In the midst of the world pandemic, many companies have started to turn to remote work in order to keep their business running. How long will this last for and does remote work have a future even after the crisis ends?
Remote Work and Productivity
A significant correlation can be drawn between remote work and productivity. This is not just a general statement. Remote work has, in fact, been proven to improve and enhance employee productivity in more than one situation.
Take a recent experiment done by the Chinese website Ctrip as an example. In this experiment, the Chinese website had contacted centre employees to volunteer to work from home. They randomly selected a subset of the volunteers who were allowed to work from home. The rest of them were placed in a control group. The experiment showed a significantly bigger difference between these two groups when it comes to employee productivity. Namely, the group of people who worked from home was more productive and they even reported higher satisfaction while doing so.
Apart from productivity, remote working has also been recognised as a great way to create more inclusive workplaces. For instance, women with children, especially younger children, place a higher value on remote working due to the flexibility that is associated with it.
Challenges of Remote Work
Remote work comes with numerous benefits as well as advantages. However, many challenges of this type of work arise as well. It ranges from workplace norms that we as a society are used to and stigma to the requirement and need of more effective remote team management. Not to mention that some jobs simply require those more general productivity benefits that can only be achieved with in-person work that can’t easily be replicated when people are working from home.
Furthermore, certain logistical constraints that can be quite crucial for some jobs can make remote working nearly impossible. In a recently published paper, done by Dingel and Neiman (2020,) the topic was concerned with this aspect of remote work. The two of them came up with a carefully constructed occupation-level classification of the feasibility of doing a number of different jobs from home. They found out that about 37% of the jobs on their list have great potential to be done in home conditions. However, even though these jobs seem to have every possible requirement met in order to be done at home in theory, many businesses choose not to take that step.
Covid-19 and Remote Work
In light of the current situation, we have found ourselves in, the conventional way of working has been challenged in several different ways. Namely, the COVID-19 crisis has shed a light on remote work, making it a safe, if not the best choice for the work environment right now. Big business corporations are facing a set of options that they need to choose from:
- continue business as usual, but with a high risk of grave illness
- shut down the business completely until the risk of illness is taken care of
- make a transition to remote work
To fully comprehend the adjustments of small businesses in the midst of the crisis, a set of careful and precise observations are taking place at the moment.
In one paper (Bartik et al. 2020a), it has been shown that approximately 43% of small businesses decided to temporarily shut down about a few weeks into the crisis. However, a huge number of businesses have also opted for switching to remote work and using reliable professional online event services to make sure the show still goes on.
What does this information tell us and what does this mean for the future of remote work? Well, the possible answer lies in Dingel and Neiman’s index of suitability for remote work that was constructed based on the attributes of the given occupation (for example, depending on whether a certain job needs face-to-face interactions or not). Experts find that this analysis does a pretty good job at predicting which industries are more likely to adopt remote work during the COVID-19 crisis.
The results suggested that this transition was completely feasible and that businesses that were able to adopt remote work chose to do so. So, the question isn’t just whether businesses can switch to remote work, but also which ones can. The aspect of possible inequality of this transition is also a big factor, showing that businesses in industries that make more money are more likely to adopt remote work.
The productivity and productivity changes in businesses were also analysed. The results point out that productivity effects may also be uneven since there are many companies that had a significant decrease in productivity ever since they switched to remote work. However, this predictability has to be taken with a grain of salt since a prior classification of suitability has to be taken into consideration as well. In other words, the firms that have had a significant loss in productivity were prior classified as having less capacity for remote work in the first place.
In addition to that, business expectations regarding the future of remote work and the levels of remote work they expect to persist after the COVID-19 crisis were analysed too. The NABE survey shows that about 36% of them believe that more than 40% of those who transitioned to remote work will most likely continue that way even after the crisis.
Roughly 40% of Alignable respondents claimed that about 40% of their workers who switched to remote work will continue to do so after the crisis is over. These results suggest that remote work will most likely remain at higher levels after the crisis ends, despite the uneven productivity effects.
All things considered, the exact outcome of this huge transition cannot be calculated. However, surveys and researches that have been done so far show a bright future for remote work.