Remote Work After the Pandemic – What we Know and What We Do Not Know
Undoubtedly, the pandemic has ushered in seismic changes in the world of work, and it is more than likely that some of the effects will continue to remain in place in the future (Rebolledo, 2021). In a few weeks, upon the institution of strict pandemic restrictions, organisations were left with little choice to transition to remote work. Previously, remote work was an alternative to office (regular) work before the pandemic, meaning that working from home was an occasional prerequisite and not a mandatory requirement. Henceforth, there was a great deal of discretion at managers’ disposal to allow workers to either work remotely or from the office. In fact, research well before the pandemic has already shown that despite the seeming appeal of remote work, there are some unforeseen effects of remote work that may jeopardise employee well-being and organisational productivity (Wang et al., 2020). The critical evaluation of these is paramount in order to guarantee that post-pandemic work arrangements equitably serve talents and the organisation.
There is an already extensive stream of literature on the preconceived benefits of remote work both on the organisation and on the talent sides (Johnson, 2001). For organisations, remote work solutions and the accompanying technology is key to accessing a global labour force, meaning that talents can be recruited from virtually any part of the world. This aspect can be a particularly valuable benefit of remote work arrangements in tight labour market conditions. Moreover, there are some possible savings realisable by reducing the office footprint in large organisations, a string of arguments that may also be used to facilitate and empower remote work solutions (Anderson and Kelliher, 2020). On the employee side, remote work could be the ultimate key to a better work-life balance. The time saved on the daily commute and the opportunity of seamlessly organising different personal and professional commitments is also some of the frequently cited benefits of remote work. However, Anderson and Kelliher (2020) add that the dissipating boundaries between work and personal space could, in fact, lead to the intensification of work experience. Correspondingly, as inferred from past research, it is vitally important to evaluate the different aspects of remote work to guarantee the effectiveness of staffing policies in the post-pandemic world.
In terms of the productivity effects of remote work, research findings appear somewhat diverse. Meanwhile the larger proportion of findings indicate productivity gains, Grensing-Pophal (2021) cautiously warns that experience with remote work could significantly differ in sectors and positions, which serves as another impetus for managers and leaders to assess what forms of remote work are the most viable routes. Alexander et al. (2021) advise firms to consider a mixture of office and remote work to combine the merits of each approach and limit the disadvantages of relying on a single work configuration.
As implied earlier, remote work (or telecommuting) is seldom without challenges, so there is also a’ dark side’ contrary to the overly optimistic assumptions attached to remote work (Grensing-Pophal, 2021). First and foremost, a sense of isolation is commonly reported in many studies, with a possible negative impact on work morale and organisational commitment. The absence of daily interactions with co-workers could also compromise workplace relationships. Second to this, the lack of employee visibility could harm career progressions, and the lack of appreciation of key talents’ contribution could introduce staffing and retention difficulties on the long-term horizon (Diaz et al., 2012). The potential disruption of remote work was already mentioned earlier in the essay, though it shall be re-conceptualised in the interconnected world of work in the 21st century. Some employees may develop an obligation to respond immediately to work queries, and with the pervasive use of digital communication tools, the inability to detach from work can hurt talents’ well-being and mental health, to the extent that these damages may lower performance (Diaz et al., 2012). Another, perhaps less pervasively researched aspect of remote work involves the exacerbated conflicts on the family-work interface. The absence of separation between work and private life could introduce many adverse spill-over effects for professionals (Grensing-Pophal, 2021). In the light of the above, it is crystal clear that remote work demands further research inquiry once more and more organisations are planning their post-pandemic staffing strategies.
Contrary to the more balanced findings of research on remote work prior to the pandemic, the larger share of testimonials and industry reports suggest that only a small fraction of talents would want a full return to office work. These newly emerged sentiments could evoke a significant impact on post-pandemic staffing strategies. In theory, remote work possibilities could evolve into a new employee value proposition, and those employers with a short-sighted attitude to this evolving preference might lose a significant portion of their talents. Given the prevalence of tight labour market conditions and the chronic shortage of skilled talents, focusing on and fulfilling new talent expectations is presumably one of the critical success factors for organisations to sustain talent pipelines. Even though some positions may return to the office, the pandemic has proven the viability of executing certain white-collar (i.e., corporate jobs) remotely without adversely affecting productivity. Accordingly, hybrid work arrangements (part-time telework and part-time office work) might become more widely embraced in organisations. However, as far as research is concerned, more questions than answers remain to the practical implementation of hybrid work configurations. Regardless of the pending uncertainty on the future directions of remote work, there is a strong practitioner rationale behind aligning organisational and talent perspectives of the post-pandemic world.
To conclude, this essay has explored a highly topical management and business issue. Once pandemic restrictions are eliminated, most organisations will face the dilemma of returning or not returning remote workers to the office. Most findings and reports suggest that temporary remote workers might prefer to work remotely or a hybrid remote and office work configuration. Possible research directions for the future include a comparative analysis of organisational and individual preferences towards remote work to empower acting HR professionals to implement suitable adjustments in staffing strategies.
Alexander, A., Aaron De Smet, Langstaff, M. and Ravid, D. (2021). What employees are saying about the future of remote work. [online] McKinsey & Company. Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/what-employees-are-saying-about-the-future-of-remote-work [Accessed 31 Aug. 2021].
Anderson, D. and Kelliher, C. (2020). Enforced remote working and the work-life interface during lockdown. Gender in Management: An International Journal, ahead-of-print(ahead-of-print).
Diaz, I., Chiaburu, D.S., Zimmerman, R.D. and Boswell, W.R. (2012). Communication technology: Pros and cons of constant connection to work. Journal of Vocational Behavior, [online] 80(2), pp.500–508. Available at: .
Grensing-Pophal, L. (2021). Managing Remote Staff: Capitalise on Work From Home Productivity. Canada: Self-Counsel Press.
Johnson, N.J. (2001). Telecommuting and virtual offices : issues and opportunities. Hershey, Usa: Idea Group.
Rebolledo, O.A. (2021). Learning to Work While Homebound – The Effects of Remote Work on Job Performance during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Journal of Economics, Finance And Management Studies, 04(06), pp.1–15.
Wang, B., Liu, Y., Qian, J. and Parker, S.K. (2020). Achieving Effective Remote Working during the COVID‐19 pandemic: a Work Design Perspective. Applied Psychology, [online] 70(1), pp.25–45. Available at: .