With sports on hold due to COVID-19, our new national pastime seems to be predicting how the pandemic will shape the future. Spoiler alert: No one really knows.
Image by Etienne Boulanger
For companies neck-deep in uncertainty, it’s almost impossible to plan a return to normal office work. Facebook and Google are extending Work From Home accommodations through the end of the year. Apple, having spent $5 billion on a brand new office, would like to start bringing workers back in July, thank you very much.
Naturally, these plans are tentative and reactive. How could they not be? It’s tough to follow a roadmap if the highway keeps getting new detours as you drive. Your GPS is recalculating in an infinite loop, and you’re stuck in traffic with everyone else.
Maybe you’ve waited long enough. Maybe it’s time to grab the wheel, turn from the gridlock of uncertainty, and take that exit.
Photo by Jamie Street
Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.
Regardless of what the future holds, here’s why your company should make Work From Home a permanent option.
The Workplace Isn’t an Essential Worker
If there’s any down-the-middle certainty among the curveballs that COVID-19 has thrown, it’s this one. Since being forced out of the office and into the largest Work From Home experiment ever, the results look promising.
Team communication tool Slack surveyed remote workers just as most pandemic stay-at-home orders were implemented in the United States. They found that, while productivity took a hit among those new to remote work, 60% of those who have been doing it for over a month reported higher productivity than in the office.
And the longer social isolation lasts, the better workers are getting at adapting. They’re using video conferencing for meetings and asynchronous communication to accommodate employee’s differing schedules. And teams are leveraging tools like Knack to move workflows online and centralize data in a place that’s accessible to their newly distributed workforce.
Hire the Best Employees, Wherever They Live
Just another Knack employee office.
Not only can working remotely be more productive, but it can also help you get employees that are more productive to begin with. At Knack, we’ve found that we have access to a larger, more diverse talent pool than bigger companies because we can hire people from almost anywhere in the world.
Additionally, we’ve also been able to keep good employees longer because they can relocate wherever they want as life circumstances change. And among many knowledge workers, that is increasingly away from densely populated urban centers. With large cities bearing the brunt of COVID-19 infections and extended lockdowns, there are indications that the pandemic is accelerating urban flight. A recent Harris poll shows that almost 40% of workers are considering moving away from cities.
Analyst firm Gartner reports that 74% of companies plan to permanently move at least some of their workforce to remote work. If your company manages to find a viable candidate who lives (or can move) near your office, you’re now competing against offers from firms around the globe. And if you don’t offer a Work From Home option, what are the odds that a prospective employee will accept your offer versus one that does?
Your Employees Do Their Best Work When They Can Live Their Best Lives
Knack UI designer Katherine’s feline supervisor, WYSIWYG
Regardless of larger trends, individuals thrive in differing environments. Some of Knack’s employees live in cities and love it. Our Co-Founder and CEO lives on a farm in rural New Jersey. I live in a leaky old house in a town that gets 100 more inches of rain per year than Seattle. (Different strokes, right?)
Most of Knack’s employees live and interact in our local communities in ways that simply wouldn’t be possible in any one location. Our diversity means that we each have a unique version of life that makes us happy, and we are a better company because of it.
And since we can live and work virtually whenever and wherever we choose, we can each optimize both work and life in a way that’s not possible at traditional workplaces.
Office Space Has Terrible ROI
Photo by Kate Sade
With so many companies moving parts of their workforce to remote, many have predicted an eventual long-term drop in commercial real estate prices. Good news! It’s already happening. So your company should be able to get a great deal on some choice office space, right?
Not so fast. The only way many companies have been able to justify expensive leases is by squeezing employees into high-density open floor plans. With the new normal of social distancing, it will likely require much more space for the same number of employees. It will also demand extensive changes that, even with lower prices, make office space at least as difficult to justify as before.
And even if your company is already committed to a lease, Work From Home options will help those that do work in the office to keep adequate social distancing space.
Getting Together is a Treasure Instead of a Chore
Trivial Pursuit at a recent retreat. I finished a strong last place.
Eventually, companies will be able to have employees in the same room again. At Knack (and many other remote companies), we use money saved on office space and put it towards things like periodic company retreats. Once or twice per year, we get together to work, play, and remind ourselves how much we like the people we work with.
If your team is in the office together day in and day out, company social events are often just another obligation. For a remote team? Best. Week. Ever. (Until the next one).
A Distributed Team is a Resilient Team
With a global pandemic or other unpredictable disruptions, companies who have decoupled productivity from location are already ahead of the game. Many of my colleagues elsewhere in the tech industry lost weeks of productivity, as their companies struggled to adapt to remote workflows and collaboration.
And it doesn’t require a worldwide disaster to illustrate the resilience of a remote team. They are also better equipped to deal with short term office disruptions like outages, seasonal flu outbreaks, and snow days. And of course, a Work From Home team makes personal issues like appointments and illness almost non-issues.
Choosing Now is a Middle Finger to Uncertainty
Most companies haven’t chosen remote work; it’s been forced upon them. Even so, some recognize opportunity amidst the uncertainty. Or perhaps they’re just tired of waiting.
If anyone can afford to wait out the pandemic and meet new office space requirements until things can return to “normal,” it‘s tech companies like Twitter. Instead, CEO Jack Dorsey grabbed the wheel and took the exit, announcing that their employees can work from home forever.
Why would he do that? If you’ve read this far, you already know.
Photo by Dillon Shook