What happens when the world of work changes overnight?
In early 2020, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many of our long-established work traditions. Short strolls to the living room and virtual coffee chats quickly replaced morning commutes and water cooler conversations as millions of organizations transitioned to a fully remote workforce overnight. Although remote roles were prevalent years before the pandemic, we had never seen such a rapid and widespread shift in the way we work.
One year later, the accelerated virtual revolution has evolved from a temporary safety measure to a long-term practice. In a recent Kforce survey, a majority of respondents who transitioned to remote work at the beginning of the pandemic said their organization now plans to stay remote permanently. Upwork estimates that 36.2 million Americans will be working remotely by 2025, an 87% increase from pre-pandemic levels. And this shift hasn’t just changed the way we work, but also the way we live.
What relocation patterns can tell us about the workplace of the future
The rise in remote work has coincided with increased discussions about an “urban exodus” – the concept of mass groups of people relocating from large, densely populated cities to rural areas. However, available data on this topic doesn’t necessarily support this conclusion. There was a mass loss of residents in certain megacities - Multi-Housing News reports that United States Postal Service change-of-address records filed from February through July 2020 indicate Manhattan lost nearly 111,000 net residents, while Brooklyn saw a net decrease of more than 43,000 and San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago lost approximately 26,000 to 31,000 residents each. Regardless, more data is needed to determine whether the people leaving these cities are flocking to rural, under-populated areas.
What we can observe is something we’ve started referring to here at Kforce as a “remote resettling” – groups of people relocating due to the freedom of location that remote work provides. Workplace analytics firm Density found that remote work factors made up nearly one-third of pandemic-related moves in 2020, a pattern that is likely to continue: a survey conducted by Kforce found that 63 percent of people would be very likely to relocate if they transitioned to full-time remote work. While this trend is still evolving, it’s clear that we’re approaching the most widely distributed workforce we have ever seen. As a result, workforce dynamics will continue to evolve for years to come. Here’s what we can expect as the remote resettling leads us toward the virtual working world of tomorrow.
Incentives will change for both job seekers and employers
In today’s remote work landscape, organizations can’t rely on attracting talent through strictly in-office perks like free parking, an onsite fitness center or commute reimbursement. Priorities among job seekers are changing with the times, leaving organizations to adapt in order to stay desirable to new talent.
The preference for remote roles is growing; according to a recent Kforce survey, 62 percent of respondents whose companies went remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic said the experience has improved their opinion of remote work. A majority of respondents also said that the primary benefit of remote work is the freedom of location and the ability to work from anywhere, followed closely by improved work/life balance. Organizations will need to determine how to cater to these new preferences in order to stay competitive, whether that’s investing in the tools needed to support more remote roles or offering virtual incentives to their existing remote workforce.
Hybrid workplace models will become more common
Even when organizations do return to the office, occasional remote work will still be a regular practice. A KPMG survey found that 30 percent of organizations will have a majority of their employees working remotely 2-3 days a week in 2021. For organizations unable to commit to a full remote transition, this hybrid model is a good compromise and is rising in popularity among job seekers - 62 percent of candidates said their ideal work situation would be a combination of onsite and remote work, according to Kforce original data.
A hybrid model is not only attractive to job seekers but can also help organizations increase productivity and reduce costs. A 2020 Statista study found that over 50 percent of employers indicated increased productivity as the main benefit of remote work. Furthermore, Global Workplace Analytics found that companies allowing employees to work from home just half of the time would save an average of $11,000 per employee, a result of savings primarily from increased productivity, lower real estate costs, reduced absenteeism and turnover, and better disaster preparedness. Going forward, we’re likely to see a majority of organizations adopt at least some degree of remote work, even as onsite roles remain.
The distributed workforce will result in unique challenges
Due to the transitions of the past year, employees who once shared a home base are now spread throughout different cities, states and even time zones. This dynamic will become more common as the remote resettling advances; having an entire team in the same location is growing less likely as more virtual opportunities arise. This presents unique challenges for organizations trying to maintain effective communication, scheduling and cross-functionality. Employers will need to focus on creating a culture of flexibility and investing in digital communication and collaboration tools to help navigate these issues.
While the COVID-19 pandemic may have been the initial driving force, these changes in our workforce dynamics will continue for years to come. With the right strategies, we can embrace this new working world to become more adaptable and innovative than ever.
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