Many of us will be working from home forever

The future of work is here, and for many of us it's going to be from home.

Remote worker  >  A man works from home with his dog
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Working from home may be new for you, but it's not to me. I've been doing it for over 30-years. But, as a freelance writer, it's part of the gig. You, and your company, however, thanks to the pandemic are probably new to this. I have some news from you: Get used to working from home. Many companies won't be opening their office buildings anytime soon, or in some cases, ever.

The list of companies that plan on letting workers work remotely for the foreseeable future keeps growing. Their numbers include Google, Microsoft, and Uber. Still others, such as Reddit, Dropbox, and Twitter, have gone all the way. Most of their workers need never return to a corporate office.

And, that's just fine by some workers. In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, an IBM survey found 54% of employees preferred working remotely.  More recently, a study by the recruitment company Hays discovered almost two-thirds, 63%, tech professionals said they expect to be working from home in the future.

Appjobs, Future of Work Institute, CEO and co-founder Alok Alström, foresees "the majority of white-collar workers working remotely to a higher extent than before and especially from home to spare some time commuting and have more time for family." Alström adds, "According to the World Economic Forum, 44% of white-collar companies will move their workforce to operate remotely."

AppJobs is already on this path. "We have switched to smaller offices as we try to practice not having everyone in the office every day, and we have created more spaces to hang out and have collaborative meetings online than we had before. This is because we believe the trend will be that the office doesn’t have the main purpose to serve as a workspace, but a co-working space from now on."

Others aren't seeing quite such a positive response to working from home. Ed Stevens, CEO at Preciate, a platform designed to help businesses and teams virtually replicate in-person mixers, predicts 1 in 5 (20%) of workers will work from home at least one day a week. Before the pandemic, 5% of the American workforce worked full-time from home. Stevens believes that "while the full-time percentage will at least double to 10%, an even higher percentage will work from home at least one day a week - likely 20%."

Gallup polls found that while the average percentage of US workers who have telecommuted has changed only modestly--from 42% to 49%-- the average number of workdays telecommuters are working from home has more than doubled, from 5.8 days per month last fall to 11.9 days in August 2020. Among all US workers, the average number of telecommuting days has also more than doubled, from 2.4 per month to 5.8.

Of course, not everyone likes working from home. Some hate it. As Alison Green, who runs the Ask a Manager website, reports, some people miss their co-workers--and no Zoom isn't good enough. Others like the structure office-work gives them, while still others have trouble finding space--both physical and mental--to work from home. And, as you'd guess many people are finding that they're not so much "working at home" as they are "living at work."

Making the working from home move

While there are certainly some jobs that don't translate well into working from home, most office jobs can be done from your living room. This trend also makes good sense for companies feeling squeezed by the recession and high commercial real estate prices. As Jack Dorsey, Twitter's CEO said in an earnings call in February as the pandemic wave started to surge, "Our concentration in San Francisco is not serving us any longer and we will strive to be a far more distributed workforce which we will use to improve our execution."

Of course, some companies were better set to make the move to all remote work than others. Sean Chou, CEO of AI automation company, Catalytic, for example, said, "As a SaaS [Software-as-a-Service] company, we were already very well equipped to transition to a remote workplace. Through our own platform as well as other tools such as Slack and Zoom, we keep connected and ensure the flow of work isn't disrupted. We plan to stay remote-first even after the pandemic is behind us."

Anthony Brooks-Williams, CEO of HVR, an independent provider of real-time cloud data replication, was also ready to make the switch. "As a global, cloud-based technology company, we already had most of the technology in place. What has changed is our reliance on it - Slack, Asana, Dropbox, Office365, and Zoom are now our primary ways of communicating."

That said, Brooks-Williams continued, "I do encourage our employees to reach out to their colleagues with legacy technology - the phone. Sometimes a short phone call is all you need to solve a problem or work out an issue."

Some businesses had already been moving to a partly remote approach even before the pandemic. Elizabeth Dornburgh, Senior Director of Human Resources at the intellectual property (IP) law firm Wolf Greenfield, said her firm already had a toe in the working from home water. "Prior to the pandemic, we allowed up to almost 70% of staff to work remotely one to two days per week."

Then, Dornburgh explained, "For Wolf Greenfield, the question of whether to go full remote or not wasn't a theoretical one. When the New Rochelle NY outbreak happened in early March, we thought we had potentially been exposed. The firm quickly went remote out of an abundance of caution to keep employees safe, and we have been 100% remote ever since."

Other companies, while tech-savvy, faced more of a challenge. Nelson Sherwin, manager of the HR out-sourcing services comparison company,  PEO Compare, said, "Prior to the pandemic, 100% of our staff was in-office." Now, it is 100% working from home. 

