Halfway through January and, as anticipated, employees continue remote work in 2021. While some employers are still trying to figure out when they can bring their employees back into the office, many employees are wondering if remaining remote is even possible. Each company has its own needs and each employee has their preferences, but the workplace of today is likely a better reflection of the workplace of the future than the workplace of 2019. What have we learned from working remotely in 2020? And how is it likely to continue in 2021 and beyond?
Work from home in 2020 became mandatory for a large portion of the workforce due to the pandemic. According to a recent study, 1 in 4 employees will be working remotely in 2021. While vaccines have been created and are currently being circulated, the pandemic remains a safety concern. According to Dr. Fauci, should 75 – 80% of the population receive vaccinations, we may achieve herd immunity by the end of 2021. Companies that operated remotely in 2020 shouldn’t have any issues continuing to work remotely through 2021. The question is, what about after 2021?
As 2021 proceeds and vaccines reach more people, the economy will continue to put one foot in front of the other on its long path back to pre-COVID levels. Companies that saw falling business and profits in 2020 will be eager to make 2021 a banner year. When supporting new growth requires more employees, your company may have some hiring to do. A traditional approach limits employers to their regional talent pool, hoping to find the perfect fit for each position within a 50-mile radius. A growing number of employers are taking a new approach by taking advantage of the national, or even global, talent pool. A position could be for an intern, contractor or full-time. Regardless, your team has experience working remotely. This is a benefit many leading companies plan on taking advantage of in the new year, and in years to come.
Unless you intend to relocate them, hiring employees from a place well outside of your company’s location guarantees remote work. What about the rest of your team? Working from home, once seen as a luxury, became a common practice. Following a year of remote work, will your company return to a mandatory in-office policy?
Many employees no doubt miss the office, their co-workers and their time away from home. But they also have new routines and new methods of achieving productivity. Forcing employees to transition back to office-based work could be disruptive and impact morale. Some employees might not want to return to working in the office. Whether they’ve found a new productive groove, or their hypochondria makes well-trafficked places uncomfortable, removal of remote work could lead to a talent drain from companies that take a rigid approach.
One easy solution is making the return to in-office work optional. You can either set up a system where each employee must be on site a certain number of days during the week, or keep things a little more relaxed. Apart from all company meetings and quarterly reviews, perhaps employees across the company could decide as a department when they’ll be going in. Your company continues to use the office space, your employees see each other face to face and they can continue to work from home on a schedule. This is likely the way most companies will proceed. An UpWork report projects that by 2025, 70% of the workforce will be working remotely at least 5 days each month.
Another solution could be going fully remote. The popularity of this choice is causing crisis in the San Francisco office market: new office-leasing activity in 2020 dropped a staggering 71%. If the choice is forcing employees to work in-office or struggling to have enough people in each day to keep the lights in your office on, maybe you should say goodbye to the office. It does make a certain financial sense. This doesn’t mean removing all opportunities for employees to see each other. Rather, it creates an opportunity for your company to help support local businesses. Contacting local restaurants and coffee shops, seeing if they have availability for some of your employees to meet and work together there. They might not have a printer or fax on hand, but employees will be able to spend time with their coworkers and support those who truly need it.
Working in 2021 may look a lot like the last half of 2020. But what happens beyond that shouldn’t be a mirror image of the first quarter of 2020. Each company’s needs and employees are specific to them. Evaluate how work has evolved in the last six months. Think on the needs of your employees. Consider expanding your talent pool, and the benefits other companies are offering top-tier candidates. Send employees a survey and find out what they prefer. A modern approach to flexible work won’t just create an advantage for 2021, but the years to come as well.
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