There is no longer a question of if COVID-19’s impact on the way we work will have a lasting effect. It is now a reality, with major companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Box announcing their support for employees to work remotely indefinitely.
The fact is, COVID-19 has forced businesses to take the leap of embracing full-time remote work and by doing so, proved it is nothing to fear. Most businesses have found the transition go a lot smoother than they expected, and began to feel the benefits it offers.
The question now is, how will it impact the way people work in the future, and to what extent?
The state of remote work
Remote work has been gaining popularity for years before the pandemic hit. According to a 2018 survey by Owl Labs, 56% of companies globally allow remote work in some capacity. A year later, a U.S. focused survey by the same company found 62% of U.S. workers working remotely at least some of the time, 30% of which are full-time remote employees.
This is not surprising, considering that the same survey found that 82% of U.S. workers would like to work remotely some of the time, and 71% finding it a good enough reason to choose one employer over another. And it appears that once people get a taste of remote work they want more.
According to a pre-COVID 2020 survey of remote workers by Buffer and AngelList, 98% of remote workers would like to continue doing so for the rest of their careers and 97% of them would recommend it to others. These numbers have been pretty much the same in the 2018 and 2019 editions of these surveys. That’s an NPS score of 9.7 for remote work!
The remote work revolution was already in full swing when the pandemic hit. All COVID-19 did was accelerate its adoption by a few years.
Naturally, not all industries have the luxury of having work from home as an option. But mobile app development and the technology sector, in general, are some of the best-equipped industries for remote work. This can be illustrated by the rise of fully distributed companies like Zapier and inVision from 26 in 2014 to 125 in 2016, most of which belong to the tech sector.
Surprisingly, Owl Labs’ survey found that the healthcare industry is the most represented by remote workers in the U.S. relative to their share of the total workforce at 15%. Technology took second place with 10% however, and there certainly are more developers than healthcare workers in the global workforce. In fact, 41% of the respondents to Buffer’s remote workers survey belong to the software industry, followed by 19.5% in the IT and Services department.
Most mobile app development companies had already been supporting remote work in some capacity a few years before COVID-19 hit, and are at least somewhat familiar with the tools, processes, and policies needed for effective remote work. This has allowed them to embrace the post-COVID shift to remote work with little to no loss in productivity.
The benefits of remote work
It is not without reason that so many app developers want to work remotely. Remote work promises flexibility, work-life balance, and savings that are hard to beat. Buffer’s survey finds that having a flexible schedule, better work-life balance, and avoiding a commute are the top three benefits of remote work.
Owl Labs’ survey included “enhanced productivity/better focus” as one of the options, and the top four reasons for their respondents where better work-life balance, increased productivity/better focus, less stress, and avoiding a commute. Moreover, 35% of employees say that remote work gives them a better opportunity for quality employment.
Employees are not the only ones who benefit from a remote work policy; employers stand to gain a lot from it too. Even though the transition to remote work post-COVID was unplanned and abrupt, research firm Valoir reports that the average productivity loss in the U.S. is only 1 percent. In fact, many companies have shown an increase in productivity according to research by Prodoscore which reports a 47% YoY gain in productivity. This boost in productivity, in addition to the operational cost-savings of not having an office or maintaining a smaller office space, directly contribute to the company’s bottom line.
Owl Labs’ 2017 survey also found that companies that support remote work take 33% less time to hire new employees and experience a 25% lower employee turnover rate. Moreover, 24% of people surveyed said that they would be willing to take a pay cut of up to 10% to have the option of remote work. Add to this the fact that supporting remote workers gives companies access to a much bigger talent pool to draw from, putting them in a better position to hire and retain a world-class team.
For the rest of the world
Last but not least, the remarkable improvement in environmental pollution and CO2 emissions due to lock-downs around the world demonstrated just how large of an impact traffic has on the environment. Having remote work become the norm will eliminate billions of commutes a year, which will have a significant positive environmental impact.
Always greener on the other side
While remote work offers a lot of benefits to employees and employers alike, it is not without its challenges. Communication and collaboration are one of the most obvious issues presented by remote work and it has been consistently ranked so in Buffer’s survey with 20% of remote workers choosing it as the biggest struggle with working remotely.
A survey from Engine Insights for Smartsheet sheds more light on this, revealing that the majority of the American workforce is having a tough time with the post-COVID transition to working from home, with 75% feeling less connected. Interestingly, it appears that the younger generations seem to be having a tougher time, with 90% of millennials and Gen-Z workers reporting this issue. This is confirmed by Gensler’s 2020 U.S. workplace survey, conducted post-COVID-19, which finds Gen-Z and millennial workers to be the most negatively affected demographic.
This suggests that it is not merely an issue of technology or communication tools, in which case we would expect the tech-savvy young workers not to be affected as badly as the older generations. Remote work is more than just where employees work from and the tools they use for the job, and companies need to understand this and be ready for it with clear remote working policies, tools, and a change in culture.
The workplace has always been one of the key places for people to socialize. With 20% of respondents in Buffer’s survey choosing it as the biggest struggle, loneliness shares the top spot on the list of remote working struggles with communication and collaboration. However, it was also the least of a remote manager’s concerns, according to Owl Labs. Bear in mind that these statistics were taken before the pandemic forced us to impose social distancing measures, which only makes matters more complicated.
Putting that into consideration, it comes as no surprise that 74% of the respondents to Gensler’s report say that what they miss most about the office is the people. And the top three reasons people want to go back to the office are scheduled meetings with colleagues, socializing with colleagues, and impromptu face-to-face interactions. This makes it glaringly obvious that, for most people, the office is about more than just work and that the workplace is an important part of an employee’s social life.
The balancing act
For most things in life, extremes are associated with complications and are not sustainable without well thought out counter-measures. It is the same with remote work. Fully remote and fully on-site are not the only options. Rather, they are opposite ends of a spectrum where you can choose a solution anywhere in between.
Human beings are social creatures and there is no doubt that the workplace is one of the primary places people use to socialize. Face-to-face interaction and impromptu chats with colleagues are simply not the same as communication tools. But this does not mean that people should work solely or even primarily on-site. The success of fully distributed companies proves that, with the right policies, it can work.
A hybrid model with a number of days on-site and a number of days from home is the most viable solution for most companies. And in practice, that is the most popular model among mobile development companies, but it is usually with an on-site first approach. According to Buffer, however, employees are happiest when they spend more than 76% of their time working remotely.
Naturally, every company has different circumstances and requirements but business owners should adopt a remote-first approach and keep the number of on-site days to a minimum. They should also keep in mind the issues that remote work might present and circumvent them with thought out policies for remote work to mitigate any negative effects.