The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred widespread changes in the way companies function. As large numbers of employees work from home worldwide, many businesses are managing the transition to a fully distributed workplace. While many of these adjustments are temporary for the duration of the pandemic, others may be considering a more permanent change. Either way, business owners will certainly find benefits as well as challenges as they adapt their models to remote work.

A Changing Definition of “The Office”

The typical image of a modern office—with workstations, meeting spaces and common rooms—is rapidly changing, and only partly due to COVID-19. Certainly working from home and increased reliance on technology are affecting offices now, but there were trends toward changing office environments long before the pandemic. Now, COVID-19 is accelerating this trend. Before a vaccine is available, physical office spaces will likely remain designed to promote social distancing and thorough cleaning. Desks will be spaced apart, tabling and seating will be removed, and personal effects will be minimized. 

As a result, many offices are pivoting to models of “alternative workplaces,” a varied set of non-traditional work practices, environments, and arrangements. Businesses are experimenting with the balance between remote and on-site work—whether that means making the commute optional, rotating in-office employees, or managing the transition to a fully distributed office. 

Ideas about corporate culture are shifting as well. Employee safety and well-being is emerging as a top priority, over a pre-pandemic focus on social interaction and team bonding. Business owners are developing creative ways to keep office morale high during challenging, stressful times—from check-ins via Zoom to proactive digital management.  

This is a crucial time for businesses to reassess the way they conduct work, measure performance, and navigate company culture. For many companies, the demands of the pandemic may help develop best practices for a long-term transition to an alternative workplace.

Benefits of a Fully Remote company

Companies that draw on remote work can access a larger, more diverse talent pool than those based in physical offices. Employees can be located in different regions, and new hires won’t face the challenges of relocation—meaning a fully-remote company can support a team with different backgrounds, with recruitment less limited to the immediate community. Regional diversity also gives companies an advantage if they want to tap into local markets for business.

Remote companies are also more resilient to external economic shifts, as the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically demonstrates. The software company Gitlab, for example, managed a large remote-work program before the pandemic began, and oversaw a relatively smooth transition as a result. Remote offices also enjoy greater flexibility. Employees can adapt different schedules based on personal preference and family needs. Asynchronous communication allows work to be streamlined and coordinated across time zones.

Remote work options may also help attract talented employees who appreciate the flexibility that a work-from-home setup allows for. According to one survey by McKinsey & Company, 80% of respondents said they enjoyed working from home. Productivity may increase, too—the same survey found that a majority of respondents were either as productive or more productive while working from home than they had been in the physical office. 

A remote model also dramatically reduces real-estate, rent, and maintenance overhead. Both AT&T and IBM, for example, have cut hundreds of millions in costs by eliminating extra office space, consolidating offices, and promoting remote work. 

Challenges of a Fully Remote Company

A fully distributed company needs to work creatively around the challenges of remote-based work. One is the lack of hands-on support that new employees may need as they onboard and get settled in. This is especially true of folks that are relatively new to the workforce like recent grads, career changers, or folks returning to work after not working for a considerable amount of time.

There is also the loss of “social capital” that comes from casual office conversation. Employees may communicate almost solely for task-completion purposes, and could lose a sense of community as a result. Virtual team-building and morale boosting is certainly more difficult—and can feel less satisfying to employees—than in-person alternatives. A broader sense of isolation may be problematic, particularly for employees who live alone or face difficulties at home. Companies have to be creative in fostering the type of supportive environments that many employees crave.

Fully remote companies also face challenges when it comes to measuring employee performance. It can be difficult to organize and streamline communication; emails and Slack messages can be lost in a feed where an office chat would have been more effective. A remote model may also affect avenues for promotion and advancement—it can be harder for managers to judge employees’ leadership skills and attitudes when they aren’t interacting in person.

Finally, innovation is often more difficult to achieve in the context of a remote-work model. One study, conducted by the Harvard Business Review and analytics software provider Humanyze, found that remote workers communicated on assignments roughly 80% less than team members working in-office. This decrease in communication leads to a decrease in spontaneity and the sharing of new ideas. As more companies make this shift – whether it’s temporary or permanent – they should be evaluating how innovation is affected.

At One America Works, we are here to help you find the next right opportunity with quality companies in growing cities. Reach out to us to find out more about how we can support you.

Which option is right for you?

Ultimately, striking a balance between remote and in-office work will depend on the business in question—the nature of its work and goals, its corporate culture, and its plans for growth. Fully remote and fully on-site options can both be viable. In addition, other options for alternative workspaces combine aspects of both of these models. Business managers can consider outsourcing, or opening smaller, satellite offices in a range of geographical locations. With multiple small hubs, you don’t have to be “fully remote”. You can hire for small offices and grow them with a few employees who can get to know one other. This gives them the benefits of an office, without the need to necessarily go in every day. This is similar to hybrid remote models where businesses can manage individual remote employees or teams, while maintaining a physical office.

As the pandemic encourages ad-hoc remote work, business owners can seize the opportunity to collect data and experiment with alternate approaches. In the future, physical offices can be designed specifically for the work that cannot be conducted remotely, such as meetings or project collaborations. The best models will help to enhance productivity and ensure employee safety and well-being—without sacrificing a positive company culture and space for creativity.

Bear in mind that there is no perfect model. Instead, there are pros and cons of each arrangement, and some models work better for specific industries than other ones. If you want to figure out which model will be best for you, reach out to us to find out more about how we can support you.