Will Remote Work Be the New Normal
Even After the Pandemic?

See also: Working from Home

As we look at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s still too early to decide what represents a short-term change and what represents long-term change. This is especially true when discussing how businesses are deploying their workforce now and how they will use their workforce in the future.

History shows that when there is a pandemic, life returns to “normal.” However, what that new normal looks like can never be predicted. This has led many people to question whether the trend of remote workers will stick around even after the COVID-19 pandemic is done.

Cartoon image of a woman remote worker with a laptop wearing a face mask.

An Abrupt Change Caused by Unforeseen Circumstances

COVID-19 hit the world with such speed and ferocity that there was no preparing for it. There was only reacting to it. Governments, communities, and businesses put short-term solutions into place that allowed them to continue to function while they figured out what the long-term response to the pandemic should look like.

Many firms had their employees work from home. For some of these firms, this was the first time they ever contemplated this idea. Other firms had already begun migrating some of their employees to work from home. This meant that they had the cyber security infrastructure, including network protections and VPNs in place, that made it easier to transition more employees to work remotely.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that before the pandemic only 29 percent of Americans were able to work from home. That means a lot of them weren’t prepared for the remote work environment and educated on cybersecurity, or how to properly secure their devices when they’re working from home. It led to their devices being vulnerable to hacking attempts and malware attacks which could damage the whole company permanently. 

There are proven cybersecurity practices that are able to minimize these vulnerabilities helping them to maintain their working routine without putting their company’s data at risk.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that for firms that were under-prepared, the change to a remote work environment was abrupt and had seismic effects. Now, most enterprises are settling down and have implemented policies and security measures that allow them to have a decentralized workforce but maintain productivity and security.

Many organizations realize that there are benefits to having a decentralized workforce. It has also produced unique challenges and has opened the door for cyber criminals to exploit new security weaknesses that have appeared.

Is Remote Work the New Normal?

In the United Kingdom, 65 percent of office workers who are working remotely believe that remote workers will become more common even after the coronavirus crisis is under control.

This makes sense because the pandemic has allowed business owners to re-examine their expenses. They can evaluate how this shift is affecting their employee’s productivity and can determine the impact that not having employees come to centralize locations is having on their bottom lines.

Remote worker using her phone and laptop.

There are several reasons it makes sense for businesses to want their employees to work from home. Organizations spend a considerable amount of money renting or purchasing places for their employees to work from. In the United States the average cost of office space by square-foot, depending on the location, is between $8 and $23.

The most expensive place to rent an office in the United States is New York City. The average price of office space per employee per year is $14,800. In San Francisco it’s a little more than $13,000. Atlanta has the most affordable price per year average at $4,194 per employee. A firm that has several employees and is in a major city is investing a fortune in giving their employees a place to work.

It doesn’t take much to imagine the savings a business could experience if they could shift as little as 10 percent of their workforce from being in a rented office to working at home. They could invest this revenue in so many things, such as streamlining the business, laying out strategies for the future, and creating an infrastructure that would allow even more employees to work from home.

Having a primarily remote work staff opens up the pool of talent. Many large industries require their employees to live in major cities. This has a tremendous impact on the makeup of local communities. However, if people could work from home, employees will have more freedom in deciding where they will live. Likely, many would choose to live outside of major cities. This would create a larger talent pool and lead to revenue distribution in rural communities.

Factors That Might Dissuade Some Companies from Committing to Remote Work Environments

While there are many benefits for both employees and employers, there are some downsides to remote work.

From an employee's perspective, remote work can be lonely. It’s not uncommon for people to make most of their friends at work. Without this opportunity to interact, social activities and opportunities diminish.

Remote worker with phone, tablet and laptop all with a green power symbol on their screens.

Working from home can lead to diminished productivity because of distractions. Many people do not have a dedicated space in their home for work. For example, a person who lives in a small apartment in a major city may not be able to afford to upgrade to a bigger place that has a separate office.

This means that distractions can arise from phone calls, spouses, children, pets, etc. In an office environment there is a clear distinction between one’s personal life and one’s work life. When a person lives where they work, making these distinctions can be challenging.

Working remotely limits the chance of spontaneous conversation. One cannot underestimate the number of ideas that came into existence because of “water cooler moments.” These random interactions within an office can build trust. The ability to just grab a drink or lunch with a co-worker is non-existent. Being in the same place with other employees lends itself to ad hoc discussions that can generate ideas and build relationships.

Opportunities for learning and mentorship diminish. When people are straight out of college and starting their first job, they are not prepared for what the work environment requires of them. If an individual switches from one field to another, while they may have the technical expertise, they may lack some common sense things that can only be taught through mentorship.

From a financial perspective, there are several benefits for organizations migrating more of their workforce to a remote work environment. However, the quality of the work done, the resilience of the employees, and the sense of camaraderie that makes an organization work may not exist.

It’s likely that we will see some companies that have thrived during the pandemic keep a remote work environment. Others may see the benefit of having their employees go back to a physical space where collaboration and cooperation can take place naturally.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Living the ‘New Normal’ in the Age of Covid-19

The Skills You Need Guide to Living the ‘New Normal’
in the Age of Covid-19

This eBook is designed to help you through the process of ‘going digital’ and managing other aspects of life during a pandemic.

From how to get yourself online, through how to keep safe, to working, learning and staying in touch with friends and family remotely, the Skills You Need Guide to Living the 'New Normal' in the Age of Covid-19 covers the key skills you need to survive and thrive.

About the Author

Kate Noether is a PR Specialist, SEO expert and all-round tech enthusiast. Apart from that she enjoys biking on weekends and spending time in nature.