A significant number of the nation's workers who have been forced to work from home because of the coronavirus pandemic may find themselves permanently working from home, according to a new survey from research firm Gartner. The survey, which was carried out at the end of March and canvassed the insights from 317 CFOs and business finance leaders found 74 percent of those that responded expect at least five percent of their workforce who previously worked in company offices to become permanent work-from-home employees after the pandemic ends.

While much is being made of this now, even without the current health crisis, it is likely that many workers would be heading home anyway, even if it weren’t at the rate we are currently seeing.

Remote Working Trend

Before the pandemic, there were already many companies that allowed employees to work from home.In another Gartner survey, this time of 229 HR leaders carried out at the beginning of April, Gartner says that 30% of employees worked remotely at least part of the time. However, it also showed that many companies were suspicious about telecommuting due to potential issues with productivity, collaboration and morale.

Gartner is not the only research company that has predicted a substantial rise in the number of people working from home on a permanent basis. Kickstand Communications, a communications and research firm, recently took the pulse of remote workers to see how they're adjusting to current changes. It turns out, 85% of employees enjoy working from home, 27% say they're more productive, and 75% of work from home Americans now expect employers to continue to offer remote work options post COVID-19.

What’s more, 79% of employees agreed that remote work policies will now be a factor when searching for new employment opportunities. While offering remote work used to be a "nice to have" for many — employees have rapidly adjusted and now expect companies to offer remote work options in the future. Consumer expectations have been completely reshaped in the wake of COVID-19, and it's inevitably going to have long-term impact on what workplaces will look like.

No Turning Back

Jeppe Dalberg-Larsen, is president of global conference audio specialist EPOS, which recently demerged from Sennheiser. He believes that it's unlikely that enterprises are going to turn back. It is likely that some of these flexible working efforts, infrastructure and technology investments will stick in the long term — bringing about lasting change to how companies manage employees and, by extension, how people choose to work.

The current global impetus for remote work is a marked opportunity for both individuals and organizations to prepare for the future. In fact, according to another Gartner report, by 2030, the demand for remote working will increase by 30% as Generation Z enters the workforce. Organizations need to ensure that they are future proofing both technology infrastructure and policy within their organizations now to ensure that they are remaining competitive and appealing to the best talent in the industry of tomorrow.

Technology plays a vital role in enabling effective communication with remote workers. Poor technology and/or infrastructure for remote working is oftentimes cited as the biggest barrier to its success.

Therefore, in a new landscape, it is vital for business decision makers and HR leaders to ensure that companies are investing in the right infrastructure and technologies to enable and empower their workforce.

Productive Remote Workers

While sheltering in place, many employers have discovered that employees can be more productive, more engaged, and more loyal without ever stepping foot into the same physical office, according to Will Bachman, co-founder and managing partner of New York City-based Umbrex. As nearly every company and millions of office workers have now experienced virtual work, many will become aware of the benefits and be more open to questioning traditional office-based work requirements, he said.

Misconceptions are still rife about remote work, such as those that say employees are likely to be distracted, or won't do their assigned work unless a manager is looking over their shoulder. “In fact, open office layouts based on cubicles are a distraction-prone environment, while a home office allows employees to focus,” he said.

Learning Opportunities

For employees, the advantages are obvious. They can, for example, focus on the work and aren't spending time socializing around the proverbial water cooler. They also don't need to spend time commuting, so it improves their quality of life making them further productive.

But there are significant advantages for employers too. Releasing the geographic constraint on hiring means that an employer can have a pool of talent as broad as all the United States, rather than just the local metro area. Furthermore, by sending employees home, businesses need less office space, thus reducing operating expenses. “Employers do need to adopt a new mindset, as they can no longer measure employee performance by face time at the office, or the time spent on a task. By providing a better work/ life balance for employees they'll be more productive and engaged,” he said.

Remote Work Evolves

Michael Morris is CEO of Indianapolis-based TopCoder and global head of crowdsourcing for TopCoder’s parent company, India-based Wipro. He believes that the situation has evolved much further than most enterprise leaders think. He argues that remote work is the “new normal” and will continue even after social distancing restrictions ease. Indeed, Topcoder has been functioning like this for more than 20 years. It is also how many talented professionals function, too. 40 percent of the American workforce engages with the on-demand talent model, working on a freelance or contract basis. What used to be considered an “alternative” or “independent” workforce is now the 21st century norm. “After operating with virtual workforces during the pandemic, we expect that many companies will opt for “resilient enterprise” strategies, which keep innovation happening quickly with remote, agile teams and a focus to find the best person to do the job, in the most efficient way, no matter where they reside,” he said.

Forward-looking businesses are already moving away from slower, hierarchical business structures, instead adopting more flexible and open talent models that utilize global, virtual workforces. On-demand talent platforms allow them to hire (or stream) the skills they need when they need them.

Adaptability to a remote work landscape will become a competitive advantage. As businesses recognize the benefits of tapping the skill, speed and scalability offered by on-demand talent platforms and communities, those that adapt to this new ecosystem will thrive. This new approach will fulfil more than technological skills gaps. It will serve other key business functions like operations, marketing, R&D, product design and support.

Finally, and as a result, Morris expects more regulatory and infrastructure changes will follow. In the past year, new regulations are emerging in response to on-demand talent models, such as California’s Assembly Bill 5 (AB5). Organizations should plan accordingly for more regulations like these to arise soon. As the independent workforce and open talent models mature, businesses will also need to rethink rewards and engagement tactics, recognizing that all worker types are driven by similar motivations to find meaning, learn, advance and be rewarded for their work.

Productive Remote Workers

In fact, for some, a remote working world is a more productive one. In many cases enterprises are seeing better and faster results with customer and employee engagements, and no one will want to give that up, Don Schuerman, CTO of Pega, told us. Organizations have quickly shifted their thinking and honed new skills on interactive platforms like Webex and Zoom to enable workshops and collaboration that used to only happen in office settings.

These new digital skills will become standardized ways to move faster in the future. But overall, we can expect to see the very concept of “go to work” profoundly changed with hybrids of old and new ways taking hold when we come back to our offices — whenever that may be. “As we typically do with crises, we will experience, learn, develop, and adopt new capabilities.