What might have taken the workforce several more decades, Covid-19 did almost instantly. It made what many had envisioned the future of work to be a reality almost overnight — people were performing their duties from home and, two years on, the results have been surprising.
First of all, the closing of offices disconnected work from the primary location and this created a significant shift in the way we work. The closing of schools and daycare centres made it almost impossible for working parents to continue a standard 9-to-5 schedule and, in general, working from home led to increased flexibility in working hours overall.
Needless to say, it has been a popular shift and flexible work times and locations are now expected. So much so, in fact, that a @Buffer survey shows that 98% of employees wish to keep a remote or hybrid work policy after the pandemic. And it seems employers are willing to play along. According to an @NTT survey, moving to a permanent remote-first or hybrid work policy was in the top five business strategies for organisations in 2021.
This aligns itself well with pre-pandemic trends towards better work life balance and increased mobility. Yet, data on the commercial advantages are emerging, too. According to an @IWG study, 85% of global businesses agree that location flexibility boosts productivity. Increased workplace flexibility has meant a focus on output rather than effort, meaning ‘productivity’ has become easier to measure. Adding to that, in removing location barriers for certain roles, there is a larger pool of candidates therefore an opportunity to hire people who are better suited for the position. This not only increases productivity even further, but may alleviate the labour shortages being experienced in much of the developed world.
For employers, these savings are realised in terms of rent and utilities, and a further reduction in business-related travel expenses. A remote work initiative at @AT&T led to an annual saving of USD 30 million in real estate alone. @NorthOne calculated that the annual employer savings would amount to USD 22.000 per employee. The same research shows that employees also save money when working remotely — approximately USD 4.000 annually, in fact.
Finally, flexible working arrangements are likely to be much better for the environment too. Interestingly, an analysis by @Airmeet highlights significant reductions in employees’ carbon footprint when working from home, especially in terms of direct carbon emissions and the use of plastic and paper.
However, key stakeholders – employees, employers and governments – still face challenges in order to make the future of work actually work. What if too much flexibility is a bad thing? Flexible working arrangements offer an opportunity to improve employee happiness, yet we must be aware that it also has a downside. The same @Buffer report indicated that 16% of participants surveyed struggled with loneliness due to working from home and almost 30% found it more difficult to switch off from their work. Part of the responsibility for this lies with employers.
Employers have other challenges too. The new way of working requires significant upskilling, Virtual leadership, for example, is almost a new skill in itself. Employee benefits programs will also need an upgrade. Commuter allowances and company cars aren’t as likely to attract new talent as they once would have. However, opportunities for workplace flexibility probably are, and allowing employees to enjoy ‘workations’ is fairly inexpensive too!
Yet, this brings me to the challenge for governments. Laws around employment are insufficient and international employment legislation specifically, are not suitable for the new reality. Now that tax authorities will roll back their pandemic-related contingencies, companies may be exposed to the consequences of a business as usual approach to international structuring. Governments must act quickly and decisively to revise their rusty regulatory framework now that regular employee mobility is here to stay. So, while the work of the future might already be here, we’re not quite there yet. Now let’s make it work!