Is remote working here for good?

Photo: @DianaSolomon1 via Twenty20
Apr 15, 2020

A shift toward remote working had already been taking place in recent years. Now, companies have significantly expanded those efforts with much of America’s workplace forced to work from home.

A Gartner survey of 317 CFOs on March 30 revealed that 74 percent intend to move at least five percent of their previously on-site workforce to permanent remote positions post-COVID 19, and nearly a quarter plan to transition at least 20 percent of their workers. The primary reason is to avoid more severe cuts amid COVID-19’s fallout.

For employees, the promised benefits of remote working include flexible schedules, eliminating commuting time and enhanced work/life balance. For employers, better working conditions can boost employee productivity.

Employees are also able to basically work from anywhere, and that also expands the recruiting pool for employers.

The leading struggle for employees working remotely, according to the “2019 State of Remote Report” from Buffer, is unplugging after work, cited by 22 percent. That was followed by loneliness, 19 percent; collaborating and/or communication, 17 percent; and distractions from home, 10 percent; being in a different time-zone than teammates, eight percent; and staying motivated, eight percent.

The current forced remote working situation is providing insights into how many corporate functions can work remotely, including whether senior management can lead without one-one-one or group in-person meetings.

Tech challenges include extending hardware compatibility to homes and related security issues.

A recent article from MIT Sloan School of Management found organizations employing remote workforces face three challenges: low-bandwidth communication, unnecessary meetings and loss of passive knowledge sharing.

The business school said companies can compensate for the loss of face-to-face communication thanks to more advanced video meeting technology. Remote team members can offset the tendency to schedule more meetings by adopting catchphrases like “No meetings without an agenda” and “Could this meeting have been an email?”

Workers can use virtual happy hours and coffee breaks to replace the loss of informal information sharing and open communication lines facilitated within shared physical spaces. MIT Sloan wrote, “These unstructured conversations can reveal experiences and ideas that otherwise would have remained unexpressed — and keep team members connected on a personal level.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you expect a major shift to remote working as a result of COVID-19? How will this affect retailing and consumer brand organizations?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"It does offer advantages to organizations and individual workers in cost savings and increased productivity."
"The employee will save on transportation time and costs. That is a big factor. It means more money in their pocket without a raise."
"I will add one more con. There are no “water cooler” discussions. So much of business ideas, creativity and success comes from informal conversations..."

Join the Discussion!

34 Comments on "Is remote working here for good?"

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Mark Ryski

Just like so many consumers are turning to online shopping, many workers are finding their groove working from home — it’s here to stay and in a bigger way. The forced work from home imposed by COVID-19 has caused companies to find ways to be productive remotely. And while there are downsides to working from home as noted in the article, there are also upsides: saving the time and cost of commuting to the office, more flexibility during the day, more opportunity to see and engage with the family. A greater shift to work from home will result in an increased demand for home office equipment and tools.

Richard Hernandez
Richard Hernandez
Director, Main Street Markets
2 years 2 months ago

At this point I know a lot of people who are now working remotely and I have heard some like it and some absolutely hate it. I believe that businesses will make it an option for employees but I believe that will depend on how the social distancing will stay in place or be modified in the future. I also know a lot of people that have invested a lot of money in the past four to six weeks to make a viable office space at home… I don’t think anyone knows what the new normal will look like – at least not right now.

Kathleen Fischer

COVID-19 has rapidly increased the adoption rate of remote working and demonstrated that it can work. Not in all cases, definitely – but it does offer advantages to organizations and individual workers in cost savings and increased productivity. The environment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic will not go away quickly, we will be dealing with this for at least the next year or two as we work towards a vaccine, so the shift to remote working will continue for many organizations. This allows them to continue to operate while helping to keep their employees safe.

Jeff Sward

We’re experiencing a shift in the earth’s axis, so absolutely the shift to remote working is here to stay. By region, by business, by company — it’s all very tough to say, depending on the culture and maturity. Bottom line, there is a whole new universe of choices and options, many of which will add balance and efficiency to lots of lives. Maybe take a little CO2 out of the atmosphere. We are learning some painful lessons from Mother Nature here. We should be taking notes. We don’t want to fail the pop quiz!

