Channeling my inner Frank Sinatra, working remotely will be lovelier the second time around, once the necessary corrections are made to a business world changed overnight in mid-March 2020 when government response to the COVID-19 pandemic essentially eliminated the traditional office environment as a means of conducting business.
I’ve never taken a traditional approach to practice law. My learning curve on remote working was a little further along than most people’s; I’ve been working remotely on a regular basis for the last 20 years. My response to the rest of the business world joining me on March 16, 2020, was, “The genie is out of the bottle; you can’t ever put it back.”
It appears my prognostication was correct. A survey conducted by FlexJobs in April of 2021 indicated that 65% of people working remotely during the pandemic want to continue doing so, and 58% said they would look for a new job if their current employer requires them to return to the office.
At the same time, 40% of companies surveyed said they intended to keep most of the workforce remote post-pandemic, and 90% said digital transformation was a top priority. Employers and employees alike were impressed and amazed at how well their business functioned in a work-from-home environment.
While remote working is here to stay, it now needs to be revisited as an alternative to the traditional office, not as an alternative to not working at all. Management, technology, security, and people issues that were ignored or minimized during the pandemic now need to be addressed.
The post-pandemic reality is that not every job can be done as efficiently remotely as it can be done in an office environment, and many jobs can’t be done at all. In addition, many people, regardless of their position, are just not as effective when working outside of a traditional office environment, or in some cases, not effective at all. Still, some jobs lend themselves to remote working and people who excel at it. Neither reality can be ignored.
Because it is far more difficult to manage and mentor employees who are physically somewhere else, managers prefer not to. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reported that managers interviewed believed that remote employees were not as “eager” as those who came to a physical location. Good managers will develop the skill sets needed to interact with remote workers.
Employees who want to continue to work remotely will need to demonstrate the same or a greater commitment to their position than their in-office counterparts. The FlexJobs survey also revealed that 66% of employees working remotely during the pandemic did not have a designated in-home workspace. Post-pandemic, those employees should expect that working from their coffee table or at a chair pulled up to an ironing board will not be viewed favorably.
Employees working from home will need to invest in technology so that the equipment they use at home is equal to or superior to that used in the office. Employers will need to pay more for cyber insurance and will need to invest in upgraded digital security in response to the unprecedented increase in hacks where a company’s infrastructure connects to an employee’s remote device. Everyone should expect that connecting will get more difficult; the dreaded ever-changing password will soon be joined with two-factor identification as a standard best practice and a condition of getting or keeping cyber insurance.
The people issues will also become far more prevalent; in-office employees are envious of their at-home counterparts and at-home people believing they are being passed over for raises and promotions because they are not in the office. These issues can be minimized if policies and employee handbooks are updated to reflect the new hybrid work environment, and every employee knows what is expected from them, regardless of where they work.
The traditional workplace will now co-exist with its remote counterpart. Smart businesses will hire and retain the best employees, regardless of physical location, and properly integrate work from home as an option, but this time do it right, the second time around.