Did COVID-19 Launch the Workplace Into the Future? | WFH Beyond the Pandemic

Author: Megan Ferguson

Among the many lifestyle changes that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about, the practice of working from home has become a part of the “new normal.” But is this “new normal” concept in fact a myth? Of course, the pandemic has forced populations around the world to adapt their way of life like never before. With 9.8 million Americans working remotely prior to the pandemic, data prove that WFH has been a practical system long before the world came under the grips of 2020.

The opportunity to work from home offers a variety of advantages for workers. From more flexible hours, to increased productivity, and an improved work-life balance, remote workers often report lower stress levels than their in-office counterparts. With the average American spending nearly 1 hour of their day getting to and from work, commuter time savings allow employees to focus on priorities outside of the job, such as a morning workout, spending more time with family, or even squeezing in a few extra Z’s. Since telecommuting, I’ve built in a morning stroll around the neighborhood into my daily routine. Although, I can’t lie; some mornings I am certainly a part of the crew hitting the snooze button to get those extra few minutes of sleep!

There’s a common misconception that working from home serves the employee more than the employer. However, the last six months show that companies have certainly felt the benefits of a remote workforce in their wallets. Office operating expenses are astronomical – rent, electricity, climate control, and the list goes on. As a matter of fact, according to Global Workplace Analytics, employees around the world are not even at their desk 50% to 60% of the time! This statistic makes it difficult to justify the millions of dollars that companies spend annually to lease out office space. Due to their utility, offices are unlikely to completely die out. However, the tremendous savings may lead to indefinite telecommuting practices for many businesses and, as a result, vacant office buildings nationwide.

With sustainability at the forefront of global consciousness, the colossal office shutdown triggered by COVID-19 has allowed many of us to reduce our own carbon footprint without even realizing it. Perhaps the most obvious advantage of telecommuting is cutting out the actual commute to work. The decreased consumption of fossil fuels directly correlates to improvement in overall climate impact—not to mention a huge financial lift with money saved on gas, oil, vehicle wear-and-tear, and public transportation. Fewer employees in the office also means using fewer resources. From printer paper to office energy consumption, remote workers generally create less waste, favoring email and digital tools over physical resources. It will be interesting to see if this environmental impact will serve as a catalyst for more companies adopting remote proceedings as the effect of our pre-COVID routines continues to be unveiled.

Working from home offers a variety of benefits for both parties involved, but as with most things in life, there is always another side of the coin. Remote work often blurs the line between personal and professional life, with many people finding themselves overworked. The opportunity for in-office collaboration among co-workers is also lost with telecommuting. According to Buffer, communication, collaboration, and loneliness continue to be top challenges for remote workers and organizations. Calls and online video meetings have certainly proven their value over the last several months. The enriching experiences of face-to-face workplace interactions—such as quick coffee breaks or exchanging weekend plans with colleagues—suffer.

It is too soon to tell if remote working will in fact be the way of the future. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that remote working is not only possible, but also probable. As for me, I will continue to enjoy catching a quick glimpse of co-workers’ four-legged, furry friends. Can you blame me? They can’t help but steal the show on any video meeting!

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