Why such a drastic move? Sherwin explained it was "necessary, at this point, because nothing else makes sense. We don’t want to put anyone at risk, and it doesn’t seem like this thing will end in the immediate future. It also allows us the flexibility of rearranging or even moving the office entirely. If there isn’t a full team working there, then we might as well give up the office and look for something smaller, that suits our needs better."

So far so good, but some companies had an entirely different experience when they shifted from the office to homes. Akram Tariq Khan, Cofounder of the Pakastani clothing company YourLibaas, confessed, "It was initially a disaster as we didn't have the required expertise or the technological infrastructure to make the move online. Work and personal boundaries started mixing up and employees felt as if they were expected to work round the clock."

The answer? Seek expert help outside their company. Khan continued, "It was when our outsourced human relations company stepped in and collaborated with the IT team to create standard operating procedures (SOP)s more aligned to remote work. It is better than how it used to be pre-pandemic now: mental well-being is higher, productivity has increased, meetings have reduced and knowledge sharing is far more streamlined."

Permanently remote

One thing stood out whether companies came into this new world of work ready to run or totally unprepared. Well, over 70% of the 50 executives I queried told me that they were going to stick with remote work for at least the foreseeable future. Some are doing this because of concerns that the pandemic will be with us for months more. Others though, have found that working from home works well for them.

Chou said, "I have personally enjoyed the increased productivity from fewer distractions and no commute. Having said that, I do miss spending time in person with my colleagues and know that many of my colleagues want to just be able to hang out together again. That’s why we’ll retain an office in some fashion even if it’s more of a gathering hub and flexible workspace than a traditional office."

Natalie Litera, COO at Indianapolis-based KSM Consulting, a technology and management consulting firm, said, "Pre-pandemic, there were some highly-collaborative teams within our organization that we didn’t believe would be able to successfully work remotely—and we found out we were plain wrong. They can, they are, and they're thriving. Remote work gives us the opportunity to work like one company, instead of four different locations, and that's been really valuable. We've even started hiring people from outside of Indiana to fill roles, which was a first for KSM Consulting."

It's not just technology companies, making a permanent move to working from home. Vinay Amin, CEO and founder of Eu Natural, a health supplements brand, explained that after some initial teething issues with switching to an entirely remote team, "we have streamlined the process and now have a hugely productive, engaged staff of twelve employees."

So, Amin concluded, "We've decided to make this a permanent arrangement - it's beneficial for the business and my employees. My staff are happier because they are saving money and time on the commute, and I'm saving on office space rental overheads."

The tech behind working from home

No matter the company, no matter the industry, some themes and products appeared over and over again. First, the future of business belongs to SaaS. When Microsoft decided to push its SaaS office suite Office 365 over its old-style PC-centric Office 2019, they bet on a winner. Some companies may not be using Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) or Office 365, but I couldn't find them.

Business-specific SaaS programs, such as customer-relationship management (CRM) programs Apptivo CRM, SalesForce, and SugarCRM's SugarCloud, market share was already growing rapidly. The coronavirus has supercharged this trend.

Industry-specific, vertical market SaaSs are also taking off faster than ever.  As TrustRadius found in its recent study, "In this past decade, the market size for vertical SaaS companies has tripled. Previously, many developers and thought leaders thought industries like agriculture, home health care, industrial, etc. wouldn’t quickly jump on board with new, mostly cloud-based software. Much to their surprise, they have." 

When it comes to vertical SaaS and the pandemic, the data is harder to dig up. But, in speaking to numerous IT executives, time after time they mentioned that they were looking to private and public cloud-based approaches for their particular IT niche needs.

In communications, the names we all know today kept coming up again and again. Today's Covid-19 workforce runs on Slack and Zoom. True, Microsoft Teams and the Google constellation of video and team programs all have their fans, but the collaboration newcomers have gained enormous mindshare in double-quick time.

Other technologies, such as the essential virtual-private network (VPN) and remote security management, don't have a pandemic business market leader yet. I expect Google's new VPN offering with its Google One cloud storage service to open a new front in the service battle for remote work networking market share.

The future is remote

This is far from the first time that people thought we'd all be working away from office towers. Many of those earlier efforts sputtered out. There were many reasons, but it usually boiled down to ‘If I can't see people, that means they must be loafing."

That was then. This is now.

Today, we're all being forced to work from our living rooms, kitchens, and thrown-together home-offices. What's even more important is our technology and our home internet are much more ready to deal with the demands of remote work than they were even five years ago.

Anyone who remembers what video-conferencing was like in the mid-2010s knows what I mean. Today, my five-year-old grandson is using Google Meet with Google Classroom to "meet" his kindergarten classmates.

We also live in the days when, ready or not, almost all office workers are working away from the office. We're all part of the remote work experiment now. And, as the months go by, more and more workers and bosses are finding that they like it.

Will we ever go to a 100% remote workforce? Of course not. But, I can easily see a future where the majority of workers start their workday from their homes rather than after a half-an-hour commute to an expensive office building. The time is right, the technology is ready, and remote work is here to stay