Remote work in the age of COVID-19
What initially seemed to be an inconvenience, proved to be offering a range of benefits to some organizations.
More employers are now considering extending work-from-home (WFH) opportunities for workers through autumn, end of year or later as coronavirus cases continue to increase in many countries around the world.
Job applicants who have previously been limited by geography will now easily apply to vacancies around the world, broadening the potential talent pool. Businesses will reduce the operating costs of real estate, rent and electricity, with some opting to leave physical spaces entirely. In fact, businesses discover that employees are more efficient when choosing their work locations and schedules.
Many industries have easily adapted to the new change and aim to work from home in the future, while others have either returned to their normal physical office work schedule or will do so when possible.
Before COVID-19, less than one-third of American employees were willing to work from home, according to the most recent figures from the US. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2017-18, just 29% of contract and salary employees could work from home in their primary occupations.
Asians were more likely to work at home—32%, compared to 26% for whites and 18% for black workers. Hispanic employees are the least likely to have tasks that could be completed at home at 13%.
The technology sector
Unsurprisingly, the technology sector is leading the way when it comes to altering the future of remote jobs. Social networking giant Twitter was one of the first companies to allow workers to work from home. In a recent announcement, the company said that people with jobs that require them to operate remotely will continue to do so indefinitely. Those that want to return to headquarters, however, can expect a gradual office-by-office phase-in after September.
Mark Zuckerberg said that as many as 50% of Facebook (FB) workers could operate remotely over the next 5 to 10 years. Zuckerberg came up with the proposal both as a way of fulfilling workers' needs and as an attempt to create "more broad-based economic growth."
In addition to transitioning to full-time remote jobs, a variety of tech firms have provided tools to make the transition simpler. Shopify provided employees with a $1,000 stipend to fund their home office rooms. At Twitter, though, all staff should be reimbursed for office supplies, such as desks, chairs and cushions.
The white collar sector
Most business leaders in the white-collar industries, such as law and banking, say that they are not going to turn to a completely work-from-home system. Physical space has its advantages — coworkers can create a sense of community, and it looks more efficient to visit a customer in a formal office room than a nearby coffee shop. Nevertheless, some of the remote work patterns that arose as a result of COVID-19 would continue.
Ian Friedman, a partner at Friedman & Nemecek in Cleveland, believes that his law firm should provide more flexible job options to move forward, saying that it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing case. "This could be something like you go to the workplace when you need to, and work from home when you don't."
The traditional sector
Flexible jobs, of course, means different things for different industries. For certain jobs, such as manufactures, distributors, electricians and plumbers, going remote is not an alternative. In addition, companies are adopting technologies and modifying work schedules to ensure the health of staff members.
Technology can also end up replacing operators of equipment, by moving them to the position of robotic and automated equipment supervisors. Remote-controlled drones can inspect research, perform aerial surveys and complete estimation tasks. There are fewer workers on-site at any given time as a result of these developments.
French automaker PSA has announced a "new era of agility" in which its non-production staff will be working remotely from now on. The organization plans to upgrade its headquarters to facilitate in-person coordination as required, but PSA will reduce its real estate footprint. The organization said it would encourage staff to have a healthier work-life balance and smoother journeys.
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We believe that this industry is much more permissive than others, as we rely very much on the internet and its tools. Therefore, our employees were able to continue their activity. Even though they were no longer present at the office, they benefited from the option to work from home.
Unfortunately, working from home is not an option for everyone. Unemployment across Europe has risen due to the coronavirus pandemic with airline companies and the automobile sector making some of the biggest job cuts. About 281,000 people in the European Union lost their jobs in June, according to data from the bloc's statistics agency. This came after the number of people unemployed rose by 253,000 in May and 397,000 in April.
Some major companies that have announced they are downsizing their workforces are:
· AT&T laid off an additional 54 people in its marketing division on August 6, after laying off 3,400 employees in June.
· Oilfield services company Schlumberger said it is cutting roughly 21,000 jobs on July 24. It also reported second-quarter losses of $3.4 billion.
· Daimler, the company that owns Mercedes-Benz, may cut 30% of its global workforce.
· Marriott International, the world's largest hotel company, said it has started to furlough what could amount to tens of thousands of employees on March 17. Arne Sorenson, the president and CEO, announced that his own salary will be suspended for the rest of the year and senior executives' salaries will be reduced by 50%.
· LinkedIn said it would cut 960 jobs, or 6% of its global workforce, on July 21. The cuts will impact hiring and sales positions.
· On July 15, American Airlines said that it will soon lay off 25,000 workers, including 9,950 flight attendants and 2,500 pilots. The cuts represent almost 20% of the company.
· HSBC, Europe's biggest bank, announced plans to cut 35,000 jobs — or 15% of its global workforce — across the US and Europe on June 17.
· Hilton Hotels announced it is laying off 2,100 corporate employees on June 16, amounting to 22% of its corporate workforce.
· Cirque du Soleil announced it is laying off 95% of its 4,679 person staff on March 19, a week after cancelling all its upcoming performances. The circus producer kept 259 staffers to plan and sell tickets for future tours.
German airline Lufthansa said on June 11 it would cut 22,000 jobs due to travel disruptions caused by the coronavirus. The airline said half the job cuts would be in Germany.
The conclusion of this article is that the pandemic has made many business leaders realize how important it is to give importance to their employees and prepare them for any changes. Moreover, some have realized that office work can be replaced with telework, offering many more benefits (both for the employee and for the employer).
The office will always be part of our daily lives, but eventually we will spend less time in it physically. Although it will take a lot for businesses to create a digital community that suits the culture of the workplace, so that employees who spend most of their time at home don't feel lonely and can perform, at some point the majority of companies will let their employees work from home or even substitute them for AI.