Did you know that mid-20th century futurists Arthur C. Clarke and Alvin Toffler predicted that home and work life would one day merge?
In a 1964 BBC broadcast, decades before the internet, Clarke forecasted, “it will be possible for a man to conduct his business from Tahiti or Bali just as well as he could from London.” Later, at a 1976 MIT conference, he imagined the means, with people messaging each other via a “high-definition TV screen, and a typewriter keyboard,” à la Zoom. Toffler’s 1980 book, The Third Wave, provided the venue, describing an “electronic cottage,” where home and work life seamlessly combined with technology. However, Clarke and Toffler couldn’t predict the disruption created by a pandemic. And now it seems the “electronic cottage” may be here to stay.
Today, over one-quarter of workers work remotely, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Moreover, as of 2021, a BLS study showed that 13% teleworked full-time, 22% had a hybrid schedule, and 33% of companies increased their remote work options. So even though Covid concerns brought about this dramatic shift, the question remains: is the hybrid workplace here to stay?
It may be too early to tell. Some health experts are predicting a Covid-19 fall surge. In addition, a stubbornly low 3.7% unemployment rate (August) means that top talent still has leverage in hiring negotiations. Polls consistently show that upwards of 70% of workers want a remote option. According to a Morning Consult poll for Bloomberg News, 39% are even willing to quit without one!
Whether due to pandemic stress, job burnout, or simply wanting more autonomy workers wish to shorten commutes and find a better work-life balance. Therefore, if your company is still debating whether to embrace a partial or permanent shift to flextime or permanent remote work, here are some pros and cons to consider:
The upside of remote work
Reduced operating costs for employers. Remote work means employers can downsize leased office space, storage, overhead, and communal office equipment, saving an average of $11,000 per employee per year, according to 2021 data from GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com. In addition, because office demand is down in many cities, some brokers now specialize in smaller, regional office leases meant to reduce long commutes while offering hybrid employees a “workspace hub” to connect with co-workers (Workspace Strategies website, May 2021).
Environmental and infrastructure benefits. Daily commutes use resources that could be better spent on social good. Car emissions, energy, public transportation, parking investments, and road wear-and-tear are all costs that decline without commuters.
Hybrid models make for happy workers. Many workers feel that a flexible work schedule helps them be more in control of their lives. A 2019 American Psychological Association article highlighted benefits like increased job satisfaction, less stress, and even equal or slightly higher performance (The Future of Remote Work, October 2019). Working remotely also may help develop discipline, initiative, and a level of intraprenurialship associated with top employees.
The downside of remote work
Which jobs can be done remotely? Will remote work options, often seen as a perk, present perception of privilege between those at home and in-office staff? And can employees, especially Gen Z, thrive without the connectedness and mentoring opportunities workplaces create?
Will a scattered workforce affect your ability to compete? For example, is your company and brand important to a community identity? Is your corporate culture capable of cohesion with a scattered workforce? Also, can you make the necessary cybersecurity investments to protect remote data and reduce risk?
How will you measure productivity? This is a big issue. Some companies are turning to surveillance software to ensure remote workers aren’t simply playing video games. According to Yahoo Finance, the global employee software monitoring market is expected to grow 15.9% to $62.90 billion this year. However, while bosses might find e-monitoring helps them improve workflow and performance, some online posters have complained it’s spying. An ExpressVPN survey showed that 43% of employees felt digital monitoring was a “violation of trust.” Before using monitoring software, companies should consider the ethical, legal, and hiring impacts of monitoring software.
Finally, numerous management experts ponder how to build culture, support collaboration, and control outputs remotely. Leadership models primarily rely on communal environments where the tools of character, communication, and observation can inspire and guide employees to do their best work. New leadership models may be needed to ensure a successful transition to remote management to avoid transactional rather than transformational organizations.
So, is the “electronic cottage” here to stay?
Multiple studies suggest that most working Americans say “yes” to some version of a hybrid work model. And research shows that even before the pandemic, remote options were growing. Therefore, if companies leverage the upside cost savings, hiring advantages, and increased employee satisfaction while using a research-based approach to manage the downside, it is safe to say that the “electronic cottage” is here to stay!
Robinson, Bryan, Ph.D., (2022, Feb. 4). 3 New Studies End Debate Over Effectiveness Of Hybrid And Remote Work. Forbes.
Wright, Aliah, D. (n.d.). Why Are Some Companies Moving Away from Telework? SHRM.
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