Working remotely: how the onset of COVID changed how people work for the better
In 2020, the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) emerged out of nowhere and altered people's lives on a global scale. We all at first thought it would end quickly and life as we knew it would soon return. However, it turned out we were wrong.
Now, two years in, COVID-19 is still around. We have had to adhere to many regulations, such as wearing masks in stores and showing vaccination cards, plus a plethora of other requirements and restrictions. It has also changed the way we work and most likely for good. But, it's not all bad as there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The switch from the office to home
When the pandemic first hit, many employees from family-run businesses to large corporations were asked to work remotely from home to flatten the bell curve and reduce the spread of the life-threatening virus. Prior to the pandemic, a mere 6% worked remotely in the US and about 75% of the workforce had never worked remotely at all. Globally, the International Labour Organization (ILO) states, “7.9% of the world’s workforce (260 million workers) worked from home on a permanent basis” before COVID-19 and spiked to almost 560 million people during the height of the pandemic in 2020. The situation is far better now. Forty percent of employees are now back on-site full-time, while 29% have a flexible hybrid schedule. The remaining percent still work entirely from home or from another remote location.
“As more workplaces reopen, most teleworkers say they are working from home by choice rather than necessity,” per the Pew Research Center.
Many companies, such as Salesforce and Atlassian, now have dedicated budgets for home office equipment and furnishings and to specifically make certain employees can continue working from home comfortably while other companies, including Fortune 500 companies 3M, SAP, Microsoft, Google, Siemens, Mastercard, Fujitsu, Nielsen, Meta and more, recognize that permanent remote work is the way of the future and are changing office positions to permanent remote roles. Just in the US alone, Upwork estimates that 36.2 million Americans will be working remotely by 2025.
Work from home realities
Admittedly, the ability to work from home varies from team-to-team and company-to-company and does not always work for everyone and for every company. Before COVID ever existed, I was commuting to Waylay’s Ghent office in Belgium by train daily from Brussels and spending two hours each way traveling. By the time I finished working for the day, all I wanted to do was go home and relax. But a daunting two-hour commute was still waiting for me every day.
Once COVID arrived, Waylay evolved into a new company, like many others, first with everyone working remotely, then to a hybrid schedule with an option to remain working 100% remote. As soon as the first option became available, I decided to pack my bags and relocate to Berlin where I had friends to work remotely exclusively.
While working at the office has many perks and advantages, equally so does telecommuting. Once I began working remotely for Waylay, the stress of my commuting was eliminated in a flash. I gained valuable time back in my day with extra money in my pocket from not traveling and. more importantly. a much-improved work-life balance. Below is a snapshot from the Pew Research Center illustrating the balance of work-life when working remotely.
I also gained flexibility. The standard hours at Waylay are 9-6. Since I work from home, if I need to be late in the morning, I can compensate by working later. Now that I am super happy with my work conditions, I am more willing to work overtime and beyond my normal eight-hour day. I don't even feel tired after work anymore because I am very comfortable in my home with my rescue puppy by my side. And who doesn’t love to work while still wearing their pajamas?
The work from home flexibility is key to an overall productive team. Waylay’s marketing team is spread across the globe with other team members working 100% remotely from the US and Ireland, in addition to myself in Germany, plus staff in the Ghent office who operate on a hybrid schedule—sometimes in the office, at home, or elsewhere. The fact that we are telecommuting from different countries in different time zones hasn’t changed the amount of work accomplished or the quality of our efforts. We haven’t skipped a beat in communicating, execution or delivery.
In a related article published yesterday by CNBC, journalist Morgan Smith writes about companies that will let you work from anywhere, the impact of working remotely and how flexibility is the future of work.
Jessica Stillman for Inc.com writes, “An overwhelming majority of people (81%) believe they are more productive and create higher quality output when they have more flexibility over when they work,” per a recent report by software companies Qatalog and GitLab.
The other side of the coin
Since the pandemic, employees have been meeting by video calls 50% more since before COVID-19. However, you cannot do everything through Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, or Zoom meetings. In order to really work well as a team, there also needs to be an in-person element to instill and foster close collaboration between the different business units and developers. It's all about balancing the remote and in-person work experience to solidify the working relationships and staying connected. It is important to meet in person as it's hard to get to know someone over a video call. Sometimes a quick water cooler chat, coffee, tea, a beer, or a walk around the beautiful city of Ghent goes a long way in bonding and synergizing a team. So, in essence, making sure the balancing act works is key and vital.
In Stillman’s article in Inc., she writes how the productivity from working from home is often challenged, claiming telecommuters are not filling every spare moment of their workday.
True. For those who do telecommute, there may be new added distractions they wouldn’t have if they were in the office, such as ringing doorbells, children wanting attention, watching favorite shows, and beckoning household chores. There may also be feelings of loneliness and isolation, difficulties reaching co-workers, and cybersecurity concerns.
All in all, COVID-19 has had a global impact and has changed how companies conduct business with permanent hybrid or remote employees. Businesses save on average $11,000 per employee just with hybrid work schedules, per a study by the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago, while telecommuters save 60 minutes/day on average from commuting and $2,000 to $7,000 in costs annually.
Additional positive outcomes include higher productivity, less overhead, and fewer sick days for employers and better working conditions, improved work-life balance and new global job opportunities for employees. In fact, 59% from the same study stated job candidates are more likely to select a company who offers remote positions compared to companies who do not offer any.
Still, working remotely from home may not work for everyone and for every company. Based on my experience, I believe the positives outweigh the negatives. If ever given an opportunity to telecommute, I highly recommend giving it a go. It may change your work life for the better.
About the author
Orestis Kembora is a marketing professional who graduated from the Odisee University of Applied Sciences in Brussels, Belgium and started his career as an SEO intern. Today, Orestis is the marketing coordinator of Waylay where he coordinates social media, event marketing, data analytics, email marketing, and media outreach.