Quarantines, lockdowns, and self-imposed isolation have pushed tens of millions around the world to work from home, accelerating a workplace from the benefit of your homes. With AI and the future of work transitioning remote work is surely here to stay.

According to a specifically tailored analysis by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics, remote work has had an incremental growth trend in the US with 159% increase from 2005-2017 and 4.7 million remote workers or 3.4% of the population as of 2020. An annual survey by them also claims that flexible working according to 74% of respondents is considered as the “new regular” and that is evident by Shopify, Coinbase, Upwork and large companies such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, JP Morgan extending their model towards remote work. Check out the state of remote work in 2020- trends, benefits and predictions.

There’s one statistic that remains undeniable each year: remote workers almost unitedly want to continue to work remotely for the rest of their careers. Now, 98% of them is definitely not a small number. Please refer to the image below.

Source: Buffer

By 2025, an estimated 70% of the workforce will be working remotely at least five days a month. While 2020 may be considered the year of remote work, it is just the beginning as we see the trend continuing in 2021. But what exactly worked well with remote working that has made it the new norm now?

Let’s examine its benefits:

1.Cost-effective:  One of the major challenges for businesses is cutting cuts, therefore, acclimatising to remote work conditions can be an asset in saving early on. For instance, one doesn’t require new investment in physical property, capital, overhead costs, or overall maintenance.

With the ability to hire without any geographical constraint from different regions of the world where the cost of living is lower, you can hire employees at a lower rate, leading to more savings and a better ROI.

Apart from savings for the company, allowing them to work from home can save their communal expenses as employees don't have to pay for fuel, insurance, or transit.

Ditching the commute to work can save up to $100 monthly as well as save on time, where clustered downtowns add up to 6-15 onto their workweek. Saving money is a key motivator for remote employees as they economise about $4000 every year according to a study by Flexjobs, as well as save money on taxes.

2. Access to higher-quality talent: For any business, the right team can make all the difference in the world. With remote work being embraced, better diverse talent at an affordable price can be accessed from around the globe, which may be out of reach otherwise. The hiring process is also much quicker, efficient, and saves time with technology in the picture.

3. More creative & productive workforce: Having flexible work hours and location can help drive innovation & boost productivity in your business. With the comfort and ease of their home, a relaxed mindset often produces creative ideas. A study by Stanford also suggested that remote employees were 13% more productive than traditional office workers.

4. Happier employees: Remote work leads to more autonomy amongst employees and the freedom to work according to your method (hours, day, approach), this flexibility listed as one of the biggest perks allowing to spend more quality time with their families and a better work-life balance.

It also brings upon another major benefit of improving health, a study done by Owl labs noted a significant 80% respondents had reported alleviation of stress by working from home.

All these factors contribute to higher employee loyalty and job satisfaction, leading to a high employee retention rate which is key for start-ups as retaining top motivated employees are their biggest asset. Check out 7 reasons why remote work is the hiring trend for start-ups.

5. Better connected team: While many might argue remote work leads to poor communication & management, in a remote setup it is easier to communicate virtually, stay connected routinely with every member of your team as well as monitor their tasks through various softwares.

Virtual meetings allow fewer absences and the perk of listening to recorded meetings later. It also increases participation as employees feel more comfortable in sharing their views and engaging virtually than in stringent office meetings.

Virtual meetings also allow for smaller and leaner meeting groups creating more focused group discussions leading to additional constructive results. With poor communication being one of the major reasons for start-up failure, start-ups where new & creative ideas are of utmost value, remote work will allow for a flow of substantial ideas without fear of judgement.

AI and the future of work will also make it easier to connect online with employees socially via off-topic chats on video calls, game sessions, virtual happy hours etc. all leading to better bonding, employee relations and productivity.

6. Manageable risks: Managing business both traditional and remote has its drawbacks, remote work challenges such as isolation, distractions, lack of motivation are mostly attainable, key for start-ups as they are speculative of engaging in sizable risks especially financially.

7. Social benefits: with flexibility over work, more working mothers have the ability to work remotely, reducing the gender gap. With no geographic barriers, a workforce of varying cultures create more diversity. Apart from that, working remotely is also sustainable with no commute and less energy consumption.

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Now with these benefits follow various drawbacks:

1.Isolation

It’s easy for employees to feel like they’re part of a company’s bigger picture when they’re in the office and brainstorming with coworkers every day. Remote work can make it more difficult for employees to feel connected to and involved with daily company happenings, which can ultimately lower morale. Infact, according to a report by Buffer, 19% of remote employees stated isolation as their premier problem.

2. Decreased work life balance

While some might believe that working at home makes it easier for employees to have a work-life balance, but not having a specific distinction of work hours and personal times is what makes it difficult for employees to unplug and spend time with family and friends.

3. Less Connection with colleagues

While virtual watercooler chats are present, it’s not the same as real time interactions in the office. No ranting about the work, discussing projects or eating lunch together can seriously interfere with the social bond between co-workers.

But when you give your employee a laptop to work with the comfort of their homes, while there are multiple advantages, burnout can also take a toll. Check out 5 remote work health risks and how to prevent them. Thus, organisations have to focus on the employee- their changing needs and behaviours, which is why a rise in hybrid work models is evident as 55% of US workers desire a mixture of both home and office work.

So what are its advantages?

Hybrid work tends to have more freedom around when to work as well as where. It generally grants more autonomy to employees to fit work around the rest of their lives, rather than structuring other parts of a weekday around hours logged in an office. Ideally, it’s the best of both worlds: structure and sociability on one hand, and independence and flexibility on the other.

With AI and the future of work in a metamorphosis, not long until companies will designate certain days for in-office meetings and collaboration, and remote days for work involving individual focus. Physical presence might be required for orientations, team-building and project kick-offs, but not necessarily for other work.

Post-pandemic, many organizations are looking to build more human-centric relationships within the workplace, and employee autonomy, happiness, and wellbeing have been of core importance.

From an employer perspective, the advantages are also significant. Hybrid working allows companies to be adaptable and diverse in their methods for hiring and retaining staff. The available talent pool will be much larger, and because employees who have greater flexibility over their working schedule tend to feel “a higher level of empowerment”, holding on to employees may become easier. As our work lives and personal lives continue to intertwine and the boundaries blur, hybrid working will seem increasingly attractive to the incoming workforce.

Are there any drawbacks?

But of course, hybrid working isn’t all good news. The basic system of hybrid working means it comes with the potential of “socioeconomic and racial inequality”. Not everyone is able to work from home.

It’s important to ensure everyone is able to perform at the same level. For example, are employees simply allowed to work from home half the week, or is this mandatory? If it’s simply allowed, will employees who choose to work from home feel less visible than their always-in-office counterparts? Will they feel equally integrated? In hybrid working environments, leadership and senior executives would majorly spend their time in the office – so will this mean remote employees don’t get promoted as fast?

Final Note

With current trends of AI and the future of work supporting remote and hybrid models, they are soon to dominate all companies. Yes, it will take a while to figure out how to navigate the hurdles surrounding remote and hybrid working, for which a company will need to think carefully about adapting the right processes, rules and systems to support each.

But post solid policy, transparent communication, clear structure that prioritises equity, both models can go a long way to achieve innovation, recruit the best talent and create value for all.

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