Will People Work From Home Indefinitely?

With coronavirus cases increasing across the U.S. and a new strain of the virus, American employees who have been working remotely since the initial onset of Covid-19 can expect to continue for the unforeseeable future. Although hospitals across America have developed new ways to treat gravely ill patients during the pandemic, the medical system is still overrun, with many hospitals faced with a shortage of both space and healthcare workers. As reported on CNBC.com, at least one person dies of Covid-19 every 10 minutes in Los Angeles County, where the demand for ICU beds exceeds supply.

According to Dr. Tedros, an Ethiopian biologist and public health researcher, “We’ve entered a new phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, where solidarity is needed like never before. We’re in a race to prevent infections, bring cases down, protect health systems & save lives while rolling out highly effective & safe vaccines to high-risk populations”, further reinforcing the gravity of this global pandemic and its subsequent impact on the workforce at large.

So how will this impact our nation’s workplace – and more specifically, will working from home become a permanent arrangement for millions of U.S. employees?

As reported in an analysis by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), approximately one-quarter of the world may not have access to a Covid-19 vaccine until 2022. And while affordable Covid-19 vaccines are anticipated to become available in the months ahead, it will take time before the general American population receives the first round of doses. So far, only a fraction of the U.S. population has been vaccinated against the coronavirus, with the primary recipients including frontline essential workers, nursing home residents, and politicians. Ultimately, the goal is to get at least 70% of America’s population vaccinated – but it’s unclear how long it will actually take for hundreds of millions to receive their shot.

 

Remote Working: A Temporary or Permanent Arrangement?

With the future of vaccination distribution uncertain, remote working has become the ‘new normal’ for many employees who usually work onsite. Covid-19 has essentially forced companies on a global scale to not only allow employees to work remotely, but embrace the changes the pandemic has elicited. And although the novel coronavirus demanded a swift transition from both management and employees, many companies are discovering that – pandemic or not – a remote workforce is the future of the professional and business world.

In fact, some major companies have announced long-term work from home policies; a few have even decided to allow permanent remote work scenarios. Major tech giants including Facebook and Twitter made headlines last year when they announced permanent work-from-home policies in effect. Explained Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, “We’re going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work for our scale. But we’re going to do this in a way that is measured and thoughtful and responsible and in phases over time. Because this is fundamentally about changing our culture and the way that we are all going to work long term.”

 

Looking Ahead: What To Expect From Remote Work Policies

For some, a remote work policy isn’t all bad – but it is certainly a sign of the times. The coronavirus is not only significantly altering corporate strategies and policies, but the very infrastructure of the workforce itself. Zuckerberg ticked off some of the advantages of a remote workplace – notably, recruiting talent from afar, retaining employees who want to relocate, and improving “the diversity of the company’s workforce.” In addition to the benefits this shift may offer, many companies are also seeing the more obvious benefit: saving money. In the wake of the pandemic, many businesses are looking for ways to save in the flailing economy. So going remote has become not only a thing of necessity for the safety of everyone, but an attractive proposition for businesses – one that even goes beyond the duration of the coronavirus.

Explains Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, “I think yes, we will have less footprint”, referring to office space. “I think that’s highly likely. We’ve proven we can operate with effectively no footprint.” And with the skyrocketing cost of real estate nationwide, a remote worker situation has become increasingly more appealing. According to Global Workplace Analytics as seen on NPR.org, “a typical employer can save about $11,000 a year for every person who works remotely half of the time.” However, the article notes that the “sweet spot” for both management and employees is for workers to split their time between home and the workplace. But while that may be an idealistic goal at this point in time, the Global Workplace Analytics remote work survey goes on to say that 77% of workers report that they are fully productive at home – and the majority of managers are, for the most part, satisfied with their productivity working from home.

With no end in sight for mask-wearing mandates and social distancing, telecommuting has become commonplace since the initial Covid outbreak. According to NPR, estimates of employees working from home range from about a third to approximately one-half. So what is the overall consensus among employees about working from home vs office? Although many employees report missing the interaction with their colleagues, most report they are generally less stressed out working from home, and other benefits – including saving money on commuting – making a permanent remote work policy desirable, even post-pandemic.

For small and large businesses alike, a remote work policy has its own benefits and caveats. As mentioned, it can be both cost-effective and allow for greater diversity in the workforce. However, it is important for corporations to stay abreast of the most efficient management trends and work from home technology, particularly with regard to interoffice communication. For example, managed print services are one of the most effective ways for businesses to ensure onsite and work-from-home employees are able to collaborate effectively. During (and even beyond) the coronavirus, an efficient MPS module can maintain the productivity of work-from-home scenarios while protecting the safety of everyone involved.