Millions expected to continue to work from home

According to a March 17 survey of 800 HR executives published by Gartner, a research and advisory firm, 88% of the organizations have encouraged or required employees to work from home. 

While it is too early to assess the lasting effects of this pandemic, with the rising number of businesses going remote, one can only wonder how much more we’ll be working from home once the dust settles.

Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics, predicts that the number of U.S employees working from home on a regular basis will increase by 20-25 million in the next two years. 

We believe, based on historical trends, that those who were working remotely before the pandemic will increase their frequency after they are allowed to return to their offices,” Lister said. “For those who were new to remote work until the pandemic, we believe there will be a significant upswing in their adoption.”

With telecommuting as an option, workers save time by not having to commute while simultaneously reducing their carbon footprints. According to data recorded in 337 cities by China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, there has been an 84.5% increase in days with good air quality since the beginning of this year. 

Although environmental concerns have not been the driving cause of remote work in past years, Lister says being able to see the impacts that remote work has on the environment may finally flip the switch for companies.

“The annual environmental impact of half-time remote work (for those who both want to work remotely and have a compatible job) would be the greenhouse gas equivalent of taking the entire NY State workforce off the road,” she said. “There is no easier, quicker, and cheaper way to reduce your carbon footprint than by reducing commuter travel.”

Not only does decreased commuter travel cut down on carbon emissions, it also has the potential to help employers cut down on spending. Global Work Place Analytics predicts that by switching to half-time remote work, employees can save between $2500-$4000 per year on food, parking, and travel costs. For employers, they’re estimated to save $11,000 per half-time telecommuter each year. 

The demand for increased flexibility in the workplace has been growing for years and a multitude of companies are just now getting to experience this through remote work. For many employees, this means working flexible hours in pajamas becomes a comfortable new reality.

Qualcomm program manager and Westview parent Srujana Yedulapuram said that since first starting remote work full-time on March 12,  the added flexibility in her schedule allows for increased productivity in multiple aspects of her day. 

“Because I’m able to save an hour and a half in commute time per day, I’m spending more time gardening now, something that I love and which I couldn’t do in the last year due to an increase in my work load,” Yedulapuram said. “Not only that, I’m able to spend more time on my work tasks.” 

While a flexible work schedule has its advantages, Yedulapuram said it also comes with a handful of pitfalls—especially when the line between work life and personal life becomes blurred. For Yedulapuram, this made managing stress more difficult than ever. 

“Earlier, I would resolve all my stresses at work by going on walks,” she said. “But when working from home, that separation is not possible. I’ve had to learn to manage my work stress through meditation at home so I don’t take it to my family.” 

Communication is another place telecommuting fails to meet previous standards, as on-site collaboration is often more productive than when done via video conferencing. According to a study conducted by CultureWiz, 84% of its respondents found that virtual communication was more difficult than in-person communication.

For Yedulapuram and many others who rely on communication as a central part of their jobs, the amount of work they’re able to complete is limited by a computer screen. 

“Communication is much more effective when done in person, so in that sense I’ve lost some ability to communicate effectively and receive communication efficiently,” Yedulapuram said. “I make it a point to turn on my video in all my online meetings to try and alleviate this problem.” 

Whether the benefits of remote work outweigh its challenges, signs suggest the recent increase in telecommuters will trigger substantial changes in the work world going forward. According to Lister, the longer people are required to work from home, the more businesses  we should expect to see going remote in the pandemic’s aftermath.

“While the experience of working at home during the crisis may not have been ideal as whole families sheltered in place, it will give people a taste of what could be,” Lister said. “The genie is out of the bottle and it’s not likely to go back in.”