In the wake of tragedy, the world often seems permanently altered. However, not all of these post-crisis adjustments end up lasting. As the COVID-19 outbreak overwhelms the economy, the workforce might seem changed forever. But how much of the transformation will stick?
Each generation has an event that defines how they perceive the world. From Pearl Harbor to the Kennedy Assassination to 9/11, history provides a list of dividing lines. The coronavirus outbreak might represent such a moment for the way we conduct our daily work lives.
As COVID-19 has forced many workers into their homes, it seems like the time of the centralized workplace is near its end. Remote working looks like the wave of the future. But is it? Has the outbreak forced the trend for at-home operations over the tipping point?
An Accelerated Shift Toward Remote Working
Many companies have long pushed a remote-working strategy. In expensive cities (like New York or San Francisco), the cost of office space is so prohibitive that maintaining a large staff in one place becomes a budget-buster. Employing a geographically-dispersed staff eases this pressure. At the same time, the use of remote workers gives companies access to a wider talent pool.
As such, companies had started shifting toward more remote workers, even long before COVID-19 hit. For example, a study done by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that 25% of workers did at least some of their work at home. The coronavirus has accelerated this trend, forcing many employees to create quick at-home set-ups, so that they can continue to contribute during lock-down restrictions.
This may well lead to a permanent increase in the remote workforce. Companies that had already recognized the benefits of a more flexible employment policy may use the shock of the coronavirus outbreak to lock the transition in place.
Nowhere to Go
But, then again…not so fast. The main long-term business result of the coronavirus crisis may very well be a further move toward more at-home employees. However, there are some counterbalancing forces. A switch towards a complete remote-working culture isn’t likely in the near term.
For one thing, there are advantages to working in one place. It allows for easier communication. (For instance, you can just walk over to a coworker if you have a quick question). This secure collaboration fosters innovation and creative thinking.
Meanwhile, some businesses don’t have a choice. A large manufacturing facility can’t send its workforce home and continue operating. It’s not like Nabisco can just let its employees bake cookies in their kitchens, and GM can’t have their workers assemble cars in their home garages.
There are also infrastructure restraints, a limit to the number of people with the capacity to work at home. Remember the BLS statistics that showed that about 25% of workers did at least some of their tasks from home? That same data set indicated that just around 29% had the capability to operate remotely. That doesn’t leave much room for growth.
Emergency Plans and Increased Flexibility
Long term, companies will likely split the difference. A full switch to a completely decentralized organizational structure probably isn’t likely for most businesses. However, with the COVID-19 situation as precedent, firms have the experience and the incentive needed to roll out additional remote capabilities.
At some firms, this will lead to an increase in emergency planning. The coronavirus caught many companies and individual workers off guard. Next time around, organizations will be more prepared. They will have specific emergency plans in place, and will likely invest in additional infrastructure to make sure the transition can take place seamlessly.
At the same time, workers might find themselves with additional options. Spurred by the coronavirus outbreak, many firms were forced to provide at-home equipment for their employees. Once the virus passes, these workers might be able to take advantage of the newly installed infrastructure to log occasional workdays from home.
Flexibility will likely be a key priority in the post-COVID world. Companies will need employees who can thrive under any conditions. By partnering with a reliable recruiting partner, like Recruiting In Motion, you can find the kind of worker who can adjust to any circumstances.