Remote working was steadily on the rise well before COVID-19 – but will even more people work from home after coronavirus social distancing restrictions are lifted?
The global COVID-19 pandemic saw governments around the world issue strict guidelines for employees to work from home (WFH) to control the spread of the disease, ushering in the world’s largest remote work experiment. However, as organizations look to a future when the coronavirus has subsided, many are considering making remote work the new norm, perhaps putting an end to office centricity once and for all.
Tech Giants to Allow Employees to Work from Home After Coronavirus
In May, Twitter announced it would give all its employees the right to work from home after coronavirus. The San Francisco-based company said that employees can choose to return to the office, or, if they prefer, continue working from home forever if they are able.
At the time of writing, most of Twitter’s offices remain closed. The company says that even when the time comes to reopen its offices, it won’t be a “snap back” to the way it was before – but careful, intentional, office by office, and gradual.
Following Twitter’s lead, Canadian eCommerce company Shopify has taken a similar stance. In a tweet dated May 21, CEO Tobi Lutke announced: “As of today, Shopify is a digital by default company. We will keep our offices closed until 2021 so that we can rework them for this new reality. And after that, most will permanently work remotely.”
That same week, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg told workers during a staff meeting that was live-streamed on his Facebook page that around half of the company’s 48,000-strong workforce could work from home after coronavirus permanently. In August, the company further announced that all employees could continue to work from home voluntarily until July 2021 and that it will provide workers with an additional $1,000 to spend on “home office needs.”
“It’s clear that COVID has changed a lot about our lives, and that certainly includes the way that most of us work,” said Zuckerberg. “Coming out of this period, I expect that remote work is going to be a growing trend.”
Similarly, Google has extended its remote work policy, allowing employees to work from home until at least July 2021.
Box, Slack, Okta, Atlassian, Square, Uber, Salesforce, Coinbase, amongst many others, have also announced plans to allow employees to work from home after coronavirus indefinitely – likewise, international news organization Reuters, research company Nielsen, Nationwide Insurance, and non-production staff at French automaker PSA.
Not All Companies Will Embrace Work from Home After Coronavirus
Not all major companies are extolling the virtues of permanent work from home arrangements after coronavirus. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, for instance, has expressed reservations, saying that long-term work from home may impact an employee’s mental health, and the company’s July report on COVID-19 remote work suggests a lack of work-life balance. Other studies have found that newly WFH employees are working an average of three extra hours per day as they struggle to set clear boundaries between work- and home-life.
Additional concerns surround a widening power gap between high- and lower-ranking employees. Permanent teleworking removes the opportunity for office networking and casual conversations around the water cooler – opportunities where lower-ranking employees can engage in unofficial chats with their superiors, which help them “get noticed.” If some employees return to the office and others don’t, a divide could occur whereby those who receive less facetime with leaders get passed over for promotions and coveted assignments.
Will Work from Home After Coronavirus Become a Legal Right?
Possibly. Some governments around the globe are seriously considering enshrining the right to work from home after coronavirus into law. German Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Hubertus Heil, for instance, recently proposed that where technically possible, employees should be able to work from home – even after restrictions have been lifted. He plans to present a bill this autumn in a bid to see remote work become a legal right.
Finland, meanwhile, has had flexible working embedded into its working culture for decades. Taking further steps to stay ahead of the curve, the country’s Working Hours Act 2020 allows employees to decide not only their working hours but also their place of work.
In the UK, government ministers have drafted a proposal to give workers the legal right to work from home after coronavirus restrictions have been lifted. This would mean that companies could only refuse an employee’s request to work from home if their duties can only be performed in the workplace.
In France, employees have had the legal right to ask their employers if they can work from home since 2017. While before the pandemic, only a small percentage of French workers exercised this right, now, nearly three-quarters say they would do so at least some of the time post-COVID-19.
For most other countries, working from home is likely to remain a tool that employers use to maintain workplace safety going forward, with individual companies drawing up their own WFH policies, respectively, rather than working from home becoming a legal right.
Will Work from Home After Coronavirus Become the New Normal?
Moves from tech giants to offer work from home as a permanent option to employees after coronavirus will likely prompt many more organizations to follow suit – not least to remain competitive in attracting top talent.
There are, however, a number of other reasons why work from home after coronavirus will likely continue an upward trend.
Recent technology investment is the first. During the transition to remote work at the start of the pandemic, many organizations purchased new digital tools to enable employees to work from home. After accelerating digital transformation and investing in a digital workforce, reverting to the “old normal” will likely be viewed as a step backward post-crisis.
Companies also realize that they can save money with remote work policies by minimizing – or even eliminating – the need for office space and the costs that accompany it. According to a recent analysis from Global Workforce Analytics, employers could save an average of $11,000 per half-time telecommuter per year. For a company with 1,000 employees, that equates to annual savings of roughly $11 million, due to “increased productivity, lower real estate costs, reduced absenteeism and turnover, and better disaster preparedness.”
Embracing remote work policies for the long term may also help companies improve their sustainability credentials. Increasing focus on the climate is putting pressure on companies to clean up their act, with a growing number of consumers opting for sustainable products vs their non-sustainable counterparts, and employees expressing concerns pre-pandemic about how their daily commute was affecting the planet. Allowing these employees to remain remote could enable them to take more pride in their work.
The crisis has also caused a more general shift in mentality over remote work. Leaders, managers, and employees alike have discovered that things that weren’t thought possible to do from home are indeed possible. Many who had never previously worked at home before the pandemic now wish to do so at least some of the time on a permanent. As such, organizations will likely continue to use WFH policies as an attraction and retention strategy post-pandemic.
Work from Home After Coronavirus
Remote working was steadily on the rise well before COVID-19 – but will even more people work from home after coronavirus social distancing restrictions are lifted? Tech Giants to Allow Employees to Work from Home After Coronavirus. “It’s clear that COVID has changed a lot about our lives, and that certainly includes the way that most of us work,” said Zuckerberg. “Coming out of this period, I expect that remote work is going to be a growing trend.” Not all major companies are extolling the virtues of permanent work from home arrangements after coronavirus. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, for instance, has expressed reservations, saying that long-term work from home may impact an employee’s mental health, and the company’s July report on COVID-19 remote work suggests a lack of work-life balance.