The business world was turned on its head a year ago, when the coronavirus pandemic forced everyone to stay inside and work from home. At first, workers were elated with the perceived “time-off” from the busy life of office work. Even a year later, many relish the opportunity to enjoy a flexible schedule that doesn't require a commute or stringent work times.
Still, the remote work honeymoon can't last forever, as the desire for face-to-face interaction becomes more and more pressing. With vaccines rolling out at an impressive rate and summer right around the corner, there are rising concerns that working from home isn't going to be the attractive perk it was just a few months ago.
So how long is the remote work honeymoon going to last? We talked to Matt Abbott, the general manager of The Sourcery, a recruiting firm for startups, to better understand how employees and employers view the future of remote work and what it means for your job down the line.
The Negative Aspects of Remote Work
While the shift to remote work has been a perk for some, the reality is that working from home — particularly for such an extended period of time — can have some seriously negative effects. For one, without the engagement of a face-to-face office, it can definitely feel like you're getting lost in the shuffle.
“When you're in a company, you see the leadership, and you see what is happening. Now, you’re no longer a part of the company culture, and you begin to ask yourself where you fit in. You start asking yourself, ‘what opportunities do I have, what role do I play?'”
The negative effects of the work from home life aren't just on an individual scale either. According to Abbott, the collaboration aspect of the business world is also taking a hit, due to how few people are meeting together in a non-virtual setting.
“I've talked to other business owners who say that you are missing structured business areas. When you work in a business, you have more structures, places to whiteboard ideas — a more holistic environment that supports brainstorming and creativity. “
On a very basic level, people are social, even in a business setting. And if you want to make sure people are enjoying work beyond simple productivity, working in-person needs to be part of the overall plan.
“We are all aware that we are not in the same room. We miss people. We miss lunches. We miss office birthday parties, and no Zoom happy hour is ever going to substitute for real human connection.”
One study from Martec Group, which surveyed 1,214 individuals from a wide range of industries, demographics, and seniority levels, found that workers were struggling heartily during the pandemic with mental health, job satisfaction, job motivation, and company satisfaction. This further demonstrates that remote work isn't enough of a perk to make people feel better during these complicated times.
The Positive Aspects of Remote Work
It's not all bad though! While the pandemic has been hard on everyone, the transition to remote work has been a pleasant reminder to many that work doesn't have to be a stressful, uncomfortable journey at the expense of your mental health.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, people talked about the ease and comfort of working from home. There were a lot of positives.”
Suffice it to say, the coronavirus pandemic has acted as an unprecedented catalyst towards more work-life balance, giving people the flexibility to tackle the everyday tasks that often fall by the wayside when you're at work eight hours a day.
“You can be sick of the remote lifestyle, but there’s also a lot of value to it. If my kid forgets an instrument, I can drive it to them at school. I’ve spent more time with my family in a way that I have never been able to do in my 20-year career — and never thought would be possible.”
The perks of remote work aren't just felt by current employees either. According to Abbott, the hiring process is infinitely more relaxing now, as candidates can apply to jobs from the comfort of their own homes. Heck, they can even find a new career while wearing pajamas, as long as they've got a professional shirt in frame of their Zoom call.
“Candidates we interview are more comfortable answering questions from their homes, and we learn more about them. And asking, ‘How are you doing?' has taken on a whole new meaning because we really mean it. We are all in this pandemic together.”
Yes, the pandemic has taken its toll, but there are some serious perks to working from home, even for an extended period of time. The study from the Martec Group showed that, while stress level and productivity may be waning, work life balance and schedule flexibility are improving, which is great for those that were starting to feel a bit overworked.
The Future of Remote Work
As with any big change, there are good things and bad things about the massive transition to remote work across the business world. Subsequently, the post-pandemic business world likely isn't going to go one way or the other; it's going to be a mix of pre-pandemic business as usual and the remote work lifestyle we've come to know.
“People have been complaining about the commute for years, so those people are saying, I am now working the way I always wanted to. But I also hear from people who are saying hey, it'd be nice to get back to some organization, to be able to have some of that face-to-face interaction again.”
With people largely split or undecided on what they like more, as you can see from the Martec Group study, it's safe to say that businesses aren't going to commit to one way or the other. However, they are going to have to commit to one thing: change.
“We’re going to see a lot of attrition. There’s going to be employee fatigue, and you're gonna see a lot of change going on next year.”
The ability to pivot has always been valuable in business, but with post-pandemic life around the corner, your team is going to need a different way to work. Flexibility will be key, and finding ways to stay in touch while fostering good mental health and productivity will be vital to the prolonged success of any business.
“You've got to change and get more communication channels out there.”
The future of remote work isn't nearly as cut and dry as many would like. The world isn't going to go back to the way it was, nor will it remain the pandemic wasteland of virtual happy hours and 4-hour Zoom meetings that we've become accustomed to. Change is inevitable, and the future of remote work depends on your ability to adapt along with it.