“These unprecedented times.” “As we navigate this new normal.” “This strange new world.” You’ve likely heard these expressions more and more frequently as the pandemic has continued. I’m relieved we’re past these catch phrases.
You may be growing tired of hearing things like this too, and if that’s the case, you’re not alone. People are grappling with how to approach and talk about it, especially as the things we once knew to be concrete and stable have become anything but. This is especially true in the world of business, where strategic planning, the supply chain, and timelines of all kinds have all been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
As we move toward another season and new year with no solid conclusion to the pandemic in sight, it’s time for businesses and entrepreneurs to adapt to what is genuinely and undeniably becoming the new normal: remote and hybrid workforces.
It may seem daunting to invite this concept — one that was originally introduced to address a public health crisis — to become a permanent part of the way we conduct business. “There’s sort of an emerging sense behind the scenes of executives saying, ‘This is not going to be sustainable,’” said Laszlo Bock, Chief Executive of HR startup Humu and the former HR Chief at Google.
But the 94% of 800 employers surveyed by Mercer, an HR and workplace benefits consulting firm, said that productivity was the same as or higher than it was before the pandemic, even with their employees working remotely and are likely to disagree with Bock.
As Ed Zitron, CEO of the technology PR firm EZPR, explains it, “Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, this [the dispute between remote work being viewed as a positive or a negative] has often been cast as a battle between the old guard and its assumed necessities and a new guard that has found a better way to get things done.”
As the workforce’s primary players shift toward younger generations who are often more open to change, the old guard is losing ground. Here’s why that’s not such a bad thing and what you can expect with a hybrid or remote working model.
Increased Employee Productivity
For the last decade, I was skeptical of remote work. I’ll be blunt — I’d witnessed a few remote working arrangements fail and was wary of repeating the same actions while anticipating different results. After all, the saying goes “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
But when the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic on March 11th, 2020, my company, Voices, turned to an exclusively remote working model immediately. March 11th was a Wednesday, and by Friday, we had told over 100 employees to pack up their things and spend the afternoon getting settled in at home — Voices was going totally remote.
Daily team check-ins, weekly planning meetings or stand up meetings, and weekly 1:1 meetings with managers are just some of the ways we’ve kept our transparent company culture going strong.
Looking back, I was not only surprised that the technology worked, but that the team fully embraced it and recognized it was going to be a new experience for everyone involved. Perhaps the most notable outcome is the high degree of productivity our employees have been able to achieve and maintain a year and a half into this working arrangement.
This year, Voices has released product upgrades, created a new community forum, grown its employee base, and expanded its online freelance marketplace to rebrand as a creative services marketplace. The momentum of projects and changes has been uninhibited and perhaps even improved since adopting remote and hybrid work models.
I’m not alone in my surprise and delight at both the productivity and resiliency of our team. Countless business owners and leaders have shared their shock and awe at the seemingly limitless potential and prosperity that remote work has brought their companies.
“We had to transition to WFH after the outbreak of COVID-19 and the results were completely different than what we thought they would be,” said Rahul Vij, CEO of WebSpero Solutions. “We witnessed a 20% to 30% increase in productivity among all our remote employees. The impact of offering flexibility and moral support was such that every employee, irrespective of department, managed to deliver tasks effectively.”
Olga Voronkova, Marketing Director at KeyUA, was also initially apprehensive of remote work. That apprehension quickly turned to delight. “Although work from home was a new aspect of working culture for us and we were expecting surprises in negative ways, it turned out to be full of delightful surprises. We were surprised by the progress by our first quarter results after the pandemic. It has increased by more than 15% compared to pre-pandemic, which we weren’t expecting. It happened because work from home allowed our team flexibility to manage their own time and they gave their best.”
The same can be said for Jessica Robinson, Content & Outreach Manager at the Speaking Polymath. “Once, I read somewhere that employees are often more productive when working from home, but at that time I hardly believed it. When we transitioned to working from home, I found that what I read was absolutely true. During virtual meetings, we found our employees to be more cheerful and enthusiastic. The transition to remote working has led to an increase in employee morale, enthusiasm, and retention.”
These three business leaders in completely different industries — custom software development, digital marketing, and an informational blogging platform, respectively — all experienced increased productivity, employee enthusiasm, and engagement. Regardless of industry, there is exceptional potential for your team to experience this growth, too.
Save Time and Money for You and Your Employees
Many business leaders are recognizing the benefits of improved productivity in conjunction with decreased overhead costs of operating a fully functional office space. “Wide scale remote work can lead to happier employees and increased productivity across the board,” Harrison Sharrett, Digital Marketing and Content Manager at Offices.co, shared with me. “Since shifting to a hybrid model and allowing employees to permanently work from home, we have seen no reduction in our number of deals and have actually saved money on office related expenses.”
When asked if there was anything Sharrett would have done differently, the response was a resounding “We would’ve moved to a hybrid schedule earlier! The pandemic forced our hand when it came to fully embracing remote work, something that we’re ultimately thankful for.”
One remote work study even showed that employers can save $22,000 per full-time remote employee per year. If we were to reduce that by 50% to acknowledge that in a hybrid workforce, employees may be in the office half the time, that still amounts to $11,000 per person, per year.
As the company grows, so do the costs of labour — salaries, benefits, etc. — and, with remote work incorporated into the business model, so does the opportunity for saving.
In December of 2020, Twitter employed 5,500 people. In the same year, the social media company announced that its employees could work remotely, forever. If even half of employees accepted this opportunity to work from home — or from a tropical island, the highlands of Scotland, or the rainforest in Panama — Twitter would be looking at saving a grand total of $60.5M every single year.
