Remote work is here to stay, or at least some version of it. No one initially imagined that a health crisis would reshape the foundation of how we get the job done. But, with so much at stake at the time, businesses and professionals reinvented themselves in order to survive a disrupted economy. Almost two and a half years have passed. Remote work transitioned from an alternative and hard-to-attain to becoming a preference in job choice among employees. Yet, as the globe recovers from one of the most challenging times, companies of all sizes wrangle the idea of whether or not workers should return to the office.
Early this year, Brian Chesky, the CEO and co-founder of Airbnb, announced a remote-first employment policy. Starting in September, Airbnb’s more than 6,000 employees will have the choice to work for up to three months per year from over 170 countries.
According to Chesky, remote work is a competitive advantage for companies now able to recruit talent worldwide. “The most talented people aren’t in San Francisco anymore. And they are not here in New York. The most talented people are everywhere now — and if I need engineers, designers, product managers, or marketers, there are getting so distributed that if you limit your talent pool to a community radius, you are probably at a disadvantage, “says the CEO at an interview for CNBC Make It.
Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, weighs against a completely remote model. At the TIME 100 symposium in New York, he said that the tech giant is trying to find the sweet spot between the flexibility of remote work and the office’s structure. “We are running the mother of all experiments because we don’t know. We are running a pilot and trying to find the place that makes the best of both of these worlds,” Cook, however, confirmed his preference for the “serendipity” of the in-person meetings.
Before you decide upon your preference, this article will offer a perspective on the advances and potential disadvantages of leaving the office behind.
NO NEED FOR COMMUTING
Remote work saves precious commute hours. Though some advocates say commuting helps workers clean their heads before and after shifts, it significantly affects employees forced to spend long journeys on transit. Among the disadvantages of commuting to work, experts list: reduced sleeping hours compared to workers who live closer to the job site, increased stress/anxiety levels, decreased personal time, and waste of hours that could be spent with actual work or other personal activities.
Employees report a better work-life balance with less time in transit as they have more control over their hours. With multiple hours saved weekly, professionals can spend quality time with loved ones or on other priorities in their life.
BETTER ACCESS TO JOB OPPORTUNITIES AND TALENT
In-person working models forced companies to restrict their recruiting process to nearby talent pools. But as remote work increases its global acceptance, the geographic boundaries limiting access to job opportunities turn meaningless. In a time of a massive voluntary exodus of employees, having the alternative to explore less saturated markets in search of top-notch professionals is a competitive advantage for companies. Not to mention that the gap between the supply and demand for high-skilled professionals will only grow as digital transformation accelerates, which will force companies to look elsewhere for talent.
Additionally, because remote work eliminates commuting from the employment equation, professionals from far regions or living abroad have a genuine chance of getting recruited by global players. Hiring from various areas favors more diversity and inclusion in the workplace, resulting in more operational creativity.
BETTER WORK-LIFE BALANCE
Working in an office requires employees to follow a strict code. It is not only about dressing appropriately but the extensive implicit rules regarding the relationship with coworkers. Think about it. How often were you asked to finish a report minutes before your shift was over? or dragged into a never-ending meeting unable to communicate your dissatisfaction? Whether professionals want it or not, working in the office creates a layer of stress that can be minimized when working from a more friendly setting, say home. In the office, professionals have more obligations than just the workload itself. They must invest much energy in fostering relationships and meeting daily expectations about themselves and their work.
Further, a study by Zippia reveals that 75% of employees believe they have a better work-life balance working remotely. The anywhere office gives employees more control over their time on and off work. With commuting out of the equation, professionals reclaim hours to invest in other important personal activities. After all, work should be a responsibility rather than the only priority.
Among the benefits of remote work, employees cited reduced stress (57%), reduced absences (56%), improved morale (54%), and fewer sick days (50%).
Most leaders point to reduced productivity as the negative side of remote work. Although no conclusive evidence supports the argument, remote work typically creates more distractions than an average office. Professionals whose kids are at home may struggle with constant interference from their children, a pet, or even neighboring noises. Workers at home can also have a hard time separating demands from work and those of the household. If you don’t have good project management skills, you may end up getting the chores done but forgetting a critical meeting.
Additionally, due to the potential lack of interaction between departments, employees may have difficulty accessing the information necessary to perform a given task on time. Productivity is harder to measure when managers aren’t able to see workers’ performance physically. Nevertheless, this could be the push managers need to evolve productivity models.
NO IN-PERSON CONTACT
Creating bonds with a team without that casual coffee break or an eventual happy hour is challenging. People typically need quality time together before they feel comfortable sharing and collaborating with one another. Although companies are making efforts to allow more interaction between coworkers in the virtual space, some things work better in person. The lack of face-to-face supervision also imposes limitations on quality management. Often employees report reduced access to managerial support and hardship in communicating with leaders. Absent managers will fall short in their attempt to assist employees and provide the needed support to get the work done appropriately.
Getting caught up in a limitless working routine at home is easy. The flexibility, sometimes regarded as an advantage for remote work, can backfire when employees lose track of the necessary boundaries. Being able to start work a bit later is great, but employees typically will try to compensate by working long after the agreeable time. Although commuting isn’t fun, it helps employees establish limits at work. After all, any overtime would get you stuck in traffic or even make you lose the scheduled public transportation. At the office, people clocking out to go home is an important reminder of the necessary boundaries between working and resting hours.
Employees and companies have distinct opinions about the advantages and contradictions of remote work. The biggest lesson about this new employment dynamic is that both businesses and workers must figure out what works best for them. There isn’t a universal recipe that will satisfy all needs. As Tim Cook said about remote work, we are witnessing the “mother of all experiments”. So we must be open to adjusting the recipe along the way. Companies will have to measure the pros and cons for themselves, keeping the business and staff needs in mind.