More than a third of the U.S. workforce shifted to full-time remote work during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. While many have since returned to the office, the remote work trend continues to grow. In fact, many companies have decided to offer remote work options to their employees indefinitely.
Remote work may soon become the norm rather than the exception. A confluence of six trends appears to be pushing office work out the door.
Remote Work Creates Opportunities for Everyone
Working from home opens up new options for both companies and workers. Companies can look for more specialized workers for niche tasks, while individuals can apply to remote work freelance opportunities all over the world.
For example, small businesses in rural areas might not have access to the IT talent they need. Instead of trying to do it all themselves, they’re more likely than ever to turn to a remote worker.
Similarly, workers in rural areas will feel less pressure to pick up stakes. Suddenly, there aren’t a half-dozen employers available to them, but tens of thousands.
Technology Is Accelerating Adoption
Technology factors also point to the remote landscape growing in 2021. Video conference technology was in high demand at the peak of COVID-19, and the mass use brought out some weak points that need to be addressed.
As companies introduce new software and improve existing ones, remote work will become easier to implement. Untold numbers of small businesses waited for their larger peers to work out remote work’s kinks.
The result will be a cat-and-mouse game: As small companies adopt remote work, larger ones will seek a competitive advantage. They’ll use automation systems, instant messengers, and more to augment their remote workflows.
Employee Expectations Are Changing
Even as offices open up, employees may prefer to continue to work from home. Many of the perks of remote work are obvious: being able to work in your pajamas, having your own fridge at arm’s reach, and not needing to commute, to name a few.
A survey of more than 9,000 office workers showed that almost a third of employees would rather never return to the office. Surprisingly, this is even more true of older demographics. Younger generations seem to prefer the office because it acts as a social community.
Still, most employers won’t be willing to risk shutting themselves off to a third of the talent pool. Even those that have reservations about full-time remote work are likely to feel pressured into offering the arrangement.
Labor Markets Are Tightening
As the economy recovers and the unemployment rate falls, employers will have to work harder and harder to compete for talent. Employers will use remote work as a low-cost carrot to attract “A” players.
As they do, the number of people who remain in the office will begin to shrink. Workers who remain in the office for its social benefits may start to want out. They’ll want the same privileges as their remote peers, even if they don’t exercise those privileges every day.
Fueling to this trend is competition between cities and states for remote workers. Some, such as Tulsa, Oklahoma, are offering as much as five figures in cold, hard cash to convince new remote workers to move in. Moving is a pain, meaning those who take the cash won’t be likely to move back.
Hybrid Work Will Take the Lead
The one bright spot for traditional office work is the rise of hybrid arrangements. Instead of worrying about making the wrong life decision, employees and companies will start making compromises.
For instance, some employers ask workers to attend key meetings in person but are happy to let them work remotely otherwise. Others ask each team member to choose two or three days per week to be in the office, while working the other days at home.
Hybrid work offers the best of both worlds. Employees can work from the comfort of their couch but still stop into the office when needed. Business leaders can get face time with their team members without operating an office 40 hours or more per week.
Savings Speak Volumes
Remote work saves companies money in at least three ways: costing less than other employee benefits, minimizing turnover on the team, and reducing overhead costs.
Companies with remote workers enjoy a 25% lower turnover rate than those that don’t. Remote workers do not need to leave a job in order to move for their spouse or children’s needs. And because they value remote work as a perk, they’re unlikely to throw in the towel for other reasons.
Remote work may also start to replace more expensive benefits, such as stock options and 401(k) matching. Benefits costs add up, so employers are always looking for ways to lower them.
Thirdly, the overhead cost savings of remote work are significant. Even partially remote teams use less energy and, due to fewer office lights on and toilets flushed. Those that go whole hog may be able to give up their office altogether. Commercial rents regularly run into the thousands of dollars per month.
Taken together, the writing is on the wall: Remote work is not just here to stay, but the new normal. In-office requirements may become rare in certain sectors, like software development.
Are you ready for it? Make remote work part of your company’s culture, and you’ll be well positioned for whatever the post-pandemic economy holds.
Interesting related article: “What is Teleworking?“