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Due to the current pandemic crisis, remote work has increased by leaps and bounds. Time Magazine calls it “the world’s largest work-from-home experiment.”

For many of us, it has become the new normal, and we’re all learning as we go.

Even before the public health crisis struck, remote work was increasing in the U.S. Over the last five years, the number of people working remotely has grown by 44%. At the beginning of this year, 3.4% of the population was working from home. Since the start of the pandemic, nearly two-thirds of Americans work remotely.

After two months of confinement, we’re starting to notice different remote work trends shaping up.

In this article, we’ll take a close look at the positive, negative, and remarkable aspects of the current mass remote work environment and how it will shape the future of work.

 

The work environment is changing, make sure your clients have everything they need with Microsoft 365

 

The good 

The first thing the world noticed is that many businesses can succeed when employees don’t come into the office every day.

Here are the positive aspects of working remotely that have been documented:

 

#1. Better for the environment

Pollution over major metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Chicago, and Atlanta, has dropped since the lockdown. Not using our cars to commute to work reduces our carbon footprints and their adverse effects on climate change.

#2. Reduces costs

Research from Harvard Business School shows that companies could spend less on office spaces, as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office estimated that, thanks to many of its employees working remotely, it saved more than $38 million in 2015 by not using as much office space.

#3. Accelerates cloud adoption

Microsoft’s total revenues increased by 15% over the first quarter ending March 31, with Dynamics products and cloud services revenue increasing by 17%. Since the pandemic, they’ve got 12 million new users on Teams, its group-collaboration platform. Microsoft expects COVID-19 to accelerate digital adoption and investments in cloud computing, AI, and cybersecurity, as well as more capital spending later this year.

#4. More time with our families

While almost all parents can’t wait for the day schools and nurseries reopen, at least we can appreciate more time spent with our families.

#5. No more commuting

The American commute increases depression, divorce, obesity, and fossil-fuel emissions. Research shows that people who drive to work spend 54 hours per year stuck in traffic. Working remotely—whether at a coffee shop, in a co-working space, or on a couch—is a win for work-life balance and the biosphere.

 

The bad

The mass switch from traditional office work to remote work brings along several challenges. But with problems, there also are solutions and actions managers can take to ease the transition.

 

#1. You may not get your answers in a flash

One thing about working remotely is you can’t just turn around to ask your colleague a question. But you can chat with them on Teams (or whatever collaboration tool you use).

#2. Solitude is a bummer

Humans are hard-wired for connection. Many people work in an office because they crave social interaction. Isolated work makes people feel lonely and disconnected. Make sure employees know what’s happening on their teams, and keep feelings of isolation at bay by communicating frequently and having touchpoints so there are no unaddressed frustrations. Dedicate time to sharing stories and getting vulnerable with each other.

#3. Sarcasm can be misunderstood

Humor works great in person. However, office teasing, bad jokes, and sarcasm are difficult to detect in texts and emails because there are no facial cues or vocal tones involved. Use emojis when you need to highlight something that was meant sarcastically.

#4. Harsh times for working parents

Most working parents are not having a blast at the moment with working, homeschooling, and taking care of their kids at the same time. Companies can make things easier by allowing parents to have more control over their schedules. Also, to help with the transition, Microsoft shared the Work From Home with Children guide they created for their employees.

#5. Creativity suffers

For many, remote work blocks the creative sparks we get when interacting live with people. Teammates working together in the same room tend to solve problems more quickly than remote collaborators. Organizing regular company retreats, allowing employees to schedule “virtual coffee breaks” with their peers, and having the option to work on flexible schedules can help.

 

The surprising

#1. Increased productivity

A recent survey by YouGov, USA Today, and LinkedIn on professionals aged 18–74 shows that the pandemic has had a positive effect on 54% of workers’ productivity. The reasons given by the respondents were the time saved from commuting (71%), fewer distractions from co-workers (61%), and fewer meetings (39%).

#2. Fully remote teams are more engaged than teams separated in multiple offices

Disengagement is a risk when managing teams across multiple locations. Team members divided into multiple offices are not close to the manager, which can lead to unconscious bias creeping in, as well as information imbalances. One such example is what Darren Dahl calls the “out-of-site-out-of-mind syndrome”: when things get busy at your primary location, it can be hard to give your employees based at other locations the time they deserve.

One benefit of working in a fully remote team is that everybody becomes equal, which has democratized remote meetings. This is an important aspect we should all learn from once we go back to the office.

#3. A new economic reality

There’s no news that we’ve been heading into an economic downturn. Jared Spataro, CVP of Microsoft 365, thinks the healthiest thing we can do is to “take a step back and think about how we can emerge from this stronger than we went into it; recognize we will have to cut costs in some places and rethink our business.”  This is an opportunity to move your resources around and make sure you’re prepared for the new reality.

 

Imagining life after lockdown

Will the future of work after COVID-19 be a mix of breakfast in bed, pajamas, and Microsoft Teams?

Perhaps.

According to Gallup, “three in five U.S. workers who have been doing their jobs from home during the coronavirus pandemic would prefer to continue to work remotely as much as possible, once public health restrictions are lifted.”

Some will want to keep working from home, while others will rush into the offices without looking back.

When the time for us to go back to the office comes, it won’t all happen in one day. It’s going to be a gradual shift, moving through different phases.

Long story short, we need to acknowledge there will be a before and after the crisis that will affect the way we work in the future. It’s our job to make sure we keep The Good and The Surprising to make the future of work better.

Written by Alexandre Laflamme Subject Matter Expert - Modern Workplace @ Sherweb

Alex helps Sherweb partners be successful in the cloud. Whether it requires navigating treacherous waters or scaling towering peaks, he’s determined to guide and advise all partners to reach their full cloud potential. His past professional experience includes five years in banking, in addition to running a small custom computer business and dabbling as a professional gamer. Outside of leading Sherweb partners towards their loftiest goals, Alex is a big fan of the English Premier League, and enjoys collecting old school Magic the Gathering cards.