectively and efficiently than ever. With Covid, the tools that allow for remote work and that help employees collaborate and even socialize have greatly and quickly improved. As teams settle into fully remote and hybrid work environments, these tools are only going to improve and further evolve.
Managers are also finding that a flexible work policy has allowed them to recruit more effectively. Given the tight employment market, managers are continuing to offer remote work as a benefit. Additionally, this allows employers to widen and diversify their recruiting base, allowing them to find workers from outside their immediate geographic location.
What Do Employees Think?
While 60% of survey employees feel less connected, 78% also want to continue working from home because it offers a better work-life balance. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, 77% of employees are doing just that by opting to work from home at least some of the time, with 59% working from home all or most of the time. Even though concerns about being exposed to Covid have decreased, a larger number still prefer working from home.
60% of employees in the Pew survey reported feeling less connected to their coworkers, but cited better work-life balance and an improved ability to get work done as the reasons they preferred working from home.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Given the preferences of both managers and employees, it’s clear that Covid has permanently changed the work environment. As tools continue to improve, and managers and employees are better able to navigate their changing roles and responsibilities, fully remote and hybrid work environments are here to stay and likely improve over time. However, with both managers and employees feeling less connected to their teams and each other, it will be important to monitor employee engagement and happiness to ensure that the productivity gains aren’t countered with increased turnover and attrition. It will become more important than ever to have a solid pulse on your teams.