Remote working, now and forevermore?

Employees around the world are suddenly working from home full-time. Find out how to make this new reality work for your organization, whether it will last beyond the pandemic, and where it might take us.

The Covid-19 outbreak has led to a worldwide experiment in remote working as employees across the world are forced to self-isolate. But will workers return to the office en masse once the disruption caused by the pandemic ends? Or will working from home become the new normal?

Remote working, once quaintly known as telecommuting, has been on the rise for decades, thanks to the availability of digital communication and collaboration tools that enable staff to do their jobs outside of the physical office. The trend has accelerated in recent years, aided by a new breed of business-focused group chat apps like Slack and more reliable, user-friendly videoconferencing tools that make it easier to connect with colleagues and be productive without sitting the same office, or even the same country.

Remote working increased by 159% between 2005 and 2017, according to an analysis of U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data by FlexJobs, a job search site specializing in remote and flex-time jobs, and research firm Global Workplace Analytics. Despite advances in technology and steady growth in adoption, however, remote workers remained in a minority — just 3.4% of the workforce (4.7 million), according to the FlexJobs study.

The coronavirus outbreak has changed the situation markedly in the past few weeks as office-based employees around the world are told to carry out their jobs from home. This has rapidly accelerated the existing trend, as businesses rush to adopt remote working on a wider scale than ever seen before.

“Decisions that would have been endlessly debated over and over and taken an age are now being made in days — for example, the shift to online lectures by universities,” said Chris Rowley, professor emeritus of human resource management at the University of London’s Cass Business School. “That is the nature of emergencies — the risk of stasis suddenly outweighs the risk of change.”

Once remote working policies are put in place, the introduction of these practices could be hard to reverse. “The changes, in turn, will create their own momentum — and inertia — when it comes to returning to previous practices,” said Rowley. “It may be that many Covid-19 induced short-term emergency measures will become a fixture of organizational life.”



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