Remote Workforce: To Bring or Not Bring Them Back, That Is the Question

Nearly one year after a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic caused widespread shutdowns and workplace changes, many businesses are still utilizing a modified remote workforce to maintain production and operations.

Before restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, 3.4% of the workforce was already working remotely for at least half of the week. It is estimated that by the first week of April 2020, nearly 31% of workers were working from home. And as of October 2020, that number rose to 58%, with 33% of workers working remotely 100% of the time, according to Gallup. As restrictions slowly lift in some areas, the lingering question remains: do businesses attempt to bring back in-person employees; and if they do, what does the timeline look like?

Maintaining Production Levels

One of the most important deciding factors when determining future workforce plans is the productivity of their employees during the pandemic. PwC conducted a study to determine how effective remote work has been over this past year. In June 2020, 44% of companies said their teams were more productive working remotely. Comparing studies from June 2020 and December 2020, remote productivity continued to increase. As of December 2020, 52% of employers said they were more productive working remotely than they were pre-COVID. Overall, 83% of leaders said the switch to remote work has been successful, with only 6% of executives saying it has been unsuccessful.

Technological Advancement Supports a Remote Workforce

While nothing can take the place of water-cooler camaraderie or in-person team building activities, the adoption of video conference calls and scheduled virtual meet-and-greets have led to some employees being more connected with colleagues than ever before. In fact, Microsoft Teams logged 2.7 billion meeting minutes on March 31, 2020, just a few weeks into the pandemic. Moreover, Zoom’s video conference platform experienced a 354% year-over-year increase in customers with more than 10 employees in the first quarter of 2020. Not including the progressive adoption of these types of platforms over the entirety of the pandemic, it shows the need for collaboration and interaction. However, while some think these modified meetings may not be as effective, a PwC study found that a majority of employers feel the levels of each of the following are either the same or better now than pre-COVID:

  • Collaborating on projects: 83%
  • Securing relationships with new customers: 78%
  • Coaching employees to succeed: 79%
  • Onboarding new hires: 73%
  • Innovating products or services: 82%

The Future of the “Comeback”

While employers and employees have mixed feelings on coming back to full capacity, one thing is true: the “comeback” will be a slow, calculated process. According to the PwC study, only 51% of employers expect to be at 50% or higher capacity by April 2021. That number drops to 41% for employees. Moreover, 98% of employers expect 50% or higher capacity by January 2022 at the earliest, yet 18% of employees say they never expect to go back to in-person work again.

Before the pandemic, remote work options were high on employee’s wish lists, with 99% saying they wish to work remotely, at least partially, and 83% saying remote work opportunities would increase their happiness at work. After a year of the modified workplace, many workers feel the same about staying at home.

According to Gallup, nearly two-thirds of employees who have been working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic wish to remain remote, while only 35% say they wish to return to the office.

In the end, each organization needs to determine what works best for their employees. But if production levels remain high and job satisfaction stays constant, the age-old idiom may apply for your company: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

What are your opinions on keeping a remote workforce? What are your company’s plans to bring back employees? Let us know in the comments section below!

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