Art Suriano
I definitely see a shift with more people working from home once this pandemic is behind us. Besides the reasons given in the article, more people working from home means less office space needed, and that becomes a considerable saving for employers. At first, most people who work from home tend not to like it because it’s very foreign to them and takes a while for them to adjust. However, usually, once the person gets used to the freedom, the conveniences, the no commuting to work, and setting up a schedule that allows them to utilize the benefits of working from home like working out during their lunch break or going for a walk, they tend to not only get used to it, but they begin to like it. When the pandemic is behind us, I think employers are going to see some challenges when employees are expected to return to the office because it will be another adjustment. The one big employee issue will be waistlines as I suspect too many first-time work from… Read more »
Ken Morris

I do see a major shift post-COVID-19 as companies come to realize that virtual companies can and do exist and thrive. Consulting companies embraced this concept 20 years ago and created infrastructure, project management techniques and team sharing solutions to enable the leap. The fear that people won’t do their job if they are remote can be counteracted with solid project management techniques, communication tools (like Zoom or Webex) and regularly scheduled individual and team meetings. Stores need people but headquarters personnel can be remote.

Jeff Weidauer

There is little reason to doubt that remote working will expand from here. The bigger issues of trust, oversight, and staying connected are being worked out today in a way that never would have happened otherwise, so let’s take the learnings and apply them post-crisis. Many are anxious to get back to the office with its structure and casual interaction, but just as many are happy to avoid the commute — and Joe in the cube next door.

Dr. Stephen Needel

I’ve been working from home for 20 years now and can’t imagine it any other way. That said, it was quite an adjustment in the first year, with many of the issues cited above cropping up. As more of us do this and it becomes typical, the social norms will evolve to make it a better experience – a little more small talk first, fewer meetings, everyone using their cameras (so clean up your act – you know who you are). 🙂

Rich Kizer

In my neighborhood, I am surrounded by a number of (as they call themselves), remoters. Every one of these home workers loves the aspect of the independence and convenience of working at home. Early morning involvement: they all say they are up early checking emails, reviewing reports and planning first-of-the-day-actions. Their work day is filled with remote conversations with co-workers and phone calls, while scattered with casual short conversations with family and more intense, un-interrupted work project status reports with partners. Beyond all of that, the normal hours of work range from 7 a.m. to “generally 4:30 p.m.” Their take on remote working? “I’m incredibly flexible, more efficient with less interruptions.” Most have a day they go into the office for a meet and update face to face, typically once every seven to 10 days. It works well for them. One tells me he gets more phone messages which “you really can’t ignore.” Duh.

Bob Amster

Humans are different from one another. Some, for example in software development, relish the solitude with their computers. Others need human interaction and sporadic exchange of ideas with others immediately around them. Airplane flights of four hours to chat with a customer for one hour are going to all but disappear and video conferencing and meetings will become generally acceptable. Companies and individuals will spend a lot less money on business travel, they will reclaim hours of more productive time. Airlines, hotels and airport businesses will decline, and hopefully so will pollution. Some of us have been working from home for years, but not necessarily as employees. The work-from-home numbers will increase until the economy achieves an acceptable balance.

Bethany Allee

This is an opportunity for workers who’ve wanted more flexible work-from-home options to prove they will be as productive as being in the office. These are the folks who will benefit from this time period and these are the businesses that will shift to adopting work-from-home flexibility.

Many work-from-home folks are frequent business travelers. One of the changes we will see is less business travel – I’m talking long-term. CFOs are noticing how business is continuing without all of the flights, hotels, and expensive dinners. I predict getting approvals on high dollar expense tabs will be significantly reduced.

In this world where many have been given the opportunity to WFH, I’m surprised by how many people are ready to get back to their offices. It’s important for people to know how they are most effective, and for many that will continue to be in the office.

Ben Ball

The ultimate answer is that it will vary by business model, culture, and even individual managers/employees. What is certain is that employers will find that productivity has fallen, not risen, during the forced spike in remote work. What is to be seen is how much of that drop is due to quarantine and reduced demand. We won’t know for sure until we gain post-COVID-19 experience. But I do not expect wholesale abandonment of physical workplaces. For one thing, that’s a lot of real estate to sit empty.

Neil Saunders

No, it’s not. I have no doubt that there will be more flexible working, including more remote working after this crisis. But I also believe that there are many, many pitfalls associated with remote working and that a lot of people really don’t like or enjoy it. As such, offices still have a role to play. At the end of the day, we are social creatures and the vast majority of us enjoy interacting with others in person rather than virtually.

Georganne Bender

Good points, Neil. I used to enjoy working from home, going to the office just a few days a week. Now, I am looking forward to the day we can go back.

