We’re now a year into massive remote work experiment driven by necessity and marked with trial and error. Now, as companies weigh their future with remote work, leaders must shift from helping their company survive virtual work, to helping their employees thrive while working from home.
For 14 years, I’ve been founder and CEO of a 100 percent remote company. I’m passionate about sharing the efficacy of a flexible work environment supported by virtual work, and I decided to take a pulse of the present state of remote work to help predict the model’s future. I surveyed my readership of over 100,000 people with five high-level questions about remote work.
The survey struck a chord. Nearly 2,000 people responded within a few days—CEOs, department heads, managers and individual contributors. Despite our team’s considerable experience with remote work, even I was surprised by the results. Here’s what you need to know.
Remote work is here to stay
While companies as large as Twitter and Dropbox have already committed to a remote-friendly future, others remain unconvinced. Netflix CEO Reid Hastings referred to remote work as “a pure negative,” while Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon called it, “an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible.” Their comments have prompted questions of just how prevalent remote work will be going forward.
The data from the survey was pretty clear that most employees don’t want to return to the office every day, or even most days. While 52 percent of respondents worked in an office every day before the pandemic, only two percent want to return to the office full-time. In fact, 68 percent of respondents clarified they want to work from home either most of the time, or every day.
Employers may believe they can snap their fingers and call all employees back to the office post-pandemic. But if they haven’t checked in with their employees, they could be making a strategic mistake.
Many employees will be willing to leave an in-person company to pursue remote work opportunities, and they will find far more virtual companies than they ever could have found pre-pandemic. Rather than assuming remote work is a fad, leaders should listen to their employees and consider that remote work may help them attract and retain talent in a post pandemic world.
A second goal of the survey was to learn people’s favorite benefits of remote work. I shared a selection of remote perks and asked respondents to select all the ones they found valuable. While it won’t surprise you that nearly 83 percent of people like avoiding their commute, nearly as many—82 percent—also enjoy the flexibility remote work offers.
Employees saw flexibility as a benefit even while a global pandemic restricted our movements, or forced many of us to work with kids running around during lockdown. What workers will soon realize is that the autonomy remote work offers is far more valuable in normal times, when it is easy to go on a run during lunch, do school drop-off and pickup during breaks or take a mid-day yoga class to balance your day.
As a leader or manager, consider how you can maximize the flexibility your team has, without compromising work outcomes. You may allow employees to travel the world, and work from remote locations, or to design a custom schedule that works for both them and the business. The flexibility offered by remote work could go a long way toward fostering more engaged and balanced employees.
Of course, the survey also measured the pain-points remote workers feel. While these were varied, one was especially common: 59 percent of respondents, regardless of their role, reported a tendency to overwork, and not take breaks throughout the day while working from home.
While many new remote workers worry their personal life will infringe on their work, the spillover often flows in the opposite direction: we find it hard to stop working after the workday ends and even before it begins. An office environment offers several social cues to help us ease up—seeing when colleagues start and end their workday, or following them for lunch or coffee breaks. Without those signals, many remote workers find themselves burrowing into one task after another, only to discover they’ve been working since they got out of bed and have now worked through dinner.
One way to alleviate this burden is to put clear barriers between your work and home life. Set a clear schedule, with a consistent start and end to their workday. Follow a morning routine, rather than jumping straight into email. It’s even helpful to simulate an evening commute: if you end your workday with 20 minutes of meditating, a quick walk outside, or even some light reading, you’ll set a mental boundary between work and home life.
To complete this commuting effect, it’s also useful to physically separate your workspace. Even if you don’t have a spare room to use as an office, designating a desk in the corner of your living room as your workspace, or having a designated “office chair” at the kitchen table helps you separate your work and personal life.
As we approach a light at the end of our pandemic tunnel, it’s becoming clear that many employees want to continue remote work in the future. The companies that can execute this workplace model effectively are the ones that will attract and retain the best talent. The ones that are inflexible, or mandate 100 percent in person work, are likely going to find a dwindling pool of talent looking for that value proposition.
- Robert Glazer, author of How To Thrive in the Virtual Workplace