Now that we are all 3 years out from the start of the global pandemic that spurred mass transition to remote work – what do we know about how well it works for both employees & employers? Remote work did exist before 2020, but the forced transition during the pandemic changed the amount and the kinds of jobs that could be done remotely. As of summer 2023, Forbes reports that 12.7% of employees still work remotely full time, while 28.2% have a hybrid model where they work from the office at least part of the week.
With nearly 41% of workers continuing to work remotely at least part of their work week, how have businesses been impacted? In general, there has been little impact to productivity for those employees who work a hybrid model. Job satisfaction and productivity are both high for this group. Those who work remotely full time, however, can be as much as 10% less productive than their hybrid or full-time office counterparts. This is in some part related to the employee blowing off work from time to time, but can also be attributed, in part, to logistical speedbumps. IT and communication problems, and the time it takes to fix them can be a strain on productivity. Some employers may be able to offset this drop in productivity by lowering overhead costs, and therefore it may not be a significant problem. The bigger issue with full time remote workers is the disconnect for mentorship, relationships, and career progression.
Employees who work remotely can have a hard time building rapport with supervisors and demonstrating that they have the necessary tools to advance in their company. Supervisors and Managers are much more likely to recommend an employee for promotion when they have worked with that subordinate in person, and had tactile experience observing them solve problems, work through challenges, and build relationships. It can be difficult to build those relationships over Zoom meetings and phone calls. Mentoring of junior employees is also more challenging to do electronically. Feedback, constructive notes, and just daily discussions of work happen much more effectively if humans can understand the nuance of body language, personality, and inflection. These things can get lost over electronic communication. Just consider how changing inflection when reading a chat message as simple as “that’s priceless” can change the ENTIRE meaning of that message.
Employees, not surprisingly, are largely in favor of working away from the office. In fact, 68% of Americans prefer working from home full-time, and 97% say they prefer remote or hybrid work. That’s a huge swath of the population who desires flexible work location in their careers. There is no question that personal relationships and responsibilities benefit from a flexible work environment. The US Chamber of Commerce reports that approx. 60% of companies are operating in a hybrid working model, 20% are fully remote, and the other 20% are in-office full time. Remote work is not going away, and employers need to understand how to promote and facilitate communication and mentorship while offering their employees the opportunity to work remotely at least part time. This will be a chief challenge for those in the field of creating good work culture in the coming years. Collaboration and willingness to adapt are not just “nice to have” soft skills anymore.