The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected all aspects of everyday life, from the home to the workplace.
In fact, for many of us, the boundaries between home and work have all but disappeared. This trend was already on the rise pre-quarantine and still has the potential to last long after lockdown ends.
According to the ONS, 1.7 million people in the UK reported working from home in 2019. On top of that, 8.7 million people had worked from home at some point in their lives. While this accounts for about one third of the country's workforce, the number of people working remotely has been mounting in recent years—a pattern known as the work-from-home (WFH) movement.
Following the outbreak of COVID-19, the WFH movement is finally in full swing. And as less COVID-19 cases emerge and social distancing measures relax slowly, workers that have familiarized themselves with virtual collaboration tools are wondering why coming into the office was ever necessary in the first place.
Of course, any large-scale and last-minute transition is bound to present challenges. Workers may face a lack of dedicated workspace, reliable internet, or even childcare. Transitioning from a traditional office space to working from home calls for the right equipment and organizational guidance to make sure employees are taking the right steps.
Whether or not companies transition permanently to remote work, it’s safe to say that remote work tools will probably play a significant role in the post-pandemic workplace.
Moving Away From a Traditional Work Environment
For large tech firms like Google and Microsoft, the switch to 100% digital was swift and painless, with workers advised to stop coming into the office as early as the end of February.
But for companies lacking the proper infrastructure, the transition to remote work has been far from seamless. For example, quite a few businesses have struggled with accessibility problems, involving anything between inaccessible files and hardware that are still stuck at the office.
Perhaps the first lesson learned by companies struggling to get a WFH program off the ground is the importance of investing in the right software and portable devices like tablets and laptops. Storing data on physical servers has proved problematic for remote access. Cloud-based data solutions and the decline of desktops are two trends to keep an eye on post-quarantine.
As teams get used to collaborative software platforms, it’s not difficult to imagine a post-quarantine work environment that integrates more virtual elements on the regular. That’s precisely why startups such as Zoom and Slack are offering their services for free alongside big names like Google and Microsoft—they’re each hoping to stick around and become the go-to unified communications as a service (UCaaS) platforms.
Slack, which specializes in business communication software, has been hosting no-cost consultations for businesses trying remote work for the first time. Whether we’re talking about established enterprises with thousands of employees on payroll or small businesses with under ten team members, businesses of all sizes are scrambling to adapt.
One of Slack’s top competitors, Microsoft Teams, is available at no cost for small businesses for the next six months. Zoom, a platform that offers video-conferencing services, has gotten rid of the conversation time limit on its free to use version. One of Zoom’s competitors is Google Meet, which pairs with Gmail and Outlook.
Another tool for remote work on the rise is Trello, a software that lets you assign tasks for different team members and monitor the overall progress of your project.
Stay-at-home orders have proven to be a golden opportunity for the large-scale adoption of new technologies, whether we’re talking about healthcare, education, or business sectors. The next few weeks will tell us whether these tools are permanent fixtures.
All of these different software options provide businesses with a variety of tools that they can use to implement a successful work from home program.
Working From Home: The New Standard?
As people become more comfortable performing their daily tasks over the web, they’re not longing for the return of long commutes or the inflexibility of a traditional working day. This outdated template doesn’t allow much room for the care of family members who have fallen ill, among other unexpected circumstances.
Let’s return for a moment to the issue of commuting. A staggering 90% of the workforce in the UK commute to work, with the average commute times in London sitting at an hour and 19 minutes.
Long commutes are more than just inconvenient—they impact workers’ wellbeing. More than half of commuters report increased stress levels as one of the direct consequences of a long commute, with one-third admitting to reduced sleep.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has the potential to permanently shift working patterns, especially when 70% of workers would prefer more flexible working arrangements. That means top talent is more likely to be recruited by companies with remote work options. On top of that, 53% of people feel that they’d be more productive working outside the office.
However, perhaps the most persuasive push in the direction of WFH is reduced overhead. Remote employment is an opportunity for companies to slash the costs of real estate, utilities, office equipment, and the related expenses of keeping hundreds of employees on-site week in and week out.
That isn’t to say that implementing a successful WFH program is easy. Remaining productive while remote isn’t as simple as asking employees to bring their laptops home and carry on as they would in the office. The key to staying productive during uncertain times is having the right tools for collaboration and a strategic and well-planned WFH policy.
The Future Workplace Is a Digital One
COVID-19 has turned our lives upside-down. Given its wide-reaching impact, we can expect lasting changes to our everyday routine. Among the many questions COVID-19 has raised about society and its functions, business owners and workers alike are reconsidering the structure of work.
Successful companies must implement the right platforms if they want to survive in the post-coronavirus world. With many employees enjoying working from home, companies should expect this movement to stick around long after the pandemic ends.