"The real trick in life is to turn hindsight into foresight that reveals insight." Robin Sharma

Though the trend toward remote work has been growing for decades, it wasn’t widespread until the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of workers home around the globe in the spring of 2020. Initially, we all thought introverts would love the isolation, while extroverts would struggle. Many business leaders also expected employee loyalty and productivity to fall. The reality is far more nuanced.

After a year of remote working, what have we learned?

Employees love Remote Work

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Though most businesses expected the initial upswing of interest in remote work, many thought the penchant would wane as the months dragged by. The opposite is true. After a year of working at home, the preference for remote work continues to grow. Rebecca Wettemann, principal analyst with Valoir, conducted a Work from Home (WFH) survey in the spring of last year and again in the spring of 2021. Among her interesting findings: the number of knowledge workers who would prefer to work remotely full-time grew from 40% to 70% during the pandemic. She explains that employees who find themselves inadequately socialized by the occasional in-person gatherings, video calls, and collaboration tools provided by employers are finding ways to get more social in their personal lives via volunteerism, pets, and exercise programs. One in ten has moved[1].

Valoir is not the only analyst firm reporting similar findings. The New York Times reported that a significant majority of workers expect an opportunity for occasional work-at-home days going forward. They report that 94% of people want to WFH at least one day per week (hybrid work)[2].

Businesses See Multiple Benefits

The experts agree, employee productivity and effectiveness over the last year got a boost from remote work. The following statistics paint a clear picture of the power of WFH for your workforce:

  • A two-year study by Stanford University found an impressive increase in work productivity among people who worked from home. Comparing the in-office employees to the remote employees of a Chinese travel company, researchers found that over a nine month period, the remote employees were 13% more productive—nearly an extra day of output per week,” explains Adrianne Bibby with Remote.co.[3]
  • On average, remote employees worked an extra 26 hours each month during COVID (nearly an extra day every week).[4]
  • 48.6% of CIO’s surveyed by Reuters reported that productivity has improved since workers began working remotely.[5]
  • 55% of workers themselves believe they were more productive at home than they were in offices before the pandemic, according to research by Deloitte.[6]
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In addition, WFH saves money. Companies that enable remote work at least half of the time save approximately $11,000 per year per employee says Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics. She estimates WFH saved US companies approximately $30 Billion per day during the COVID-19 lockdown.[7]

The Right Technology Makes WFH Easier

There are powerful lessons for businesses that are willing to pay attention to the shifting preferences of the workforce. Many are re-evaluating remote work technologies they purchased in a rush last year to find lasting solutions that will help them enable hybrid work and remote work for their staff. After a year of working at home, we’ve also identified some gaps in traditional technologies used to share and collaborate on office documents when employees are spread across multiple work locations.

Choose Information Management not Just Collaboration

In a remote work environment, versions of documents can quickly grow out of control as employees share information via email or collaboration tools that don’t keep track of versions. Many have experienced the frustration of having a colleague overwrite their work—requiring extra time to recreate what was lost. Information management technologies enable both check-in/check-out to protect overlapping effort and version control to keep document copies from growing.

Require End-point Security and Encryption

The 2020 Ponemon Cost of a Data Breach survey exposed some security problems inherent in remote work. For example, 70% of businesses believe WFH will make it harder to identify and mitigate points of exposure. They also anticipate that the average cost of a breach will grow from $3.86 million to about $4 million due entirely to the trend toward remote working.[8]

Clearly, companies need to choose technologies designed specifically to protect sensitive information when it is accessed remotely, and many cloud information management systems can do just that. Look for offerings that include encryption both while records are being transmitted and when they are at rest in the system, and require your employees to use VPN connections to add another layer of protection during remote work.

Get Rid of Any Remaining Paper Files

Businesses that struggle to enable remote work often share a common characteristic. They maintain paper files to support business processes. Remote work requires remote access to critical information, which is impossible when physical records are the norm. The spotlight is on digitization! To further automate this process, choose technologies that will automatically extract important information as documents are scanned, which will limit the amount of data that has to be hand-keyed into systems and improve information accuracy across the business.