Ken Lonyai

Remote is nothing new. All that has changed is that some companies have been forced to embrace it and use this situation as a test of future feasibility. I’m confident that the benefits of a happier workforce and in some scenarios, cost savings, will cause a larger percentage of WFH situations to take hold.

Gene Detroyer
When my partner and I started my second company, we started it virtually. The transition to working out my home was very difficult at first. I would piddle away the morning and would not get down to real work for hours. I had to develop a routine that started the day. So I grabbed the newspaper, went to Starbucks, read and had a coffee and when I returned home I was ready for work. Today, most of my work is from home and I no longer have those issues. But the transition is very difficult. The article outlines very well the pros and cons. I will add one more con. There are no “water cooler” discussions. So much of business ideas, creativity and success comes from informal conversations (not meetings with agendas). That is hard to duplicate. I believe this is a significant loss and extremely hard to replace. This spring, instead of going to China to teach, I will be doing it remotely. While the data suggests online learning can be quite effective, I… Read more »
Michael Terpkosh

Do I expect a major shift to remote working? Maybe. I was talking with a long-time retail/wholesale business executive friend of mine last week who over many years was adamantly opposed to her team working remote. Everyone needed an assigned cubical, everyone must be at work everyday, etc. My friend and her team have now been remote for about a month and she really likes it. Her team had some bumps the first week, but now the team is just as productive getting the job done as when the team was “trapped” in an office. They all miss the daily social interaction, but they still operate as a well-oiled machine supporting retail stores. So when I say “maybe” to the major shift to remote work question it is because management must make the mind-shift and strategic commitment to remote working. Their great employees will follow and get the job done to support their retail stores.

Zel Bianco

Michael, I am firmly of the belief that the work day is even more productive when working remotely with everyone on my staff. We have a stand up meeting every morning and is kept to 30 minutes giving each member enough time to discuss what they are working on and any roadblocks that are getting in the way. If there is a need to drill down further, we use Microsoft Teams to discuss further. It has been quite productive and the days have actually been going by faster than when we were all in the office, much to my surprise. The CPG industry has had many people working remotely for many years. What we are all going through will only make it more prevalent.

Michael La Kier

The two chief barriers of remote working have been broken wide open: technology and productivity. While many companies had “supported” work from home, the infrastructure to back up that promise was lacking. Now companies with 10,000 employees with only 2,500 licenses for VPN and other critical software have had to boost those numbers. Others who were reticent to allow remote working due to a perceived loss of productivity now have no excuse. It’s here to stay, but not every company will allow or agree to everyone doing it.

Dick Seesel

I believe many people working from home are not doing it by choice, and would rather have the face-to-face interaction of an office or workplace. That being said, issues of public health suggest that this will be more widespread even after the economy opens up.

As to whether people working from home are more or less productive, I think the jury is out. It probably depends on whether the business in question is busier than ever or suffering through a slump in activity.

Lee Peterson

This is the question, right? It works for some 100 percent of the time and for others not at all so it’s not one-size-fits-all by any means. I am really starting to miss the team touch bases in person though, for sure, and just walking around talking to people is much more important than I realized. So my guess (today) is that WFH will definitely be more acceptable (especially for new parents, caregivers, etc.), but not the norm and not 100 percent. Another couple of weeks of this and I might feel differently, though!

Lisa Goller

COVID-19 will inspire more companies to encourage remote working to save on expensive commercial real estate. Municipal governments could reward remote work, as many already see less congestion on roads and public transit, which saves time and reduces pollution. Some workers are more productive at home, and we appreciate reallocating commute time to family and self-care.

Conversely, after COVID-19 many workers will find the mental health benefits of social belonging and getting out of the house non-negotiable.

In response to an increase in remote workers, retailers and brands could open stores and fulfillment centers closer to residential areas, including the suburbs and high-density downtown cores. E-commerce capabilities will be essential, as retail is increasingly coming to consumers’ doorsteps (vs. consumers visiting malls). Also less traffic is good news for logistics, including faster last-mile delivery.

Shep Hyken

We now know what we can do (regarding working remotely) when we are forced to do so. Before COVID-19, just 5 percent worked remotely for some or all of their daily responsibilities. Today, more than 50 percent of the workforce is remote. We have accelerated the concept of working remotely by at least five years. When we come out of COVID-19, there will be a new normal. There will be more remote workers than we had before, new ways to manage a team and more. Retail is still… retail. People will still be buying. Those consumers who change to working remotely will have buying habits that change if they don’t have to go to an office and buy lunch at a restaurant every day. That could have a big impact on retail and brands.