Remote and flexible work arrangements were trending upward even before March 2020, but many leaders were still unconvinced that workers could remain fully productive at home. Now, the necessity of fully remote workforces has accelerated and solidified the trend: Workers are both productive and effective doing their jobs from home.
With working from home (WFH) as the new normal, it’s important to understand which facets of remote work allow it to succeed. This pandemic-driven, work-from-home experiment has revealed that both advances in technology and additional hours in the day afforded by eliminated commutes have contributed to the success of remote totality.
Advancing technology creates connection and supports productivity
Video conferencing tools allowed disparate workers to maintain connection well before the pandemic began. But pre-pandemic, video conferencing tools were deemed necessary for only specific circumstances where in-person collaboration was impossible. Now, they are an essential tool for everyday work.
Platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams were already gaining popularity. But the recent necessity of video connection and organizations’ reliance on it regardless of the pandemic signals even more growth and innovation from these platforms in the future. For example, digital whiteboards and virtual reality (VR) will enable advanced digital collaboration options for video connection use cases across industries.
Beyond video communication tools, automation has recently transformed the workplace by streamlining manual processes and allowing workers to focus on more complex tasks. With low-level tasks out of the way, workers have more time to complete assignments or, in a remote setting, more time to focus on personal needs like caring for children or running a household.
Going forward, organizations must continue to invest in these digital transformation efforts while also providing adequate training and education for employees. While automation is adept at removing repetitive, mundane tasks and supporting high levels of productivity, employees may need upskilling to shift their newly freed-up time toward more strategic tasks.
Eliminating long commutes leads to increased satisfaction and working hours
One advantage of working remotely is the complete lack of a commute — which in recent years has become only more strenuous. Not only are today’s workers increasingly dissatisfied with public transit systems, but also with the amount of time it takes to commute overall.
Traveling to and from work on public transit was always a hassle. But with the advent of extended remote work, between 40% and 60% of workers reported that after the pandemic they would be using public transit less frequently, opting instead for walking, biking or using a personal car.
Regardless of mode, commute times have steadily grown over the past decade. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the average commute is just under 30 minutes one way, and in 2018 there were over four million people with commutes over 90 minutes. Unsurprisingly, many employees working remotely during the pandemic have expressed the lack of a commute as a major perk.
Strong feelings about commute times and modes will not disappear with a vaccine. Organizations need to remember that remote work has benefits that extend beyond — but also directly affect — productivity, most notably employee happiness and engagement.
The shift to remote work happened quickly, but it was relatively seamless because many were already embracing remote work routines. Now as we head into a new year, organizations must determine how else they can support the WFH trend, building hybrid and/or fully remote work environments that support employees and drive their productivity from anywhere.