Predicting Tomorrow’s Workplace

We expect the following trends to grow in importance as we move into a post-COVID era. You should account for these in your company’s strategic planning efforts.

 

Potential Employees Want More Flexibility

A survey conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers found that 83% of office workers would like to have the option to work from home at least once a week even if COVID-19 is no longer a threat to public health[9]. If you’re still on the fence about offering hybrid work, it’s important to understand that 74% of US workers would be willing to quit a job to do so[10]. Your remote work policy may impact your ability to find and retain top talent, ultimately driving your ability to innovate and grow your business. If you don’t have a formal policy in place, now is the time to develop one!

 

Stop Stumbling Over Versions and Security

The 2020 Ponemon report recommended that companies implement “tools that help protect and monitor endpoints and remote employees” in order to boost WFH security and productivity.[11] After a year of too many versions, overwritten work effort, and increased cyber threats, businesses must look beyond file sharing and email to find tools formally designed to help remote workforces securely access, exchange, and retain information.

 

Maximize Value with Process Automation

In 2021, businesses are making a significant technology investment in process automation and artificial intelligence. Process automation technologies can streamline work-from-home efforts by delivering information to the point of need, while AI technology can be used to organize documents and eliminate data entry errors. According to McKinsey, two-thirds of companies are stepping up their investment in automation and AI this year.[12]

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Conclusion

Keep your eye on emerging trends driven by the strong preference employees have for hybrid and remote work arrangements. In a post-pandemic era, your business must choose effective remote work technologies which should include cloud-based information management, strong security tools, and digitizing any remaining files and filing cabinets that prevent remote access to information. To really get ahead, automate every process that includes repetitive manual tasks. Your remote work policy today will impact your ability to remain competitive in the future.


Sources

  1. Source: https://valoir.com/blog-1/work-from-home-one-year-in
  2. Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/24/business/dealbook/hybrid-workplace-guide.html
  3. Adrianne Bibby. (Feb 25, 2021) 10 Statistics About Remote Work. Remote.co. Retrieved from: https://remote.co/10-stats-about-remote-work/
  4. Celano, Kristin (2021). “45 Key WFA & Remote Work Statistics for 2021”. Owl Labs https://resources.owllabs.com/blog/remote-work-statistics
  5. Reuters/Enterprise Technology Research (2020). “Permanently Remote Workers Seen Doubling in 2021 Due to Pandemic Productivity”. Reuters. Permanently remote workers seen doubling in 2021 due to pandemic productivity: survey | Reuters
  6. Simon Lovick (Mar 25, 2021). What is the Future of the Office? Business Because. Retrieved from: https://www.businessbecause.com/news/insights/7522/future-of-the-office
  7. Global Workplace Analytics (2020). Work-At-Home After Covid-19—Our Forecast. Retrieved from: https://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/work-at-home-after-covid-19-our-forecast
  8. Ponemon Institute. (July 2020). Cost of a Data Breach Report 2020. IBM Corporation: Armonk, NY. Retrieved from: https://www.ibm.com/security/data-breach
  9. Most Want to Continue Working Remotely after Pandemic, but Companies Not So Sure. https://www.newsweek.com/most-want-continue-working-remotely-after-pandemic-companies-not-so-sure-1561323
  10. Zapier Editorial Team. (2019). “The Remote Work Report by Zapier”. Zapier.com https://zapier.com/blog/remote-work-report-by-zapier/
  11. Ponemon (July 2020). Ibid.
  12. Lund, Susan, et al.  (Feb 18, 2021). The Future of Work after COVID-19. McKinsey. Retrieved from: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/the-future-of-work-after-covid-19#


Related Links:

Keep learning! Access the following resources to learn more about enabling remote and hybrid work for your employees over the longer term.

  • Visit our Technologies for Remote Work webpage to access a wealth of materials that will help you learn more about setting up your own remote work technologies.
  • Find out how ImageSilo and process automation helped an educational services provider keep schools functioning and vendor businesses open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Read this case study.
  • Watch this quick video to better understand which features you must have in your collaboration software to maintain and protect business information.
  • Take a deep dive into remote work with this FREE whitepaper.