Tech Giants Google, Facebook and Twitter Say Flexible Remote Work Here to Stay – Will Others Follow?

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Coworking with Plexiglass

It’s a question many have been pondering since the start of the pandemic, and perhaps even before then, with 5-7% of salaried US workers working from home before Covid-19, increasing to 60% after lockdown, according to UBS, and many companies continuing to extend work from home (WFH). Google has announced its employees will work from home until at least until July 2021. Twitter announced in May that many of its employees could also work outside the office, permanently. Facebook, Slack, Zillow, and Shopify are also on the list of companies enabling employees to WFH indefinitely.

Add to this the fact that the way we work is changing. The number of people that are self-employed or hold multiple jobs, versus working for a single employer, is increasing. Where, when, and how they are working is changing as well.

Remote Work Options Leads to Happy Productive Workers Studies Say

Even before the pandemic, the age-old model of commercial real estate in requiring businesses to commit to decade-long leases was likely broken, versus enabling more flexible options, like apartment rental leases allowing shorter terms. The traditional business real estate lease still requires companies to project five years or more, when even one may be nearly impossible to predict in a pandemic.

Remote work and WFH options have offered good alternatives for many companies. In fact, many businesses were pleasantly surprised at how good it has been for their business. Productivity has not suffered, and for many businesses WFH has reduced the expense of real estate and overhead costs.

Giving employees the ability to not be tethered to a corporate office also gives businesses the ability to hire regardless of geography. It can also lead to increased employee satisfaction—with the ability to eliminate an individual’s commute, enable them to work from anywhere, and potentially enable them to achieve better work/life balance. About 98% of respondents to Buffer’s 2020 “State of Remote Report” say they would like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their career, and 97% would recommend working remotely to others.

It can also lead to increased productivity. As just one example, one study from Stanford Economics Professor Nicholas Bloom indicated productivity increased 13% when employees were able to opt in to WFH policies, and these employees became even more productive (up to 22% more than before the experiment), when given a choice between remaining at home or returning to the office nine months later.

WFH May Not Work for Everyone

Still others have concerns about the effects on communication, knowledge-sharing, brainstorming and problem-solving in not being in the office. Others point to lack of socialization, camaraderie, and mentoring. Respondents in Buffer’s survey rank “collaboration and communication” and “loneliness” each at 20% in a tie for top response, as the “biggest struggle with working remote.”

Additionally, safety remains a concern. Moody’s Analytics suggests the amount of office space per employee has decreased, on average overall, from 200-300 square feet per employee in the 1980s to 126.5 square feet in 2019. As we continue to navigate the pandemic, employees may not want to return to the same office buildings with shared spaces and cubicles that are close together.

While many individuals are getting used to working from home, others say they also need a place to touch down. The phrase “living at work,” describing the difficulty to unplug and delineate work from personal life, has emerged during the pandemic.

Parents and others might benefit from having a separate, quiet space to concentrate (12% in the Buffer survey rank “distractions at home” as their biggest WFH struggle), the ability to collaborate with other adults, or obtain access to higher quality technology options. Going to an office enables individuals to meet face-to-face and interact with other professionals to help inspire creativity.

WFH is Morphing into WFA

For many, neither 100% in the office nor WFH is the answer, and instead, a hybrid model may offer the best of both worlds.

“Work from anywhere” (WFA) is a growing trend that enables organizations to offer employees the flexibility to work when, how, and where they want. This might include working part-time at an office, working remote, or a combination of both.

A recent Cushman & Wakefield report, “The Future of Workplace,” supports the move toward this trend. Around 73% of respondents say they expect their companies to offer flexible working practices for the foreseeable future. The report indicates this will likely include a combination of working from home, working from the office, and working from other places, such as coworking. The Savills survey of tech firms is another report that recognizes an increasing move toward hybrid options.

Businesses See Positive Impact on Bottomline

Flexible working options also benefit businesses in numerous ways. Businesses can convert fixed real estate costs to variable models, enabling them to scale their office footprint to address unprecedented challenges of doing business today. Many coworking spaces are offering the ability to go month-to-month or purchase packages for weekly or hourly use to address the need for flexible office requirements. Some offer customized, flexible spaces. And, since not every person will likely need access to a desk every day, companies might reserve a smaller space that is more likely to be able to fluctuate with its needs. Organizations may decide to lease their own space in a coworking facility, and/or space for remote employees in other coworking facilities that are closer to where they live. According to respondents to Buffer’s report, over 20% of respondents that WFH say their employers offer to pay for them to have a coworking membership.

Virtual office options are also another way businesses and individuals can test coworking feasibility. These options give individuals that primarily WFH many of the benefits of working in an office—including access to a business street address for meetings or mail, and services like touchless mail handling, training, networking, meetups and happy hours, and private conference room time—at an affordable rate.

With all working options, safety remains paramount during the COVID-19 crisis. Businesses and workers alike should ensure social distancing measures, including extra spacing between workspaces, plexiglass to separate open spaces, touchless entry and exit for doors, access to outdoor space, UVC lighting, advanced HVAC systems and more.

What does the future hold for WFH, remote work and the future of work? One thing for certain is that the pandemic has highlighted where today’s most successful companies and their employees seemed to be headed before the crisis–flexible, hybrid, remote workplace solutions that are as varied and individual as they are.