Written by: Joe Emerson // Sep 15, 2020
Last updated: Sep 15, 2020
Data show that 36 percent to 56 percent of Americans can work from home and that about 80 percent want to work from home all or some of the time. A majority of managers and executives, conversely, have been leery of transitioning to remote work. Now, with the coronavirus pandemic having pushed about two-thirds of the U.S. workforce into the virtual workspace, it seems like a good time to weigh the pros and cons of employees working from home.
A Look at Data and Opinions Before the Pandemic
Data and stories posted over time track an increase in support for working from home. They also indicate there are more upsides than downsides in the virtual workplace, that a majority of workers favor a shift to virtual, and that pushback on remote working largely has come from managers and largely involves a lack of trust. Those claims are supported by these pre-pandemic sources.
Quora asks this question: “Why Don’t Large Companies Embrace Remote Working?” One response, in an item updated Nov. 23, 2019, was representative. It’s from Jarvis cofounder-CEO Faris Mersi. “If there’s one word I could use to answer your question, it’s mistrust.”
Mersi explains: “Employers need to shake off this antiquated belief that employees must come to work from 9-5 and be housed under one roof for effective work to take place. Unless employees are involved in some type of manual labor where they have to be on-site, it’s simply illogical to oppose remote work. Still, here are several reasons why large organizations, in particular, fail to embrace remote work”:
- Fear of consequences (Managers are afraid lousy results could get them canned.)
- Fear of change (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.)
- Fear of cybersecurity threats
- Love of micromanagement
A relevant story on the SHRM website is titled “Why Are Companies Ending Remote Work?” It was posted on May 7, 2019. Here’s the subhead: “Research on the topic comes to differing conclusions.”
The story notes that the Bank of New York Mellon Corp. considered and then dropped (after pushback) a plan to recall remote workers to brick-and-mortar locations. Also thinking about abandoning remote work were IBM, Yahoo, Aetna, and Best Buy.
SHRM shared these theories “for this change of heart about remote work”:
- Workers weren’t properly trained to handle the remote experience.
- Supervisors, also short on training for the remote experience, preferred the face-to-face workplace.
- Supervisors weren’t comfortable not having workers present.
- Employers determined workers were less productive. (See first two theories.)
Here’s a headline on a story posted Feb. 28, 2019: “Remote Reservations: Why Managers Are Afraid to Let Employees Work Virtually.” The writer is Laura Ferrer, a remote-work strategist. Her answer, in a word: fear (largely fear of change and the risks it brings).
Here’s the takeaway from her article: “There are both right and wrong ways to implement remote work. If you’re holding back because you’re only looking at the wrong examples, you are going to miss out on many rewards. It’s time to publicize the right way of going remote and bust the myths that are preventing you from capitalizing on the benefits of a virtual workforce.”
Here’s a look at remote work statistics posted by Smallbizgenius.net before the dawn of COVID-19.
- Remote workers accounted for 3.2 percent of the U.S. workforce, up 140 percent from 2005 to 2018.
- By 2028, 73 percent of workplace departments will have remote workers.
- Eighteen percent of employees worked remotely full time.
- Eighty-four percent of remote workers preferred it to being in the office.
- Twenty-two percent of remote workers said disconnecting from work was a problem.
- People who worked remotely at least once a month were 24 percent more likely to be happy and productive.
- Three percent of workers said they were less productive at home.
American Psychological Association
The American Psychological Association posted a story on its website on Oct. 1, 2019. The headline succinctly sums up the story – The future of remote work: When it’s done right, telework can improve employee productivity, creativity and morale, psychologists’ research finds.
A Look at How the Coronavirus Has Swayed Data and Opinions
Things (COVID-19) happen. Times change. The Bank of New York Mellon Corp. backed off on considerations in November 2018 to bring remote workers back to its buildings, so it was well positioned when the pandemic struck.
Here are some snapshots from the timeline of the coronavirus-driven transition to remote work.
Consider this headline from Bloomberg Law on May 29, 2020: “BNY Mellon Says Working Remotely Will Continue After Pandemic.”
