Fifty-six percent of employees have always had a job with some tasks that could be done outside of their offices1. Yet, management traditionally shied away from large-scale adoption of remote working for fear:
- Productivity would plummet.
- Teams would lose touch.
- Morale would suffer.
But when forced by government work-from-home directives, leaders had to adapt. And Maribel Lopez believes most have been pleasantly surprised by the results.
“Managers never expected that a majority of their workplaces could be both remote and successful,” said Lopez, technology industry analyst and strategic advisor at Lopez Research.
Now, some companies that were born in the cloud are telling employees that no one ever has to come back to a physical office because each project in its own way has been remote forever.
“At first, those were only Silicon Valley companies. But really, distributed work with the right tools and technologies is ideal for industries outside of technology, too, such as insurance,” Lopez said. “And with the exception of the time zone issue, which is real for global companies, teams can successfully navigate it.”
Remote Work Myths and Fears Never Realized
A recent study dispelled three common beliefs around employee productivity, connections and morale.
Lopez adds two more myths:
- Working hours will stay the same.
- Gig work will never be mainstream.
For many people, the pandemic upset work-life balance. A VPN company revealed in April that out of all countries, U.S. workers logged into their system tacked on the most hours. In fact, the average workday increased by almost 40%. In France, Spain and the U.K., the day stretched an additional two hours, the data found.
Employees are working longer hours and spending more time in meetings, leading to the big productivity gains. But Lopez says that it’s not sustainable.
Leaders now work with their teams to shift work schedules and meeting times, which allows caregivers and others at home to trade off on responsibilities. “No one was going to do that before without giving employees grief. And that’s a really positive change that we’re seeing in the world.”
Yet as employers become more accommodating, is there an opening for even greater workforce flexibility? Lopez believes yes, but that it will depend on a rethink of both “powers and employee ownership.”
“Today, few big organizations believe gig work among knowledge workers is real,” Lopez said. Yet for those who do it day in and day out, this can be a good living. She cites positions such as data scientists and cybersecurity experts as prime examples. Organizations can hire these niche experts as part-time expertise to significantly boost customer experience or lower risk profiles—without worrying about full-time employment contracts and benefits.
Lopez advocates both contract engagement and upskilling existing employees.
“If a company can’t find people with the right skills, I believe they should try to grow people into the right skills,” said Lopez. “And you do that by investing in internal programs that educate and teach.”
Changing Culture and Investments
The new distributed work reality forces organizations to not only address common myths, but also rethink culture.
Lopez said employees typically fall into three personas:
- Full time remote work.
- Full time at home.
- Nomadic, splitting time between home and office.
“Because employers now expect that anywhere upwards of 20% of their workforces will be at home or in a nomadic state, the cultural need for a digital workspace is more evident than ever,” she said.
Ninety percent of survey respondents agreed that it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that employees have appropriate access to digital tools to enable remote work. A digital workspace meets the needs of each persona without further burdening IT staff:
- Device choice and flexibility.
- Easy access to all apps and services.
- Security that doesn’t get in the way.
- Software with built-in intelligence.
According to Lopez, “a big difference for all IT organizations now is the sense of environment—including camera and audio quality—and making it sure it’s optimized.” Teams need to ensure seamless integration of physical and digital environments.
Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach to remote working, a digital workspace can help organizations enable distributed workforces.
“It’s going to be an industry-by-industry and even company-by-company return to physical, in-person work environments,” says Lopez.
And while there is still much to be decided, leaders who prioritize employee flexibility and choice will move their organizations furthest ahead—fastest.