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This is part one of a two-part Future Look, which will examine the growing interest in long-term remote work for companies and what challenges might lie ahead. Part two will focus on compliance and geographic pay differences.
When the coronavirus pandemic took hold in early 2020, organizations across the globe had to quickly transition their employees to a remote work environment.
Roughly a year later, full-scale telework is still a reality for many organizations, especially so in the United States. Research from Mursion, Inc., a virtual reality training platform, found that most companies will stay in a remote or hybrid work environment, as just 9% of managers and 13% of employees plan to go back to the office full-time in the next six months.
Teleperformance, a customer experience management company, recently announced a shift to a hybrid work model across its global operations, a decision based on its telework success during the pandemic.
“Work from anywhere is not a pandemic play,” said Jose Guereque, executive vice president of infrastructure and chief information officer at Teleperformance. “We will keep the hybrid scheme forever as our permanent model.”
Twitter, which has been seemingly at the forefront of this concept of permanent remote work, had reportedly been dismantling its office culture, according to The Washington Post, allowing for employees to relocate outside the San Francisco Bay Area where the social media company is headquartered. Prior to the pandemic, Twitter was experimenting with the concept of remote work by sending people in the same building to different rooms to test out virtual meetings, creating sign language systems and other rules for video conference etiquette, and preparing for a future when the company anticipates half of its employees will permanently work from home — prior to the pandemic, it was only 3%.
“We’ve already been on this path, and the crisis just catapulted us into a future state,” said Twitter human resources chief Jennifer Christie who said she believes flexibility for workers is the “fourth industrial revolution" because it will fundamentally change the way people work. “The future of work is offering employees more optionality.”
Not all companies share Twitter’s enthusiasm for this full-time teleworking model. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, for example, told The Wall Street Journal that he didn’t see any positives to people working from home. Hastings expressed his eagerness to return Netflix employees back to the office when it becomes feasible.
Many companies will likely fall somewhere in between the Twitter and Netflix models. In other words, a hybrid model, which allows employees to choose the frequency in which they work from home and in the office. This middle ground might appeal to many companies and employees who got their first taste of ongoing remote work.
If this is the case, it will create a new landscape for attracting and retaining employees. Not only does it significantly widen the talent pool for employers willing to offer remote work opportunities, it allows employees to be more selective.
“Competition for talent has been both leveled and upended. New work-from-home policies have opened up the market for employees and employers,” said Mark Atkinson, CEO of Mursion. “Not having to live in the same area where you report to work has changed the game, especially for those in the tech sector. Many big tech companies are inviting employees to work from any office they choose. Other tech workers are being invited to permanently work remotely. Staff are becoming untethered (in some cases indefinitely) from the city, state and country where their employer is headquartered.”
This transition to remote work doesn’t come without its various challenges, however. Mursion’s survey zeroed in on communication issues that have arisen during this extended period of teleworking. Their data revealed a decline in important conversations around performance and work tasks, with just 35% of managers reporting that they had given an employee review in the past year.
Atkinson said organizations that don’t foster a more connected and communicative virtual environment could see their push toward increased remote work backfire.
“We see the potential for substantial turnover and retention issues if companies can’t find ways to bridge critical gaps in communication,” Atkinson said. “We believe companies that fail to develop creative new ways to communicate with their staff will experience a gradual erosion of their culture, values and ultimately their organizational performance. Business leaders in organizations that have ineffective practices around communication will have to work that much harder to attract the talent they need. Having a strong, supportive culture is important to job seekers.”
While the concept of remote work was the big winner during the pandemic, employee mental health and well-being emerged as a significant concern for organizations. Most of this, of course, stemmed from virus fears and increased isolation caused by local and state lockdown measures. However, there’s legitimate concern that less in-person interaction within a company can exacerbate mental health and well-being problems throughout the employee base.
Beyond the obvious mental health concerns, employee burnout can also lead to a severe decrease in productivity. Burnt-out employees are 13% less confident in their performance and 23% more likely to visit the emergency room, according to Gallup. Workplace stress costs U.S. companies an estimated $300 billion annually.
A survey by Clever Real Estate found that 63% of the remote employees it interviewed said it was difficult to shut down after work, potentially undermining the restorative potential of evenings, weekends and vacation time. Remote workers also tend to work longer hours, with 42% starting the workday early and ending the workday late. Nearly one-third of remote workers (28%) said they also devote holidays, weekends, or other non-workdays to completing work tasks. In addition, upcoming WorldatWork research found that 74% of the 501 employees have felt burned out at work at least some of the time, with 26% noting they feel this way all the time or very often.
Executives at WorldatWork’s “Total Resilience Virtual Conference & Exhibition” in July emphasized the importance of staying connected through video to better support employees who are working remotely. Kumar Kymal, managing director and global head of compensation and benefits at The Bank of New York Mellon, noted that humans have an innate need to interact with one another and without the ability to do so in-person, being able to see each other via video is crucial to optimize those interactions.
Kymal cautioned, however, that leaders should determine when video chat is a necessity and allow their employees to determine whether to be on video when it’s nonessential.
“It’s about choosing when it’s really important and when it’s OK not to,” he said. “As a leader, you need to give permission for individuals not to feel like they need to be on video at all times, because that adds to the burnout of employees.”
About the Author
Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.