The Future of Work: How Remote Work Has Changed Expectations of What Work Can Be

July 14, 2020

Share

Over now many months of quarantine around the world, discussions on how and when to return to the physical workplace have evolved into a more fundamental question: why? As companies embraced remote work overnight, jobs we previously thought could only be done from the traditional workplace have adapted, and workers have discovered they prefer parts of their new normal over their old one. Many are not eager to return to the workplace or to the way they did their jobs and managed their lives before. How should work and life coexist moving forward?

Business leaders are grappling with these changes in real time and face logistical, legal and HR challenges. Major companies are announcing continuations of their work-from-home policies, and some have announced their workers can continue remote working permanently if that’s what they’d prefer.

None of this means that remote work is now the perfect arrangement for workers or employers. There are benefits to in-person interaction that are not easily replicated via technology, as well as value in spending time away from the pressures of home. Experts from across disciplines are telling us that finding the balance and solving for these challenges requires a more deliberate consideration of the tools we use and the culture of use we build to surround them.

That’s what the remote workers we surveyed are telling us they want to do as well — to step back and evaluate the way they do their jobs, the relationship between work and life, and the values and cultures of the organizations they work for, rather than default to the old normal.

Nine out of 10 remote workers (91%) believe we should take this opportunity to have a true discussion as a society about how work and life should coexist moving forward, a sentiment again strongly felt among executives and senior managers (92%). This can begin inside companies, and many workers (91%) are eager to engage in a dialogue and take a new look at company culture, values and purpose. The COVID-19 pandemic is driving the need for revolutionary change in the way we work and live.

The Pandemic Is Redefining What It Means to Be Able to Work Remotely

The transition to remote work was an overnight revolution for businesses and workers.

In the U.S., just 25% of workers worked from home at least occasionally in 2018, with only 2% working exclusively from home five or more days a week. As of the beginning of April 2020, an estimated 62% of American workers had worked remotely in response to the pandemic. The shift in the U.K. has been similarly sudden and dramatic, with the number of employed workers doing their jobs remotely full time having grown from 7% prior to the pandemic, to 55% in mid-May.

The first half of this year also proved the ability of remote work to really work. Fully 56% of remote workers needed to be in a specific place in order to do their job prior to the pandemic. The pandemic forced these workers to adapt, and one of the lasting legacies may be rethinking what jobs can be done remotely for the long term.

Technology Hasn’t Fully Solved for What’s Lost Without In-Person Communication

The core challenge of remote work is communication.

Eighty percent have experienced some disadvantage of remote work relating to communication, and 55% identified not being able to communicate in person as one of their top three challenges.

Despite these difficulties, the overall experience of technology, so much of which is designed to facilitate remote communication, has been positive.

Remote Work Has Been A Net-Benefit Despite Its Challenges, And Workers Don’t Want to Give Up What They’ve Gained

Most don’t miss their old normal.

Eighty-five percent have found advantages in remote work that make for a better work/life balance, but 41% have also found it difficult to separate work and home. Three out of five (61%) are worried as remote work continues, they’ll be expected to be even more reachable outside of normal business hours.

Despite that tension, the advantages of remote work overcome the disadvantages for many. Eighty percent of remote workers feel healthier, less tired, more human or more connected to their family since transitioning to remote work.

As workers consider returning to their workplaces, it’s not only fear of the virus making some reluctant. Seventy-three percent don’t want to give up the benefits of working remotely. This attitude is as strong among executives and senior managers (76%) as among non-managers (73%). Most don’t want to return to how they balanced their work and their life before.

Workers Want to Collaborate on A Plan For The Future Of Work

Workers see value in using the pandemic to reconsider what work should be.

If its employees can continue working remotely, 74% of remote workers believe their company shouldn’t reopen workplaces until there’s a treatment or vaccine for the virus, and 79% would rather see their employer invest in technology to improve remote work than in remodeling offices to make them safer to return to

“Take it Offline.” Is That Even Possible Anymore?

Seventy-four percent of U.S. and U.K. employees will choose to interact more digitally after returning to their workplace because they are more efficient. What will this mean for how we acquire, engage and retain employees, customers and key stakeholders in our supply chains? Security, safety, education, sales, service, communication and wellness are all innovation opportunities, and the list goes on and on.

We sought to explore how the ability to work remotely has changed in the U.S. and U.K., to help organizations develop effective communications strategies to address the balance and safety we seek and the work we need to deliver.

Read more from FleishmanHillard TRUE Global Intelligence’s latest reports here: Recovery and Resurgence Communications: what tech sector pros need to do now” and FleishmanHillard TRUE Global Intelligence’s The Future of Work: How Remote Work Has Changed Expectations of What Work Can Be.