2020 wasn’t anyone’s year. The pandemic hit, and almost overnight, our world changed. Fear and anxiety about the virus inundated communities. Workers were laid off. Individuals were isolated from their families and friends. And on top of that, businesses had to transition to remote work, and fast.
We all struggled to find our footing—and many did, discovering the silver lining to the survival tactic: that remote work resulted in happier, more productive employees who are more likely to stay at their jobs. Not to mention that work-from-home arrangements allowed employers to save on overhead costs like office space and utilities, and many businesses (even tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and Twitter) were sold on the idea of permanent or long-term remote work.
A Remote Work Revolution
42% of the US workforce is now working remotely full-time. It has had such an impact on employee satisfaction that 83% of employers plan to implement work-from-home or flexible work policies even after the pandemic ends. That’s a big change, considering pre-pandemic, only 1 in 30 employers allowed remote work arrangements.
Flexibility Is In
The transformations brought about by remote work doesn’t just mean we’ve switched out the office for the home office. It also means we’ve introduced flexibility into how and when we work. 72% of employers say they will implement more flexible work schedules—an important factor considering flexibility is the key to more satisfied and productive employees.
From Remote to Hybrid Models of Work
As news of vaccines once again pushes conversations about remote work to the forefront, many companies are wondering whether it’s time to start ushering their employees back to the office. Businesses are trying to find the sweet spot between the flexibility offered by working remotely and the synergy offered by working in the office. This may lead to a hybrid model of work, a combination of both remote work and in-office work. The possibilities of hybrid work models are endless: it could mean designating some work days for in-person meetings and collaboration, and other days for individual focus and deep work. It could also mean giving employees the flexibility to set their own schedules and give them the freedom of coming into the office when they want. The goal is simple: to make the most out of the two approaches.
Scattered Across the Globe
Remote work also widens the talent pool by dissolving geographical barriers to hiring. Talent is now borderless, and it’s easier than ever to hire qualified candidates from anywhere in the world. This means that employers may choose to hire across borders to get the best talent or to cut costs. Companies must also adopt remote-first policies in order to prioritize the productivity of distributed remote teams.
The Alternative Is Mainstream
By the alternative workforce, we’re talking about freelancers, contractors, and gig workers—those who helped the gig economy flourish this 2020. The US currently has 57 million workers participating in the gig economy, and its numbers are only expected to grow. More and more companies are hiring contractors and freelancers in place of traditional full-time employees. The alternative workforce is a huge player in the global workforce, and companies must learn to leverage this pool of talent in order to grow in the years to come. According to a report by Upwork, “These independent professionals are cost-effective, provide specialized skills, and are adept at working remotely”—giving businesses even more of an incentive to hire alternatively during the pandemic.
When you don’t need to work in the big city, the cheaper prices of the suburbs become much more appealing. Both the fear of the virus and the desire to take advantage of remote work policies have pushed people to seek out less populated, more spacious areas to live.
Diversification of the Workforce
By widening the hiring pool through remote work practices, companies can be more inclusive about hiring. Jobs can be offered to different kinds of people from all over the world. Remote work and the asynchronous communication it fosters may also make work more accessible to those who have disabilities.
In Conclusion: Remote Work as a Catalyst
Come 2021, the workplace will look vastly different than it did during the first months of 2020. The pandemic has accelerated trends that have transformed the way we think about work. Looking ahead, we should learn from this year’s challenges—both what we did wrong and what we did right. 2020 taught us that the businesses that were most successful were those that could adapt quickly to change. Businesses will continue to seek out agility and flexibility in the coming years, and remote work will continue to play an integral role in how they achieve it.
Work is no longer where we go, but what we do. That will change everything from how we hire to how we communicate to even where we live. The future of work is now, businesses must adapt or risk losing out to those who can.