Remote Work Enlightenment

Now that we have spent more the year working from home, and the topic of what the future of the workforce will look like remains a hot debate, I wanted to share some updated observations. What is now crystal clear is how many employees who have been working from home have become enlightened. I’ve spoken with numerous friends and family members all over the US with a variety of different jobs from tech, to government, non-profit, finance, etc., and nearly all of them had said their plans going forward about returning to work had been altered by their realization that they can actually do their jobs remotely.

Throughout these conversations, it became evident the main thing holding people back was a combination of both their concern and doubt and their manager’s concern or doubt that working from home effectively was possible at the company both in terms of culture and employee productivity. Despite the many success stories of companies successfully working largely remote, like Cisco, most organizations did not take the leap. COVID obviously forced everyone’s hand, and digital transformation is now rampant and accelerated by a decade in most cases. This is what has led to the enlightenment by many that they can effectively work from home.

From all my discussions, it seems the companies they work for as well, being forced to take the relevant steps to empower remote work, also seem enlightened that remote work is possible even if not ideal. I noted Reed Hastings comments early in the year scorning remote work. I have several friends who work at Netflix, and they certainly disagree with their CEO, but the biggest challenge going forward for companies will be understanding the new balance that must take place if they are to keep their employees happy and healthy.

The other element of this remote work enlightenment worth highlighting is the personal one. Everyone I talk to has been overtly vocal about how much they have valued this prolonged time with their family. Despite some of the challenges around kids being home and spouses working from home, I think many workers and particularly those with tech jobs, have been enlightened about how much they work and how out of whack their work-life balance has become. This, I think, is going to be the hardest part for people to let go of post COVID when employers want them back full-time.

This is the main reason that I feel more workplaces will need to strike more of a balance of a hybrid work environment where remote work is more common on a regular, perhaps weekly, basis. Nearly everyone I talked to, except for my friends at Apple, has said they plan to keep working remotely at least one or two days a week going forward. I believe strongly this is something that will stick, and most companies will need to adapt to a more flexible workweek where some days are in person, and others are remote.

Another option I’ve heard floated, mostly by friends on the east coast, is the potential to move to a four day work week. In this scenario, they would go in four days a week and then actually get Friday off. I have two friends who work in Nashville, and their companies are transitioning to this model, and I’m curious how it goes and what the employee response is.

Even prior to COVID, we did some research on corporate and employee workflows and saw some indication employees were looking for tools that could help them be more efficient, so they had more time for non-work activities. Pre-COVID, I think people had a sense they would like more time to do non-work things, but post-COVID, it is clear this reality has sunk in, and going back to the way things were prior from a workplace standpoint seems highly unlikely.

There is not just a work-style change that has occurred but a mindset change that has occurred as well. This is the area where I think companies will have to truly understand and embrace and use the immense investments they have made in digital transformation and remote work empowerment to provide much more flexibility to their employees. Given the way tools are evolving that make remote work not just possible, but fruitful means that a more flexible work environment will not come at the cost of productivity.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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