HR People + Strategy Blog: 3 Reasons Remote Work is Here to Stay

August 11th, 2020

By Rishon Blumberg & Michael Solomon

“Once we go back to normal…” has become the catchphrase of the day at the virtual watercooler.

But instead of waiting for some imaginary day in which we no longer have to work remotely, business leaders and managers should be thinking about how to embrace the remote work paradigm shift for the long haul. Like it or not, it’s here to stay. And if you’re not prepared to adapt your long-term work practices, you’ll regret it when you discover that your competitors are.

Don’t believe us? Three trends have been shifting work from offices to distributed for decades, even before coronavirus hit:

3 Reasons Remote Work Is Here to Stay

Although there are plenty of ancillary benefits to remote work, here are the three biggest reasons remote work was always going to shape the next generation of work. 

1. Money and Savings
Remote work saves companies money. And there are layers to this. First, the most obvious reason: more remote work means less overhead cost related to the traditional office setting. Facebook, Square, and Twitter have told employees they may continue to work from home permanently.

As employees get acclimated to remote work and companies realize the staggering number of jobs that (surprise, surprise!) can be done from anywhere in the world, many will adjust operations. 

Expect to see a major shift away from 24/7 office leasing, and companies building giant Google-like campuses in the future. Companies may choose to gather a few times per week in teams, instead of every day. And once we’re eventually gathering with colleagues again, expect to see a resurgence in the usage of coworking spaces (albeit with lower density).

The second layer to this is that embracing remote work opens the door to bringing more freelancers on board. Companies moving away from strict onsite rules for employees have the opportunity to open their talent pools up to finding the right resource for a specific job or project, regardless of their W-2 or 1099 status (and regardless of location). Once companies stop focusing all recruiting on candidates in the immediate vicinity of their headquarters, cost-saving remote work will be a real advantage.

With a 1099 contractor, employers can avoid many of the costs associated with W-2 employees—think payroll tax, insurance benefits, paid time off, etc. Perhaps most importantly, freelancers can be brought on when needed, at the most important times. With this approach, some companies find that they can afford to pay a premium for contracting work because the engagements are finite and lower commitment.

2. Productivity
Here’s something that shouldn’t come as a surprise: the traditional office set up isn’t the best work environment for everyone.

As it relates to productivity, research suggests some employees perform best from home. One recent Stanford study found a 13 percent increase in productivity at companies that allowed remote work. An even more recent study published by Harvard Business School found similar results.

At the risk of stereotyping, some tech professionals do their best work in isolation. Plenty of developers and programmers prefer a certain type of workspace; often it involves minimizing distractions to create an environment conducive to extreme focus (flow state).

Looking to the future, the most formidable teams will be those that play to their employees’ strengths. That means paying attention to everyone’s best versions of themselves. For some, that might be a heavy mix of remote work. For others, it might be in-person collaboration.

Either way, when assembling a cast of employees, there will always be a cohort that performs best as remote workers. When we go back to some form of “normal,” this will be something retained by those passionate about getting the most out of their staff.

3. The Adjacent Possible
It’s taken hundreds of years to arrive at a point where productive remote work is even feasible… but society has finally reached it.

The “adjacent possible” is a term coined by American author Steven Johnson. In a famous 2010 article published by the Wall Street Journal, Johnson describes the adjacent possible as the following:

“The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.”

In other words, what’s possible tomorrow is determined by what’s possible today. So let’s quickly run through a few ways in which we are at the adjacent possible with remote work.

  • Hardware: Most companies provide the necessary hardware to work remotely. Many of us use laptops (with webcams) that can be taken anywhere. With strong internet connectivity, a laptop, a phone, and maybe a headset, most of today’s workforce has the physical tools to make remote work sustainable.
  • Software: We also now have all the tools needed to work in isolation. Think of your own product stack for a moment. Collaboration tools are so effective, they can keep us connected 24/7.
  • Cybersecurity: Going remote poses security challenges for lots of companies. But thanks to innovative technology, those challenges don’t need to stop teams from embracing the shift. Two-factor verification, VPNs, remote login tools…the takeaway here is that effective security solutions exist in abundance.

Taking a step back, some of these tools were not available even just ten years ago. We’ve come to take them for granted in the past few years, but they fundamentally improve the viability of a remote workforce.

Not Letting the Change Pass You By

Remote work won’t be the only way to remain innovative as the work landscape continues to shift. But it is one of the most obvious and inevitable trends we can all prepare for today.

For business leaders and managers, there’s certainly no harm in getting a head start on embracing the paradigm shift. Chances are you’ll be better off for it. 

A key recommendation: keep a close ear to the inner workings of your company. Are employees enjoying remote work? Are some better suited for it? Is there newfound opportunity to open recruitment efforts to a broader talent pool?

The most innovative teams are thinking one step ahead. If remote work becomes the new norm, what will then be the adjacent possible?