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COVID-19: Could remote working become the new normal?

These are challenging and uncertain times for Australian and the world, as COVID-19 is disrupting the normal routines of businesses, schools, and people’s lives. There is no doubt that this pandemic will continue to affect our lives for the coming months.

In the past few weeks we’ve seen businesses be forced to adapt to the need to have staff working remotely. While this is a big challenge for some, it also presents a unique opportunity for others to modernise their workplaces.

Remote work has been on the increase

Even before the recent outbreak, remote working has been on the rise. A global workforce study by Gallup found that 43% of all employees work remotely at least some of the time. And remote working is up across most industries, with finance, insurance and real estate having experienced the biggest increase in remote working, followed by construction, transportation and retail industries. In fact, remote working has grown by 173% since 2005.

This is also reflected in employee's desire to have remote work offered by their employers. The latest study by Buffer found that the vast majority (98%) of employees would like to have the option to work remotely.

Why remote working is great for employees

Interestingly, once an employee experiences remote work they often want to continue working remotely and 97% would recommend remote work to others. And this is because employees experience many benefits from this type of working arrangement.

When asked what the biggest benefit is, the top 5 are:

1. Ability to have a flexible schedule

2. Flexibility to work from anywhere

3. Not having to commute

4. Ability to spend time with family

5. Ability to work from home

80% of remote workers from home, with other locations including coworking spaces, coffee shops, and libraries.

Saves money

A study by Global Workplace Analytics found that remote workers save between $2,000 - $7,000 a year because they do not incur expenses such as:

  • Commuting, including saving on fuel and car maintenance.

  • Clothing, because remote workers can choose what they wear and have less social pressure to wear (and buy) formal attie

  • Food, saved from group lunches and vending machine snacks

  • Child care, as these costs can be reduced with a flexible schedule

Less stress

Remote workers save the time and stress of commuting, and 86% of respondents in a remote work report by Owl Labs said that they have less stress and improved health. Fewer cars on the roads could also help with traffic congestion, which is a major issue in many capital cities. Some, like Mumbai, are event using playful design to curb this.

Why remote working is great for employers

Employees are not the only ones benefiting from remote working arrangements. Employers too are finding benefits.

Bigger talent pool

Employers that insist on a set location and time often find their recruitment pool reduced. Along with global workforce trends of the gig economy, employers that offer remote working arrangements have a much broader group of professionals to choose from, increasing their likelihood of finding the best person for the job.

Higher employee retention rate

Remote workers are 13% more likely to stay in their current job for the next 5 years than their office working peers. And 55% of remote workers said they would look for another job if their current employer stopped offering remote working arrangements.

Cost savings

Employers also see benefits to their bottom line, because they save on office rent, furniture, utilities, and supplies. In fact, one study estimates that companies can save $10,000 a year for every remote worker.

Why remote working is great for the environment

As the COVID-19 shutdowns have already shown, remote working and reduced travel is already having a positive impact on carbon emissions.

For example, China has seen a drop in carbon emissions as fuel consumption has gone down. While history shows that carbon emissions drop during economic downturns only temporarily, the interesting thing about COVID-19’s effect on emissions is that it demonstrates the immediate positive effects we humans can have on emissions due to voluntary behaviour.

What does this mean for the next few months of COVID-19?

While nothing is certain at the moment as countries, governments and companies are figuring out how to manage their response to the coronavirus, it is likely that we will all continue to be impacted for the coming weeks and months.

So organisations need to be prepared for a changed work setting in the next 3 – 6 months at least. This could see the rise of a hybrid in-office and remote companies that can optimise the benefits of both in-person and remote employees.

The next question for leaders and managers is how to effectively manage their teams in this new fully or semi-remote workforce?

We will share research and insights on how on this in our upcoming blog.


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