Operating from a Distance: Understanding the Future of Remote Work

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As businesses across the globe begin to recover from the wreckage of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear to many that there will not be a return to ‘business as usual’. Many organisations, especially startups and small businesses, are taking a good hard look at their current modus operandi, intending to make some drastic changes. One of the biggest changes in the employment environment will inevitably be the issue of remote work.

The Coronavirus crisis has forced businesses to seriously consider the concept of remote working. While there was already a trend in favour of this idea, many companies were still quite hesitant to make the jump. Not any more.

Small businesses have been forced into creating space for employees to work remotely just to survive. As things return to a semblance of normalcy, employers are realizing that remote work may just be the key to thriving post-pandemic.

Let’s take a look at the current trends regarding remote work, as well as what the future may hold.

First, the Good News

A glance at the available data indicates that there are plenty of advantages associated with working from home. While startups and small businesses certainly derive plenty of benefit from allowing staff to work remotely, there are plenty of positives for the employee as well. 

  1. Increased productivity: According to the latest stats, remote working has been good for employees’ productivity levels. A recent survey conducted on startups revealed that more than 50% of employees were found to be more productive working from home. The same study showed that employees tended to work longer hours at home compared to the office. Much of this can be attributed to the flexible nature of remote working. Employees may feel that they can shoulder a larger workload due to them being at home for most of the day. Whatever the reason, this stat bodes well for startups and small businesses going forward, as increased productivity invariably leads to increased revenue.
  2. Increased availability: Another statistic that will be music to the entrepreneur’s ears. Research conducted on small business owners showed that employee availability has gone up by as much as 19%, due to remote working. Other studies have shown that remote employees tend to work more days per month than those who are office-based. As the adage goes, the best ability is availability. Business owners may want to take note of this one.
  3. Meeting virtually: Company meetings have moved from the boardroom to the chatroom. As the number of remote workers has skyrocketed over the past few months, companies are increasingly using video conferencing tools like MS Teams and Zoom to host meetings and stay in touch with their employees. Zoom, in particular, has become the platform of choice. The number of daily Zoom meeting participants has jumped from 10 million in December 2019 to a staggering 300 million as of March 2020. As small businesses and startups plan for a post-COVID work environment, expect this number to continue to rise. We may never need to wear pants to another meeting again!
  4. Better, healthier employees: As already mentioned, remote work holds a myriad of benefits for the employee as well. According to studies done by ZenBusiness, 99% of all remote employees surveyed indicated that working from home had at least one positive impact on their lives. Reasons offered by these employees range from improved mental health to more time spent with their family and loved ones. Some respondents even indicated an improved diet (although some may disagree with that notion!).
  5. The Travel Hassle: When asked about the top benefits of remote work, many startup employees pointed to the flexibility that accompanied working from home. The second biggest benefit listed was ‘no commuting’. Being able to skip the morning and afternoon commute means that employees can spend more time completing their work. More importantly, it saves employees the potential stress and frustration of the work travel, putting them in a better state of mind to handle their workdays.

Now, the Not-So-Good News

After listing all the wonderful elements of remote work, we do need to point out that the concept is not without its downside. As small businesses and startups look toward a (possibly) remote future, they need to consider the negatives as well.

  1. Blurred Lines: One of the biggest negatives associated with remote work revolved around the lack of work-life boundaries. When asked what they missed most about office life, 40% of respondents indicated that they struggled with the work/life separation aspect. While productivity may be on the rise, an inability to successfully separate work from one’s personal life may lead to frustration and burn-out, resulting in diminished production down the line.
  2. Lack of Social Connection: This is a big one. According to studies, startup employees cited the lack of social interaction as the biggest negative when it came to working remotely. Employees want to be able to interact with their peers, collaborate and connect with them on work projects, and bounce ideas off of them. Without this, employees may begin to feel isolated, which might lead to lower morale.

The Verdict on Remote Work

So, what does the future of remote work look like? For many startups and small businesses, the decision is becoming clearer by the day: remote working is here to stay. Many organisations have already experienced some of the benefits and have resolved to continue using remote working in some capacity, even after the worst of COVID-19 has passed.

The stats back up this assertion: more than 85% of startups surveyed have signalled their intention to introduce some form of remote work policy. However, while the advantages are plentiful, employers must take note of the potential negative effects that remote working may have on some of their employees, and take decisive steps to mitigate these effects.

Doing so will result in a happier, healthier, more productive workforce, which in turn leads to a company that can thrive in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Need more ideas to help your business survive this pandemic? Have a look at our Small Business Survival Kit – aimed at helping businesses to ensure continued growth, despite the dire circumstances they are in. Give it a read!

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