The great success of remote work: work from home experiment.
Before Covid-19, only 7% of workers had access to a flexible workplace. Now that office workers have proven they can do their jobs effectively from home, we’re at a turning point for what the future of work looks like. Given the technological innovations that enable better connectivity and efficiency for working from home, returning to office work as it was before the pandemic may be in question.
With commutes continually getting longer in the years leading up to the pandemic and nearly half of commuters in big cities reporting that they hated their commute, company budgets allocated for office space are likely being reexamined given that work from home has largely proven not to cause a loss in productivity.
Welcome to the golden age of working from home.
As working from home becomes increasingly viewed as the norm instead of a temporary fix, we need to better understand how work from home has worked out so well. It is important to examine the juxtaposition of advancing technologies and deteriorating transit options timed against the pandemic to create the most successful work-from-home experiment of the modern age.
Videoconferencing is better than ever.
One of the most critical elements for maintaining connection has been videoconferencing. While it long predates the pandemic, most office workers used to lament having to connect for an on-camera moment. With everyone at home, videoconferencing quickly became a normal part of everyday work rather than an annoying exception.
Players like Zoom were already growing exponentially (revenues grew 300% in 2016) before the pandemic, and now both Zoom and Microsoft Teams (usage jumped 50% to 115 million daily active users) have experienced stratospheric growth because of the ease of use of these tools combined with enormous demand. The ability to connect virtually also has yet to peak, with virtual reality (VR) still in its nascency for office work. VR will offer a more immersive experience for workers to enable them to feel like they’re sitting beside their colleagues at remote meetings.
Automation streamlines manual processes to help workers focus on higher-level tasks.
When they’re not video chatting, workers across all industries do not enjoy spending their time on repetitive tasks. Companies need to invest in training employees on automation technology, providing them with the education that it is not meant to replace them but rather enhance their work experience so they can focus on the aspects of their jobs that are uniquely suited to their talents. Automation can help cut down on busy work so employees can have more time to work on stretch assignments, creative tasks or even just have a few extra moments to throw in a load of laundry.
Satisfaction with transit was already declining before the pandemic, and then it plummeted.
While the setup to work from home keeps improving, traveling to the office has only been getting harder. Americans in seven metro areas reported last year that their use of transit was declining. Earlier this year, a Boston Consulting Group survey reported that between 40% and 60% of respondents would be “using public transit less or much less frequently, in favor of walking, biking, or driving their own car” after the pandemic. This may be unrealistic for commuters who live far from their offices or in major metropolitan areas that are not car-friendly.
Commutes have increasingly gotten longer over the past decade.
Even if workers choose to go back to the office, their commutes have been slowly been getting longer. According to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau, average commute reached a new record in 2018, growing to just over 27 minutes one way. As of that same year, there were 4.3 million workers with commutes of 90 minutes or more.
Commuting ranks among people’s least favorite activities. While it has been reported that much of the time employees gained by working from home has been devoted to work, workers are reporting satisfaction with this new arrangement, with over 75% of employees saying they would like to work remotely at least one day per week. The future of work could mean improved work-life balance with fewer days of commuting, maximizing time in the office for collaborative tasks and reserving solo work for the home office.
The pandemic closed offices within a matter of days in March, but working from home was mostly a smooth transition for office workers thanks to technology. Workers can feel in sync with their teams from remote locations better than any other time in history. Thanks to videoconferencing and process automation advancing at a time when public transit use was already declining and commutes were only getting longer, there’s never been a better time for office workers to reimagine their working lives for the next phases of their careers.