A man working from home, having a video call, with his dog sitting near him.

As more countries start moving towards lifting the lockdown that has been imposed on people to halt the spread of COVID-19, enterprises are looking at the new reality of work once we arrive at what is now being described as the new normal. One of the work models that was widespread during the lockdown and which many workers are looking to continue is the idea and practice of remote working.

COVID-19 did not start the remote working trend, but it pushed it to the fore. Even before the pandemic, there were companies that allowed employees to work from home. Gartner says that 30% of employees worked remotely at least part of the time before the current crisis. However, many companies were suspicious about telecommuting due to potential issues with productivity, collaboration, and morale.

Remote Working as New Normal

After the transition to working-from-home, though, many managers that were skeptical about managing workplaces saw that it was possible. They just had to follow basic rules like setting clear goals, being transparent about the company priorities, outlining responsibilities and using tools that help everyone stay in touch (e.g. cloud collaboration solutions). But is remote working going to be part of the ‘new normal’? A number of managers that we contacted said that while it is likely there will be an element of remote working in the future — indeed many managers believe that without it they will not attract top talent — the real future work model will be a flexible combination of working from home and working in the office. All agreed that 100% remote working will not be an option for most.

For organizations that have the proper remote work solutions in place, complete with policies and guidelines, it is fair to say that 5% of workforces who previously worked in-office will permanently remain remote. “We’ll likely find that 5% is a significant underestimate of what the actual number will be,” Mike Hicks, CMO at Canada-based Igloo Software, told us. Entering the pandemic-led completely remote workforce environment, Igloo already had a flexible remote work policy in place that had served them well as a company. Post-pandemic, he said, they will continue to provide flexibility for remote work when required and will undergo a formal evaluation to determine if it makes sense to convert any roles to permanently remote.

For organizations looking ahead, all decisions to have a portion of their employees work remotely on a more permanent basis should be thoroughly evaluated, he said. In addition to physical cost savings, considerations should include role or function, the organization’s workplace culture, and most importantly, whether the proper tools and resources are in place for the role to be successful. This is not only for the benefit of the remote employees, but also for the entire organization so all employees can communicate, collaborate, and share knowledge to ensure continued productivity and business effectiveness.

Some Don't Think a Permanent Shift Is Likely

Greg Sheppard, CRO for the Americas at New York-based Templafy, shared that his organization has no plans to shift any of their office-based employees to a permanent remote work model. While he says the company is a firm believer in flexible working options for its employees and they have the proper infrastructure and technology to enable a globally remote workforce, he does not see a permanent shift happening. “When it comes to getting our employees back into our global offices, we are focused first and foremost on employee safety,” he said. “We will reopen offices as it's deemed safe to do so by local governments... The beauty of being a tech company and one with software like ours is our employees are already prepared for remote working and can be just as productive, and sometimes more so than when they are at the office.”

The Templafy platform connects enterprise systems to bring templates and assets directly to employees, a major element of remote enablement within the digital transformation and strategic initiatives of enterprises. He said that they have seen a huge influx in customer demand of late around that specific need and expect a continuance with companies realizing the essential role of key technologies that drive remote productivity.

New Work Models

The pandemic has clarified, more than ever, the need for enterprises to have built-in flexibility to respond to external events, Michael Johnson, managing principal at Bridgepoint Consulting, told us. Many organizations that had already built cloud-based architectures that enable a work from anywhere capability, were prepared and able to respond immediately, allowing their workforces to remain productive.

Remote work will be commonplace, even after stay-at-home orders and quarantine have ended. To prolong this success, businesses must embrace the possibility of new work models, and adopt the technology needed to ensure continuity.

Business leaders need to communicate and remain transparent with their employees to build a work model that is suitable for everyone, he said. Some employees may be eager to return to the office, while others have found remote work suits their needs best. In the long-term, it will be necessary to provide guidance to employees and adjust expenditures (such as reducing real estate costs) if a hybrid work model will be adopted. This will go a long way in building trust and loyalty between your employees and the organization.

A More Flexible Office

When things return to normal it will very much be a new normal. Companies are investing a lot of time and money into optimizing their remote tools and processes for their employees since stay-at-home orders were issued. Dan Pupius, co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Range told us that once it is safe for their employees to come together again, the company plans to secure a new office location that will have a more flexible functionality than the previous space. “We believe many other companies will do the same, giving employees more options about whether or when they’d like to be in the office-based on their workflows and personal needs,” he said.

So, what will the new office look like? It’s important to note that what we’re doing right now is not “remote work”; this is working from home during a pandemic with kids home and all new schedules — it’s extremely challenging, Pupius said. So, people have been experiencing a quite different version of remote work. But along with the challenges, they are gaining a taste for the benefits, such as enhanced flexibility and focus, which will cause them to reassess how and where they work best.

These new offices will be optimized for collaborating and will function more as formal meeting places and collaboration studios than traditional offices. They’ll also cater to a variety of work types: people who want to work onsite full-time and people who want to drop in occasionally to collaborate or interact with others, while also giving people who are full-time remote the option to break up their days by dropping in for meetings or just for a change of scenery.

Offices will need to be more dynamic in their design to accommodate evolving on- and off-site functions, like temporary areas for transient employees and remote-friendly collaboration areas, as well as accommodating the lingering effects of social distancing. Most importantly, company leadership must be flexible and adaptable about what employees feel comfortable doing regarding their safety and and workspaces, especially as the economy opens.