When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, many companies were forced to send their employees home and shift to a fully remote work environment. But as we move into a new phase of the pandemic—where it’s safer for people to share space—the question becomes: is full remote here to stay?
We asked Celeste McNeill, an experienced HR professional with a background in recruitment and employee relations and Director of Human Resources for web development agency imageX. The imageX team, which has employees in six countries (including Canada, the US, and Ukraine), went fully remote in March 2020—and since then, McNeill has gotten to experience first-hand the benefits and challenges of shifting to a 100 percent remote work environment.
In this interview, McNeill shares her insights on the future of remote work—and whether full remote is poised to become the standard work environment moving forward.
The benefits of full remote work…
From a business perspective, there are plenty of upsides to going full remote—particularly from a budgetary standpoint.
When a business goes 100 percent remote, it can get rid of its office space—and all the overhead that goes along with it. When a business moves to fully remote operations, “there can be a reduction in the necessity for space, furniture, and parking or travel expenses for team members, resulting in overall cost savings for the organization,” says McNeill.
Also read: Are We Witnessing The Death Of The Office?
For many employees, being able to work remotely also gives them more flexibility with their time—which is not only a benefit for the employee, but also for the business.
“100 percent remote work can bring a better work/life balance,” says McNeill. “Happier employees who have the flexible time to pursue hobbies or spend time with family result in a more engaged workforce and reduced turnover.”
Remote work also allows employees more location flexibility. Because they don’t have an office they need to commute to every day, they have the freedom to “to relocate to more affordable communities or have the flexibility to travel and work from other states or provinces or countries,” says McNeill. “This allows employees full control over their working and home environment.”
And when you give your employees that control over where they live and work, it can make them more loyal to your organization—making it easier to retain top talent and stay competitive.
…and the drawbacks
It’s clear that a fully remote work environment has some benefits—but it can also have some drawbacks.
One potential drawback has to do with the reliability of technology. When you work in a centralized office space, as a business, you have a certain level of control over your technology. For example, you can outfit your office with high-speed, reliable internet and ensure you have systems in place that protect your work in the wake of any tech-related issues.
But when your team is distributed across multiple locations, you don’t have that same level of control—and even a minor setback (like a power outage, a computer performance issue, or an employee’s unpaid internet bill) can cause productivity issues.
Also read: 5 Communication Challenges of Multi-Site Businesses
“100 percent remote can bring communication [and tech-related] challenges,” says McNeill. “We rely heavily on technology to keep us connected, but in a power outage or system failure we can’t connect with our team….[also], team members often become responsible for ensuring their tools and equipment are set up appropriately, which can bring challenges.”
A 100 percent remote environment can also make it harder to foster strong relationships with your team. Connecting with team members that are working remotely can be more challenging “than simply just walking over to someone’s desk and asking how things are going or taking a quick stroll to the local coffee shop with a colleague,” says McNeill.
Also read: 5 Best Practices to Maintain Your Company Culture While Working Remotely
And remember how we mentioned how a full remote work environment helps some employees achieve a better work-life balance? Interestingly, the opposite is also true—and many employees struggle to find a balance when they have to carve out an office space within their home.
“Some team members perform better in an office environment where the lines aren’t blurred between work and home life—and they feel they can turn off better when they arrive at home,” says McNeill.
Also read: [Expert Opinion] Brigitte Vaudolon: Best Practices for Successful Remote Working
Is the future of work 100 percent remote—and, if not, where is work headed?
Clearly, going fully remote has both advantages and disadvantages. But the question is, do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages—and is full remote the ideal work model for the future?
According to McNeill, the answer is no.
Also read: There’s No Going Back: 4 Things About Work That Will Never Be The Same
“A lot of team members don’t always have the luxury of having a comfortable working environment in their homes or have been struggling with the isolation and are keen to return to the office,” says McNeill. “So while there are going to be a good portion of team members who are thrilled to be remote, employers who want to keep their existing workforce happy will need to adapt to the needs of both [those that want to work remote and those that want to return to the office].”
In McNeill’s opinion, a hybrid work model, which gives employees the ability to work remotely, in the office, or a combination of both, is a better move for companies that want to attract and retain top talent, as it allows companies and employees to reap the benefits of remote work—while avoiding the drawbacks of a fully remote environment. (And that opinion is backed by data; according to the Reimagining Human Experience study from JLL, 70 percent of employees favor a hybrid work model.)
Also read: [Expert Opinion] Bertrand Duperrin: Toward a Hybrid Work Model
“Flexibility is important, and if an employer can’t provide some level of in-person environment for their team members, they will exclude a large portion of the [talent pool],” says McNeill.
So, bottom line: what’s the future of work—and is it fully remote? While remote work is certainly here to stay (and while many companies will certainly continue to operate 100 percent remote), expect work environments that give employees the flexibility to work both remotely and in the office to become the go-to work model in the future. “I believe that most companies will shift towards accommodating a more flexible workforce, but not necessarily 100 percent [remote],” says McNeill.
Do you want to know more about hybrid work? Read our white paper on this topic:
Access White Paper
In our white paper “Future of Work: Make Way for Hybrid Work!” you’ll discover the eight main challenges of hybrid work; best practices managers, HR, internal communication, IT and employees all can adopt; and the tools for facilitating hybrid work.
Author: Deanna deBara