The COVID-19 situation has forced most companies across the world to adopt remote work extensively. While this forced litmus test has proven to be optimal, it has also sparked a debate of the feasibility of remote work post pandemic.
A huge number of global companies like TCS, ICICI Securities, JP Morgan Chase, etc. and associations like The Investment Management Association of Singapore is predicting this shift in the corporate culture is here to stay. Several companies are integrating remote work or a or a variant of the model, into their long-term plan, extending beyond the pandemic situation. So, let’s have a look at the effect this policy will have on talent strategy, productivity, culture, the work environment, and cost. We will also be examining the possible risks of adopting such a policy in a post-COVID world.
Why Remote Working?
Access to Talent
Full time or partial remote work will create a more inclusive workforce. Parents with new-borns, more women, and differently-abled people will be included in the workforce, owing to the flexibility that the model offers. We can also expect traditional corporations to extensively leverage freelancers and contribute to the gig economy. In India, 70% of corporates utilize gig workers at least once a year, and more than 81% of gig workers have joined the independent workforce in recent 5 years. Full time remote work solves issues for a lot of people who must leave jobs due to difficulty in commuting to office or relocation to a different city. Remote work will enable such people to have full-time jobs without being affected by their personal / physical constraints. This will in turn lead to an increase in the diversity of the talent pool that is available to companies.
Rise in Productivity
A lot of companies are reporting increased productivity during this unintended period of remote work. A 2-year study conducted by Stanford University Professor Nicholas Bloom shows that remote work or working from home increases productivity rather than decreasing it. The study found that employees’ output in the work from home group, when compared to the control group that worked from the office, increased by a staggering 13%. The important catch here is that the study was conducted with the work from home group coming to office on one day of the week rather than all five.
While an office provides employees with a place to interact with their co-workers, brainstorm with teammates, and build camaraderie, there could also be a lot of distractions (events, frequent casual interactions, long tea breaks, etc.) that divert the employees from the task at hand. The absence of these common workplace distractions can be a contributing factor to higher productivity with remote work, as reported by a lot of organizations. The opposite could be true as well, there could be a lot of interruptions at home which hinder work. Some employees might even prefer a clearly set demarcation between their work and personal lives; thus, remote work becomes more of an option to employees than a mandate.
The effect of rotational / permanent WFH on time spent in traffic is rather obvious. Employees in metro cities can save up to 15 hours a week, by not travelling to work every day. They can utilise extra time in a number of ways ranging from finishing work earlier, coming up with innovative ideas to help the organization, to ensuring better family time and relaxation. Conservation of time is a win-win for both companies as well as employees. This will work particularly well in India considering our internet prices. According to Forbes, India have the lowest mobile internet 4G data prices at USD 0.26/GB, and when it comes to broadband prices, it ranks among the top 15 countries in the world. Affordability of Internet, thereby, serves as an advantage while transitioning to remote work.
Redefining Organization Culture
The initial phases of moving to remote work will involve a lot of trial and error till teams find a way to upkeep the team culture, and ensure collaboration. Work from home post pandemic, is bound to have some positive and/or negative effects on team culture, collaboration effectiveness and individual employee’s mental health depending on the transition plan and its execution. Remote work is a possibility due to technology and the way digital platforms are shaping how the modern society operates. Digital platforms are changing how we work, how we stay informed, how we consume information, and how we connect with people around the globe enabling this shift for increased flexibility. Additionally, flexible culture suits millennial generation and organizations will have to adapt accordingly. Organizations that prepare now to embrace this shift will be future-ready and more flexible with large-scale shifts in talent strategies.
Environmental Benefits of Remote Work
Apart from time benefits, lesser travel is likely to have benefits on the environment as well. Around the globe, cities are now beginning to view work from home and remote work as a viable option to combat traffic congestion and harmful emissions, while lowering workplace overhead costs – all the while getting the job done. Remote work benefits public health, enables sustainable travel, and lowers both the individual’s and the city’s carbon footprint. This is especially important for a country like India as it is home to some of the most polluted cities in the world, and one of the biggest contributions to this pollution is traffic.
In 2015, Flexjobs reported that Dell, Xerox, and Aetna saved 96,294 metric tons of greenhouse gas emission with their telecommuting/remote work policies globally in that year alone, which is the equivalent of removing 20,000 passenger vehicles from the roads. Now, in contrast, there are about 370,000 employees working in GCoEs in Bengaluru as of 2018. Implementing this in big cities like Bangalore that are hubs for not only GCoEs but also for a huge number of Indian enterprises, will have immense positive effects on the environment.
Gen Z is regarded as the eco-conscious generation that appreciates even the small efforts that people / organizations take to improve the well-being of our planet. Therefore, it is natural for this generation to prefer associating themselves with organizations that are environment friendly.
New Dimension for Cost Optimization
Another obvious benefit of remote work post pandemic, is the cost; a company in Bangalore that houses 3000 employees can save up to INR 1.7 lakh per employee by having just 30% of their employees working from home at any given point. Similarly, a company located in the Greater Mumbai having a similar headcount can save up to INR 2 Lakhs per employee. Companies like Mondelez, Morgan Stanley, and Barclays have announced that they would need much less office space globally, going forward.
Beyond the Sunny Picture
Although remote work post pandemic has its benefits, there are downsides to it as well. According to Buffer’s State of Remote Work Survey 2019, employees felt the biggest downside of working from home was unplugging from work, followed by loneliness, difficulty in collaboration, distractions at home, struggles of operating at a different time zone from the rest of the team, difficulties in staying motivated, not being able to take a vacation, and finding reliable network connectivity.
There are also huge cybersecurity risks in this model. During this pandemic, there has been a sharp increase in cyberattacks. Organizations that are working remotely must enable higher online network-traffic and transaction volumes by putting in place technical building blocks such as a web-application firewall, secure-sockets-layer (SSL) certification, network monitoring, anti-distributed denial of service, and fraud analytics.
Ultimately, remote work post pandemic, will require trust between managers and their teams to get the job done. It is hard to establish that kind of trust and connect with teammates that one has never met. Some argue that collaboration and team bonding can only be achieve during face-to-face interactions, and attribute the lesser popularity of this policy pre-COVID to the absence of such interactions. These reservations have been lifted off to some extent due to COVID and it is still to be seen if they will persist in the workplace culture indefinitely.
Unraveling Mankind’s Future
In our view, there seems to be positive impacts of increasing remote work including emotional and mental well-being, traffic reduction, increased spare time and positive environmental effects along with significant cost savings, for companies to consider adoption of the model. However, remote work is not for everyone. Companies should carefully assess their existing product portfolio, roles, and target state to come up with a suitable program unique to the company and the industry it operates in. The ideal program can only be designed by understanding the nuances of how each company is operated. The long-term sustenance of this will depend on how well companies execute these policies. We are at the cusp of one of the defining moments in human history that can change the way we work forever, and for the greater good.