Many worldwide businesses have surpassed months of empty office space as workers moved off-site to do their jobs remotely amid the coronavirus pandemic.
For most, the arrangement has been working out well — maybe a little too well. Now some companies are considering downsizing their office space or giving workers more flexibility to work off-site permanently.
Quarter to a third of all jobs in EU could potentially be performed from home
Cedefop research suggests a link between remote working and increased participation in some types of remote learning during – and potentially after – the pandemic.
With more than 94 % of the world population affected by lockdown measures, remote working became widely used as a safeguard against the possibility of complete job loss, furlough, business closure as well as extraordinary child care demands: »Early assessments suggest that some 40-70 % of active workers were affected, compared to about 15-17 % of EU workers on average before the pandemic. Several new studies have also highlighted that between a quarter to a third of all jobs in European economies could potentially be performed from home.«
It is too early to assess conclusively whether these coronavirus-induced shifts in homeworking and remote learning will be sustainable features of EU labour markets. Cedefop’s second European skills and jobs survey will provide some new insights into the long-lasting effects of the coronavirus, while several commentators already predict that the impact of Covid-19 on the future work organisation is here to stay.
Remote working in the EU before the crisis
One year before the coronavirus crisis, only 14 % of EU-27 workers engaged in remote work, ranging from very high shares (over 37 %) in the leading countries – Sweden and the Netherlands – to a mere 1-2 % in Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus.
To help answer the question of how many employees will work-at-home after the Covid-19 crisis, globalworkplaceanalytics.com has launched a Global Work-from-Home Experience Survey. In the meantime, here is their current work-from-home forecast: »We estimate that 56 % of the U.S. workforce holds a job that is compatible (at least partially) with remote work. We know that currently, only 3.6 % of the employee workforce works at home half-time or more. Gallup data from 2016 shows that 43 % of the workforce works at home at least some of the time.«
Their prediction is, that the longer people are required to work at home, the greater the adoption we will see, when the dust settles.
Cedefop on the other hand is more reserved, as »More research is needed to develop the right policies to ensure that EU workers can reap the full benefits of distance working and learning, particularly given the inevitable loss in organisational informal learning and innovation – the most prominent channel of continuing learning – that is expected to follow the distancing of workers from physical workplaces.«
Companies are making working from home a permanent standard
Siemens for example, will establish mobile working as a core component of its “new normal”. The company’s Managing Board has now approved implementation of a corresponding model. The aim is to enable employees worldwide to work on a mobile basis for an average of two or three days a week, whenever reasonable and feasible: »The coronavirus crisis and social distancing measures have shown that working independently of a fixed location offers many advantages and is possible on a much wider scale than originally thought. Worldwide surveys of Siemens’ employees confirmed their desire for greater flexibility and for personalized solutions when it comes to deciding where they work.«
Productivity loss is a myth
A report from research firm Valoir found that the abrupt move to working from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has had only had a one percent reduction on work productivity. And more than 40 percent of workers would prefer to work remotely full time in the future.
Good news for countryside, bad for cities
Not everyone is pleased with more and more people working remotely from home. In fact, if this shift occurs at a large scale, the impact in urban areas could be tremendous. Especially in places like Manhattan, large commercial towers with thousands of employees drive city life. This not only includes tax revenues from commercial tenants but also restaurant, retail, and public transit use. With more people working remotely from home, municipal revenues would decline. Ultimately, this might not only mean less of a focus on becoming a smart city but likewise fewer services also. As some have put it, there would be a reckoning within these urban areas.
Surrounded by nature, not skyscrapers
When we will be free to live wherever we like, and work from home, more and more questions like »Why do I even live here«, will start circulating our thoughts. Being free to choose to live in the midst of a forest or on the countryside and work from there will surely bring more people away from the cities.