- Allowing your team to work remotely can positively affect your employees, your bottom line and the environment.
- Not every business will keep a remote work policy after the coronavirus pandemic ends, but many will integrate a flexible work schedule for employees (e.g., flex time, telework or a compressed workweek).
- Recently integrated technology like project management, customer engagement and communication platforms will likely be around in SMBs for the long haul.
Chances are good that you're reading this article at home instead of at the office – and while you may be socially distanced, you're not alone. Although some essential staff are still required to go into work, many are now working from home.
This new remote work trend was forced on many businesses that wouldn't have otherwise made the change – some for the better, some for the worse – but which remote work trends will permanently integrate themselves into corporate America after life returns to normal? We spoke with futurists, business leaders and experts to learn what permanent impact the coronavirus may have on small business workplace trends.
What companies are working from home that usually don't?
"Essential business" is a new household phrase that society has come to know all too well. Aside from those businesses, nearly every type of company has recently been required to either adopt a remote work policy or shut down operations. Social distancing, coupled with technology, has changed the way businesses in almost every industry operate.
Howard Brown, CEO of ringDNA, said that industries like healthcare, education and sales are turning to technology to solve complex challenges and help their teams connect remotely in meaningful ways.
"[The coronavirus] has changed the nature of how many do business, from healthcare practitioners turning to telemedicine, teachers conducting classes over video conference, and therapists speaking with patients over private video chat," Brown told business.com. "Even in sales, a job that has often included remote components, sales reps are being forced to forgo crucial face-to-face meetings with customers."
Erik Day, senior vice president of small business at Dell Technologies, said that financial institutions and call centers are setting up remote workforces for the first time, and food and beverage businesses (e.g., grocery stores, bars and restaurants) are shifting from in-person experiences to online and delivery models.
"Ultimately, organizations have been forced to evaluate their remote workforce and IT offerings in new ways at an unprecedented rate," said Day.
Companies across every industry have had to lean into new work opportunities – primarily remote work – with the current state of affairs.
What are the benefits of working from home?
Remote work is not a new business trend, but it is new to some businesses. Although a WFH policy is not for everyone, remote work statistics prove that there are many benefits to offering flexible work arrangements – for your team, your bottom line and the environment.
ZenBusiness recently surveyed 1,035 remote workers about their WFH experiences, and 48% of respondents reported feeling more productive when working away from the office. Remote employees also reported that working from home improved their overall health: 60% felt their mental health improved, and 44% claimed to exercise more frequently.
Having a remote or partially remote team can also save your company money. According to a report by Global Workplace Analytics, a typical employer can save about $11,000 a year per half-time telecommuter, with primary savings coming from "increased productivity, lower real estate costs, reduced absenteeism and turnover, and better disaster preparedness."
Allowing your team to work remotely has environmental benefits as well. When your employees telecommute, they reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, fuel and energy usage, and office waste.
How is the coronavirus work-from-home policy going to change future work?
The coronavirus pandemic has caused an unprecedented WFH movement, forcing many office workers to quickly adapt to remote work and collaboration. Although the post-coronavirus future is still unclear, we spoke with business experts to learn what remote work trends may permanently remain after social distancing guidelines are lifted.
Christopher Kent, futurist at Foresight Alliance, said that two initial workplace frictions are likely to occur when businesses begin to function normally again:
- There will be workplace conflicts among managers and workers over how normal things should be, and what is prudent and safe.
- More people will discover what true remote work is like without their partner and kids around to bother them.
The structure of a workday
Initial company adjustments may take some time to resolve, but companies and employees will eventually find a balance. However, Kent said that many barriers around telecommuting have been permanently broken, which may lead to the restructuring of what a typical workday looks like.
"This will awaken more people to how we still structure work based on old factory/manufacturing rhythms when this is no longer necessary," he said. "This could speed up the move away from being in an office from 9 to 5 toward work being managed by deadlines and check-ins."
What an office looks like
Business experts predict that the typical work environment could be permanently altered as well. For example, many employers will see the financial benefits of having employees work from home, causing them to rethink that expensive office space. Rick Gillis, speaker and author of The Quotient, predicts that companies that move permanently to a remote workforce may want to pay a stipend to each virtual employee for their at-home office space.
"Businesses will pay a rate that will 'include' a portion of the cost of utilities but will no longer be responsible for expenses such as janitorial, heating/cooling, security, etc.," said Gillis. "They will also no longer be responsible for paying the unutilized space, such as conference rooms that are used 30% weekly, parking, and amenities."
Although it is impractical to assume that every business will keep an entirely remote workforce, we can reasonably expect many companies to create more flexible work arrangements, allowing for part-time telework opportunities. Flexible work policies may increase the desire for shared workspaces and hot-desking office models.
Permanent technology integrations
Technology has reinvented the way society works, learns, conducts business and solves problems. When organizations were forced to move to a WFH structure, many had to integrate new technology to remain successful. As teams develop an understanding and use for newly implemented technology, there is a good chance that many of these tools will remain permanently integrated with each business.
"These tools help employees prioritize their days, help teams collaborate, and empower managers to better coach and train, thanks to increased levels of insight into their teams' activities, challenges and successes," said Brown. "Further, everything from project management, customer engagement, communication, and more will be able to be measured and adjusted in real time so that companies can give their employees the freedom to work remotely without the concerns of losing visibility into productivity."
Since many of the tools you are implementing today will likely be with your company indefinitely, Day said it is important to think about the long term with the technology you choose. [See how HR software can help manage all aspects of a remote workforce.]
"Look to the future – your business continuity plan and team structure – and identify changes and IT infrastructure that will help propel your business past this crisis," said Day.
Expert advice for implementing a remote workforce
Technology plays a key role in the effective transition to a remote workforce. Remote companies need to know what changes they can make in order to safely adapt.
"Now more than ever, small businesses need to be agile and embrace digital transformation to evolve business models, connect with their customers and team members, boost productivity, and continue driving forward during these uncertain times," said Day.
Business owners should also be aware of the emerging security threats that come with a remote workforce and install proper internet security measures. Misconfigured routers from unsecure home or public Wi-Fi can leave your network vulnerable to threats.
"Cybercriminals are capitalizing on fear and uncertainty created by the virus to profit from various scams, phishing attacks and ransomware, among other attack vectors," said Day. "Leveraging existing tools and offering new training and processes for employees is an essential first step to preventing attacks."
Gillis said that business owners can also tighten security by investing in employee monitoring software.
"I think the business owner is going to have to invest in keystroke tracking software – informing their workers that they are using such – to keep all workers honest," he said. "Of course, work product will speak volumes, but an owner is also going to need to know when a worker is gambling – or worse – from equipment provided by the company."
When you implement a new remote work policy, especially as a long-term solution, it is important to stay in clear communication with your team. Update them about any changes you are making, so as to achieve the best results with security, employee productivity and satisfaction.