Remote Work in the Future Endemic - American Society of Employers - Kevin Marrs

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Remote Work in the Future Endemic

remote workWe are still waiting for the moment where we feel confident to say the worst of COVID is behind us and it’s downgraded to an endemic.  When that happens, we will take stock of the pandemic’s legacy on the workplace.  A recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research makes the case that remote work will be one of those artifacts from the pandemic.

The authors of the paper suggest that 20% of full workdays will be supplied from home after the pandemic ends.  That may not seem like a lot (i.e., 8 hours out of a 40-hour work week), but it is compared to just 5% before pandemic.

The paper outlines five reasons why remote work will remain past the pandemic.  These include the following:

1. COVID-driven experiment altered views and plans about working from home for both the employer and the employee.  Consider the past three years as one long exposure therapy exercise.  Leaders and managers alike (and some employees) were forced to face the anxiety of not being able to see employees in physical work setting.  The researchers refer to this technically as the “bias elimination effect.” The exposure altered the view of remote work and caused many to embrace it.

2. Pandemic-induced investments improved WFH capabilities.  Millions of workers learned to use teleconferencing software and remote collaboration tools and improved their remote (i.e., home) offices to improve their WFH capabilities.  This investment improved outcomes and the productivity of remote work.  In fact, their research estimates that aggregate pandemic-induced investments to enable WFH equal 0.7% of annual GDP.

3. Stigma associated with WFH diminished during COVID.  Remote work is no longer a risky ask for employees interested in asking for greater flexibility.  According to the researchers, this makes it more likely that employers will offer greater opportunities for remote work.

4. Fears of mingling and proximity to others will linger.  In their research, the authors of the paper noted that just 28% of people surveyed anticipate a “complete return to their pre-covid activities.  It is likely that for some time to come, employees will be wary of interactions with other considering their experience with COVID.  As result, some will still opt for remote work if given the opportunity.

5. Pandemic-induced innovations will improve remote interactivity.  This is akin to when Bob Dylan went electric or when the Beach Boys experimented with new sounds with the release of their album Pet Sounds.  It spurred innovation in music.  Technology companies are racing to create new applications to facilitate remote work and that innovation, spurred by the pandemic, will create greater opportunities (and acceptance) of remote work.

For sure, the days of remote work as a benefit of the few is over.  Remote work is here to stay.  However, the final state of what remote work looks like remains to be seen.  Greater analysis and experience is needed to determine how and when, and in what environments, remote work functions the best.  It will be an exciting ride. 

 

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