Research is revealing that the traditional notions of where and when we work are going through major changes, with remote work options taking center stage.
By David Coburn
Just as the pandemic normalized new routines and habits that may be with us forever—hand sanitizer, anyone?—it simultaneously hastened our understanding of a transformative truth about the nature of work circa 2021.
A lot of us—those with jobs that aren’t tethered to physical locations like factory floors and distribution centers—can work from anywhere. And now that we’ve had more than a year to get used to the idea that we don’t have to be in the office to get the job done, a growing number of us like it. A lot.
The result? Remote work, barely on our radar 16 months ago and still considered an accommodation to special circumstances, is rapidly becoming a defining feature of the post-pandemic business landscape—and perhaps one of COVID-19’s most enduring legacies.
Survey after survey, including one commissioned by MHI this year, show most companies and employees expect the work-from-home (WFH) model to be the norm once pandemic fears are no longer the controlling factor in decision-making. What it looks like will vary from business to business and industry to industry, but now that the genie is out of the bottle, workplace experts agree a hybrid mix of in-office and remote work is in most employees’ futures.
The only certainty is that the work culture in which most of us grew up—defined by rigid rules governing when and where work gets done—is a thing of the past.
“I’m pretty sure we’re never going to go back to what we were,” said Bryan Jensen, chairman and executive vice president of MHI member St. Onge Company, a supply chain strategy and logistics consulting firm. “I don’t think there will be as many people or as many hours spent in the office as there used to be. There may be as many people using the office but perhaps not on a full-time basis.”
While some business leaders worry remote work might hinder the ability to collaborate, build or maintain team cohesion and strengthen company culture, others believe WFH will pay off in productivity gains, enhanced ability to attract and retain talent, and even the potential benefits to employers’ diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives that could come from being able to recruit job candidates from a broader geographic footprint and not requiring them to relocate.
Research suggests the business case for remote work is compelling. A study released earlier this year by GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com showed U.S. employers stand to save more than $500 billion a year if the estimated 48 million full-time employees with jobs that can be done remotely were allowed to work from home half the time. That’s a savings of about $11,000 per employee and reflects increased productivity, greater agility, and reduced real estate, absenteeism and turnover costs.
“It’s exciting,” said Annette Danek-Akey, EVP of supply chain for Penguin Random House, who manages four distribution centers that ship approximately 1.5 million books a day. “It’s an opportunity to design the future of work.”