The Strategic Advantage of Remote Work
Before the 2020 Covid-19 inspired quarantine, 17% of people worked remotely five days per week. This number jumped to 44% during the pandemic, and only speculative guesses can estimate what the percentage will be following the global quarantine. A year later, with prospects of returning to work after vaccinations, the question exists about what work will look like in the future.
Early into the quarantine, Twitter opted to become fully remote, which was mimicked by many other companies. The behemoth Microsoft created a combined model of some remote, some back in the office full time, and others a hybrid of both. Another large section of American companies looks to go back to the way things were before the pandemic, working 9 to 5, back in the office.
Many employees have missed the office and can’t wait to return because they are tired of the constant interruptions that working at home creates. They have been struggling with virtual collaboration and innovation and missing social interactions and esprit de corps.
However, according to the Commercial Observer, 72% of workers don’t want to return to the office full time. Virtual work has eliminated growing commutes and being forced to live in overpriced metro areas. Work flexibility has expanded significantly to enable the ability to juggle life with work. There has also been newfound empowerment for workers. They have not had someone watch over their shoulders and have enjoyed the knowledge that they are trusted to complete their work. Managers have been forced to look at the product instead of focusing on the time spent doing it.
This is forcing companies to mix both types of work environments, including maintaining an in-person and remote combination approach. By using this middle of the road approach, companies are simply trying to make everyone happy while also wanting to capture the social advantages of being in the same space. However, organizations still want to reap the higher benefits of remote work. Human Resource organizations are dedicating significant brainpower and scrambling on how to set up and control these situations.
For strategic purposes, I propose the same solution that Twitter employs for its workforce. Instead of focusing on how to return to an office, that concentration was placed on the market. How could you use an entirely remote workforce to take advantage of the new world in which we live?
It starts with the recruiting advantage. Currently, job applicants have the expectation that their work will be performed remotely, both now and in the future. With the massive fluctuation in housing prices, people show little excitement about the possibility of relocation. This then enables your organization to recruit globally instead of just locally. Your recruiting pool just significantly increased. This also signals to recruits that your organization is operating at a more advanced level, whose focus is on managing the work instead of the employee.
If you are running a business or simply managing a team right now, you understand that you are in the middle of a talent war. To obtain high-end talent that will elevate your business, you need additional selling points that go beyond salary. Being able to offer flexible schedules in any location is a must for in demand talent. Candidates are looking for companies that show concern for their mental health and want public declarations that their employers trust them enough to let them work remotely.
An entire remote office opens enormous operational advantages, beginning with managing the infrastructure, the office lease, and utilities. Since all those costs are gone, the cash can be saved. You may increase your travel budget to rekindle the human connection every quarter. That will fail to come close to the costs of managing an office fulltime. Think about all the time you spent in the past addressing cafeteria issues, coworker complaints, dress codes, and cleanliness. Now, imagine all that time refocused on growing your business.
It is important to take your workforce into consideration. Research repeatedly shows that a diversified workforce leads to better results, whether it involves innovation, product development, or customer service. Having people with different backgrounds is a net positive experience for your organization. Your business locale may be diverse, but more than likely, it is homogenous, especially if you are in fewer than three locations. Now, look at the competitive advantage of pulling in team members from across the nation or the globe and the variety of insights that they’ll provide to your organization.
To do this properly, you must get a few things right. You must be able to expertly onboard and integrate a new employee without ever meeting them face to face. You will need to experiment with and refine an operating model designed for the virtual world. Also, you’ll have to build a culture that enables online work versus the old model of being face to face.
However, not all companies will pivot this direction. Many will attempt to go back to the way things were before the pandemic. I predict, however, that those companies that choose to accept remote work full time will see the highest growth over the next ten years. Their saved brain power can refocus on making better products and creating better solutions. I would say that this is a jump into the future of work, but it is simply going back to how it was performed before the Industrial Revolution.
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