Tue.
Oct 20
2020
How COVID-19 Triggered the Remote Work Shift

We might be overwhelmed by all the texts that start with “in the post-pandemic world” hook, but this one is about something that affects most of us already. During the coronavirus pandemic, stay-home policies triggered the shift to remote work that most had already seen coming. But few had imagined that the shift would take place on such a massive scale, and that it would so easily disrupt the seemingly monolithic corporate culture in a few weeks.

The pandemic caught everyone off guard, and businesses had to hit the ground running and adjust to the new realities by allowing employees to work remotely. While many were frightened at the beginning, they soon realized that productivity levels had not been hurt and even management duties could be done online. Is it really the end of the office as we know it?

Right before the COVID-19 outbreak, the FYI research team conducted an analysis of 11,000 home-based or remote workers. It revealed that the scope of remote work had been expanding significantly long before the pandemic. From 2016 to 2018, the number of job posts on LinkedIn mentioning work flexibility rose by more than 78%. More than half of American companies offer remote work to increase retention rates, as flexible work is a major consideration for more than three quarters – 77 percent –  of employees when they evaluate job opportunities. Furthermore, 22 percent of employers said they oversaw fully remote companies, without any physical headquarters.

Changes in the corporate culture had been coming, and the pandemic might have just accelerated them. While we anticipated the disruption to take pace smoothly, giving us time to adapt, the shifts turned out to be almost revolutionary.

Although work flexibility had been growing, not many companies still dared to enact a 180-degree change in the office format. Just prior to the pandemic, a study by Global Workplace Analytics illustrated that in reality the number of people working from home remained in the single digits, and only about 4 percent of the American workforce worked remotely at least half the time.

The pandemic, however, brought massive disruptions. One of the latest MIT reports projected that 34 percent of Americans who previously commuted to work daily were working from home by the first week of April. Among these were not only programmers nad marketing, design and customer support professionals, but also a significant number of people in management positions.

We are likely to see increasing changes to workplace life in the future. As most of us have grown accustomed to daily in-person engagements, from now on our presence in the office will often be deemed as unnecessary or even reflect something that an employee should actually be proud of. The current feeling of being adrift, pleading for a balance between autonomy and personal life, will likely become the new norm (unless we learn how to deal with it). Being in the office and having a chance to see colleagues in person will become a luxury and a rare privilege.

This will deliver serious disruptions to the way we perceive our day-to-day office routine and seriously challenge our ability to guard the fine line between work and personal life. Changes in corporate culture will also push management to search for new ways to define and reinforce corporate values, creativity and strategy that will not be reliant on in-person encounters.

And these changes will likely take place regardless of when stay-home policies will be relaxed. The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will likely push many businesses to cut costs. It is now clear that many employers will choose to further downsize their leases or look for more flexible office space rather than stick to long-term lease agreements. Such moves will be much easier and more humane than carrying out massive layoffs, and as employers realize that productivity is not hurt, the trend will likely stay and expand.

So for those who do return to their office jobs following the pandemic, it is better to start preparing for an office space that will look very different from the pre-coronavirus days. If you struggle with the current remote work format and are hoping for this to end soon, it might be better to prepare for the new corporate culture that you might already be a part of.

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