Remote working has been steadily increasing over the years, increasing by 159 percent from 2005 through 2017. Data from Deloitte suggests that 25 percent of American workers were already working remotely before COVID-19.
Mandatory shutdowns forced businesses to rapidly shift from in-office attendance to remote work business models to continue business operations during the pandemic.
Before the pandemic, 47 percent of American workers never worked remotely. After COVID, that number fell to 34 percent. The number of workers who worked five days or more per week increased by 17 percent to 44 percent.
COVID is changing the way we work. To understand how the pandemic has given remote work a long-term boost, it helps to first appreciate how far remote work has progressed over the years.
Remote Working Statistics
COVID forced the remote work trend to pick up its pace. In the wake of the pandemic, many companies that never thought it could work for them had only two options: Shift to remote work or close altogether. As a result, businesses around the world have reassessed the value of remote work, with many companies planning to keep it as an option even after they’re able to reopen the workplace.
In April, Statista broke down some of the immediate changes already evident in the pre-COVID vs. post-COVID work world. Before the pandemic, 47 percent of American workers never worked remotely. After COVID, that number fell to 34 percent. The number of workers who worked five days or more per week increased by 17 percent to 44 percent. In the months since, many of the people working remotely have started trickling back to the physical workplace as restrictions loosened across the country.
A September Gallup poll showed that 33 percent of Americans were working exclusively remotely, with a rise in the number of employees working remotely sometimes. Further research from PwC shows that 72 percent of workers want to continue working remotely two or more days per week, even after the pandemic.
Remote work isn’t without its challenges, which is why no one expects business to go 100 percent virtual. Instead, we're likely to see a hybrid option evolve, with a mix of remote work and in-office work. It’s also important to keep in mind that not all work can be done remotely. Even so, around the world, the number of people working remotely is expected to double from pre-pandemic levels in 2021. One of the chief factors fueling that increase is the boost in productivity that many companies experienced during the pandemic.
COVID’s Impact on Remote Work
COVID has accelerated digitization and the realization that more can be done virtually without the huge drop in productivity that many business leaders worried about. Experts anticipate that the new workplace will be virtual first — a mix of remote work and work from main and satellite offices. Regardless of how that pans out, one thing seems clear: COVID-19 has given remote working a boost, largely because of these four factors.
There’s Less Anxiety from Management
Not having eyes on their employees has been one of the biggest concerns that most business owners and managers have had about remote work in the past. But let’s face it. Micromanaging doesn’t work. It can actually harm morale and send the most dedicated employees packing. After being forced to shift to remote work, managers have had to put their trust in their workers. And the results have been surprising. Instead of the loss in productivity that was expected, employees are delivering results without having supervisors looking over their shoulders. That’s diminished the anxiety and allowed trust to grow.
Productivity Hasn’t Suffered
COVID essentially forced the business world to participate in a mass experiment. Remote work advocates haven’t been surprised by the results, but business owners and managers who have been reluctant to adopt remote work were surprised to find that most employees didn’t miss a beat. A recent study of 800 employers suggests that 94 percent of businesses have experienced productivity that was either the same as it was before COVID or better, even with the shift to remote work.
Because employees have proven their capabilities, many employers are giving them added flexibility. Six out of 10 employers are letting employees change their schedules to accommodate their childcare needs. Additionally, 83 percent of the study's respondents plan to keep flexible policies in place in the future.
It Offers Cost Reductions
Virtual conferences and meetings have reduced the need for costly business travel. And that’s not the only way that COVID has demonstrated the cost savings of going remote. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that the average employer can save approximately $11,000 per year for each employee working remotely 50 percent of the time. Additionally, the shift has many companies rethinking their physical footprints. Smaller office spaces and non-traditional leases provide extra options for saving money.
Remote Work Enhances Agility
The businesses that have been able to ride out the challenges COVID brought to the economic landscape have largely been those that were able to respond quickly. The need to be nimble can’t be understated. Remote work supports three major components of agility: Communication, the ability to adapt, and speed, each of which enables companies to pivot swiftly.
Remote workers are able to perform quickly. They're also able to adapt both to technology and the needs of their supervisors and clients. There's the inherent flexibility in remote work that encourages people to go beyond the job description to best accomplish goals. Remote work also opens up the line of communications, often beyond the traditional 9-to-5 office hours.