- The current situation is creating new opportunities and solutions for flexible work.
- Jobseekers can now freely apply to openings across the country, widening the available talent pool.
- These businesses are adapting to the change and may attempt to make the shift permanent.
By Holly Welles, a real estate writer and author of The Estate Update.
With the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, employees see new opportunities for flexible work, including completing tasks from home. What initially looked like an inconvenience has proven to offer a slew of benefits to some organizations.
Jobseekers previously hindered by geography can now freely apply to openings across the country, widening the available talent pool. Businesses can cut overhead costs related to real estate, rent and utilities, with some opting to abandon physical spaces altogether. Plus, companies are learning that people are more productive when choosing their work location and schedules.
Many businesses have adapted to the change and may attempt to make the shift permanent. Others, however, will go straight back to old norms when given the chance.
The Tech Sector
Unsurprisingly, the tech sector is leading the way when it comes to altering the future of remote work. Social media giant Twitter was one of the first organizations to phase employees into working from home. In a recent statement, the brand said people in roles that enable them to work remotely could continue doing so indefinitely. Those that want to return to headquarters, however, can expect a gradual office-by-office phase-in after September.
Other tech companies have also enabled work-from-home measures for the foreseeable future, and experts believe the practice will become more common after the crisis abates. Facebook says most employees can continue to work remotely through the end of 2020. Google parent company Alphabet claims employees should expect a staggered return to the office starting in June, but that some personnel will work from home for the rest of the year.
Along with the shift to full-time remote work, many tech companies have offered resources to make the transition easier. Shopify has provided workers with a $1,000 stipend to supply their home office spaces. At Twitter, however, all employees will receive a reimbursement for office equipment, such as desks, chairs and cushions.
The White-Collar Sector
Many business leaders in white-collar sectors, such as law and finance, claim they won’t transition into an entirely work-from-home model. Physical space has its advantages — coworkers can build camaraderie, and it feels more professional to meet a client in a dedicated conference space compared to a local coffee shop. Still, some of the remote work habits that have emerged due to COVID-19 will stay.
Ian Friedman, a partner at Friedman & Nemecek in Cleveland, claims his law firm will offer more flexible work opportunities moving forward, saying it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing situation. “It could be something where you go into the office when you need to, and work from home when you don’t.”
Brent Capron, design director of interiors at Perkins & Will architecture firm, also believes the future will incorporate a split approach. “People will still gather for work. But the amount of time you work in proximity with others, and what your workweek looks like — I see that to be the biggest cultural shift moving forward.”
The result of this partial-office approach may be companies opening regional hubs or providing access to coworking spaces wherever employees are concentrated, rather than dedicating money to a central office. In the future, working at an organization’s headquarters may be a status symbol, showcasing a budget and workforce large enough to warrant expensive real estate in a major metropolitan area.
The Traditional Sector
Of course, flexible work means different things for different sectors. For some workers, such as builders, manufacturers, electricians and plumbers, going remote is not a possibility. Instead, organizations are embracing technology and adjusting work schedules to ensure the safety of team members.
Some industries may turn to robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and automated tools to enhance operations. One San Francisco-based company, OpenSpace, uses AI to develop navigable 360-degree photos for construction sites, allowing builders and site managers to virtually tour an area and map it to project plans. Stakeholders can also monitor progress remotely and resolve conflicts without face-to-face interaction.
Technology may end up replacing equipment operators, too, transitioning them into roles of robotic and autonomous equipment supervisors. Remote-controlled drones can inspect work, do aerial surveys and complete tasks related to estimates. The result of these advancements is fewer people on-site at any given time.
Beyond material and equipment improvements, technology will also aid immediate and integrated communications. Customized apps allow all participants in a project to connect in real-time, supporting efficiency and accuracy. Virtual conferences will also assist in international project coordination, allowing everyone involved in a project to talk with ease and speed.
COVID-19 and the Future of Remote Work
While still in the throes of the novel coronavirus, organizations must adapt to the current reality — working from home. Many companies plan to adopt this flexible model once the pandemic subsides. However, some will look for ways to combine the benefits of remote work with the advantages of office space.
Perhaps most interestingly, the crisis is advancing technological change in the industries most resistant to transformation. In sectors where working from home is impossible — primarily in construction and manufacturing — technology will play a significant role in keeping team members safe.
Companies have scrambled to adapt to telecommuting and distancing in the workplace. While some are sure to switch back as soon as they can, it’s clear that workers and managers alike are finding silver linings in flexible work arrangements. Once we find this new normal works for more industries, it will be difficult to turn back.
Holly Welles is a real estate writer with a focus on millennial experiences at home and at work. You can find more of her research on workforce trends on her own blog, The Estate Update, where she researches the best places to live and work.