Forbes, Global Workplace Analytics, and Gallup
Statistics can shed light on an issue or cast shadows. For instance, Forbes, in a story published in April 2020, cites studies from Norway and the United States that put the number of people who could work from home at 36 percent and 37 percent, respectively.
Global Workplace Analytics, presenting data in March 2020, reported that 56 percent of respondents indicated that some or all of their work could be done from home.
The polling company Gallup, in a report dated May 22, 2020, posted these highlights from a survey on remote work:
- Almost 70 percent of employees were working remotely “all or part of the time.”
- Twenty-five percent of remote workers wanted to return to the workplace.
- Half said they preferred working from home.
Are those numbers flawed, or were the pollsters clocking a fluctuating need-driven race into the virtual workplace? Still, how do you go from reporting a remote work capacity of 36 percent (in April) and 56 percent (in March) to “almost 70 percent” clocking in at home in May?
The Atlantic isn’t the arbiter of what will happen to and with remote work, but a headline on a story posted May 4, 2020, says this: Work from home is here to stay. The subhead says this: The future of jobs after the pandemic is a blurry mix of work, life, pajamas, and Zoom.
There’s an editor’s note appended to the story, explaining that it’s part of a series on “the world we’re leaving behind, and the one being remade by the pandemic.”
The multinational professional services network shared survey results on June 25, 2020. Under the heading “A flexible workweek has broad support,” PwC notes:
- Workers want the option to work from home more frequently, and they want help setting work-life boundaries to improve productivity.
- A majority of office workers want to be able to work remotely at least once a week, and 55 percent of managers-executives expect to OK that.
- The remote experience under COVID-19 has proved that staff “can interact well when apart,” but workers still want to have the in-person contact.
- Thirty percent of managers expect to need less office space because of remote work, but “50% are anticipating an increase due to longer-lasting requirements for social distancing or growth in their workforce.”
Global Workplace Analytics
Global Workplace Analytics boldly predicts that remote work won’t just survive the coronavirus, it will thrive because of it. The research and consulting firm says:
- Up to 30 percent of the workforce will be working remotely several days a week by the end of 2021.
- Managers will be less fearful about the effect of remote work.
- The need for disaster readiness will raise pressure for remote work capacity.
- There will be a greater understanding and appreciation of the cost savings and other benefits of the remote experience.
- There will be growing appreciation of the sustainability benefits of remote work. (Reduced use of energy and other resources.)
- Business travel will be minimized.
Pros and Cons of the Remote Experience
Employers pushed into the remote experience by the pandemic have embraced it because of benefits beyond social distancing in the time of COVID-19. Here are some of the pros and cons.
Upsides of Remote Work
- Increased worker independence
- Increased productivity (for those who benefit from privacy and are self-starters)
- Addition of technical skills to enable remote work
- Improved (by necessity) communication skills
- Fewer distractions (usually)
- Reduced absenteeism (data show)
- Increased job satisfaction (for the majority who prefer the remote experience)
- More work-life balance
- No commute, and proficiency in virtual communication lessens the need for business travel
- Fewer expenses (transportation, lunches, wardrobe)
- Comfort gained (informal attire and setting)
- More time with family
- Homecooked healthful lunches
- Tax write-off for home office expenses
- Grants and other incentives available to attract home workers and also for home office setup
Downsides of Remote Work
- Inability – at times – to avoid distractions
- Comfort lost to furniture and settings not ergonomically designed for office work
- Isolation, particularly for those who live alone
- Home office costs
- Less facetime with co-workers
- Disconnect with workplace
- Risk, for those who aren’t self-starters, of lost productivity
- Collaboration breakdown when communication skills and technology aren’t adequate
- Inability of some to unplug from the office for downtime
- Reduced oversight, which for some leads to lower productivity
- Perception among some employees that remote work status could negatively affect career advancement and professional reputation
In an age when even job interviews and hiring are being done remotely, it pays to hone technical skills. Whether you’re looking to up your cybersecurity game or computer skills or just need training or a certification program, the USF Office of Corporate Training and Professional Education can help. Check out our programs and courses, or connect with one of our program advisors to see how we can help you advance your career.