Covid19 Editorial

Is remote work here to stay?

With the restrictions imposed because of the pandemic, various companies have been forced to resort to remote work - many for the first time. Now that workers have had a taste of what it's like to work from home, they might come to the conclusion that they prefer it. Will the post-pandemic future be a mix of work, pajamas, and Zoom?
Is remote work here to stay?

This post is part of a collaborative effort between Startup Portugal, The Next Big Idea, and Sapo24, meant to create relevant content to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The idea of implementing part-time, remote work in companies is not new. Existing information about on-site work has shown that most workers tend to be unmotivated, perform poorly, and spend a lot of time in the office without actually working, while managers still seemed opposed to this kind of work practice. With the pandemic outbreak forcing countless companies to adopt remote work almost overnight, we can say that COVID-19 stimulated this practice.

This is not the first time that a crisis has pushed us to evolve towards teleworking, even though it never happened on such a large and rapid and rapid scale. In the United States, interest in remote work increased exponentially after 9/11 and the ensuing anthrax attacks. Also, many workplaces in Christchurch, New Zealand, evolved to telecommuting during a series of earthquakes between 2010 and 2012.

With restrictions relaxing all over the world, the next challenge will be to adapt traditional methods of work to our newfound demands of personal hygiene and social distancing. Many organizations will have to invest in personal protection equipment and limit the number of workers in the office by organizing different schedules for everyone. A Dutch company coined the term “6 feet office” in order to redesign workspaces to help workers maintain the appropriate social distance.

With all these impositions and obligations, many companies may come to the conclusion that it isn’t worth making these changes in the office. They may end up choosing remote work while the spread of the virus is still a concern. As such, some argue that after the pandemic, remote work will prosper and remain a part of our society.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of teleworking?

Several studies have shown that remote workers are more productive, satisfied, and motivated than their office colleagues. According to recent questionnaires conducted by McKinsey and Buffer, remote workers, free from the restrictions of office life, report higher levels of satisfaction and greater productivity. Additionally, existing data indicate that trust and effective teams are built primarily through interpersonal behaviour and communication rather than daily proximity.

Remote work eliminates pointless interruptions, unnecessary business trips, and meetings, and commute time. Each worker is encouraged to work at his own pace and according to his own schedule. It doesn’t matter where or at what time a problem is solved: the important thing is to get the job done.

In the US, managers are getting rid of empty desks in their offices in an attempt to save money. The office space real estate market is already declining as employers try to renegotiate their rental contracts. According to a study by Global Workplace Analytics, on average, employers who allow their employees to work part-time from home save about $ 11,000 per year for each employee. By investing less in real estate and facilities, employers can use part of this money to provide equipment for remote work, thus showing a concern for the well-being of workers and the ergonomics of their workplace at home.

Because of the speed at which COVID-19 made us migrate to teleworking, many workers found that they did not have the necessary equipment to carry out their work comfortably in their homes. Some companies, having to send their workers home, have provided their teams with additional resources to help facilitate the transition to remote work. At Shopify, workers were offered $ 1,000 to purchase the equipment needed for their home offices. Meanwhile, all employees of Twitter received a refund for office equipment expenses, including ergonomic desks, chairs, and cushions. Are these types of incentives welcome packages of the future?

Remote work isn’t for everyone. For some employers, managing a team remotely can be a herculean task. Also, professional isolation might have negative effects on workers’ well-being and career progression. People who work remotely also end up working more hours a day and managers can get used to the fact that workers are always active and available. In France, this always-active lifestyle is considered to be so harmful to workers’ health that the country has forbidden the sending of emails outside working hours. Another obstacle to teleworking is the existence of people who suffer from anxiety caused by technology and, for some, being in a video call can be extremely tiring.

Despite the vulnerabilities mentioned, Kate Lister, president of the consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics, predicts that 30% of workers will work remotely several days a week in the next two years. Lister added that employees have been demanding greater flexibility in professional life for some time and that the coronavirus presented an opportunity to test this new model of work.

What do the Portuguese think about remote work?

In Portugal, as in the rest of the world, many workers and companies have adopted remote work. According to Alexandra Leitão, Minister for Modernization of the State and Public Administration, remote work had “some opposition from managers”, but the current pandemic proved that telework “has come to stay” and is “an excellent way to balance work and family life”.

About two-thirds of workers intend to continue telecommuting “in the long term” and almost 60% of employers agree with this option, according to a survey by the Portuguese digital platform Fixando, which consulted around 1300 companies and workers registered in its network. According to a questionnaire carried out by Worx, when asked whether telecommuting could be a future trend, 86.4% of the surveyed employees considered it to be so.

In the post-pandemic period, we will have to find a balance between the well-being and safety of workers and a positive dynamic for companies.

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Startup Portugal Team • May 21, 2020