Making money is the premise of business. However, saving money can be just as important — money saved is money earned. But don’t just take it from me.
Carter Seuthe, CEO of Credit Summit Student Loan Refinancing, shared, “Given our whole field is finance, you would have thought we’d be able to predict just how much we’d save by moving remote. But our projections weren’t even close. We’ve saved enough to be able to hire more and start new outreach initiatives.”
And it’s not just companies that are benefiting financially from remote and hybrid work policies. It’s estimated that employees are also saving between $1,200 and $12,000 per year when working from home full-time, or $600 to $6,000 if they choose to partake in a hybrid model.
Increased Collaboration, Equalized Playing Fields, and a Bigger Talent Pool
While many, myself included, wondered about the effects remote work would have on collaborative projects, it largely seems that those concerns have been unfounded. All of the projects completed at Voices required exceptional levels of collaboration and all of these projects were successful despite being conducted entirely remotely.
Other business leaders are discovering this for themselves. “My number one takeaway is actually realizing how having physical offices provided a barrier to collaboration with our global teams,” Jake Munday, CEO and Co-Founder of Custom Neon, said to me. “Unconscious bias was definitely at play, but when we evened out the playing field and were liaising with everyone remotely, we made a concerted effort to incorporate everyone into meetings, online team building events and strategy planning. We have also created initiatives to encourage non-work related banter and camaraderie and we are seeing a lot more cohesion and collaboration amongst our international offices.”
Munday raises a point around evening out the playing field that seems to be garnering more attention: companies with both remote and in-office employees will need to be on top of bias, whether intentional or not.
Dr. David Rock, Co-Founder and CEO of the NeuroLeadership Institute and coiner of the term “neuroleadership,” recently tackled this particular issue in his contribution to Forbes. His suggestion — which he acknowledged would be met with varying degrees of warmth from entrepreneurs and business leaders — is “One virtual, all virtual.”
To put it simply, this means that if there is even a single employee on the team who works remotely, everything from meetings to general corporate culture must be designed around a virtual workforce. This creates a unified work experience and prevents any team member from feeling isolated or excluded from the conversation.
As conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion become more prevalent — and rightly so — we have to also consider the effects of remote and hybrid work. Rock’s school of thought around “One virtual, all virtual” is, at its core, about providing a truly equal work experience for all employees, regardless of whether they’re in the office or working remotely.
Hybrid and remote work bring with them the potential for leveling the playing field while increasing diversity through drawing on a larger talent pool that has never been so widely available. Remote work allows companies to hire talented people from a diverse collection of locales, disregarding the previously limiting restrictions like physical geography or commuting ability.
This means you can hire anyone and anywhere without needing to rely solely on the talent available to you in your geographic area, effectively offering more opportunities to more people, regardless of who they are or where they’re from.
In terms of collaboration, level playing fields, and drawing on a bigger talent pool, the 9–5 office model cannot compete with remote and hybrid work, despite how much the old guard clings to the traditional office environment.
It’s What Workers Want
Perhaps the number one consideration job hunters are prioritizing right now is the option for remote or hybrid work. This should come as no surprise.
Pew Research Center highlighted that, in December 2020, 54% of workers want to continue to work remotely after the pandemic ends. As of June of this year, that number has grown to 82%, according to Global Workplace Analytics. What’s more is that 46% of the workforce would look for another job if they were unable to work remotely at least some of the time and 72% would change jobs for the opportunity to work remotely some or all of the time.
With more than three quarters of the workforce preferring to work in a hybrid or remote work environment, businesses need to prepare to meet those demands as the labor shortage continues.
Beyond remote and hybrid work opportunities, candidates are searching for a work experience that makes them feel like they’re part of something bigger. A paycheck and benefits are high on the list, but fewer applicants are willing to settle for a payout or benefits if the important element of social involvement and opportunity is neglected. Now, people are after the total package: reasonable pay and benefits, a corporate culture that is open, inviting, and transparent, the opportunity for growth within the company, genuine social justice involvement, and, of course, flexibility in the option to work remotely.
Ben Lichtenwalner, Founder of Radiant Forest LLC, specializes in leadership development. He is welcoming the new future of work and is encouraging others to do the same. “Too many leaders see this as a challenge. They should view it as an opportunity,” he said. “There is more talent available than ever before, provided you offer the right benefits and support. This is the new reality and it’s not going to change when the pandemic ends. What every leader should do to adapt now is rethink the workplace for their future. Stop considering this a short-term issue. If you want to retain the best talent, plan to support them where they want to be, indefinitely.”
When Voices made the decision to permanently offer in-office, hybrid, and remote work models to employees, this was one of the factors that was considered amongst many others. Listening to current employees and to the trends in the labour market helped us — and will help you — to better position your business to attract and retain skilled talent.
Many successful businesses pride themselves on being agile. This is another test of agility, and it’s one that requires genuine action and implementation. As Lichtenwalner alluded, adapt now rather than later to set yourself up for success.
The Future of Work is Here — Are You Ready For It?
“The most dangerous phrase in our language is ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” This well-known quote is attributed to Grace Hopper, Computer Scientist & U.S. Navy Rear Admiral, and it’s true.
The pandemic caused major upheaval across the globe, forcing us to reexamine the way we do the things we do and thrusted into the limelight the notion that there are more ways to successfully conduct business than the way we’ve always done things. What other characteristics of the way we work could be altered and improved?
As we continue to look forward to the future of work and its undoubtedly freelance and remote characteristics, the new guard will seek to answer this question and design an entirely new way of creating success in the workplace. Will you be ready for it?