Last year, organizations globally were forced to react to an unprecedented event. Many expressed disbelief that remote working at scale would last, and in the beginning, it even seemed inconceivable to support a remote workforce in the long-term. Now, it’s time to put these misconceptions to bed.
The experiment has worked
While 2020 was the year of the “Great Remote Working Experiment,” 2021 will be the year we see Work From Anywhere reach mass adoption. In the U.S. alone, 46 million employees moved from working in an office full-time to working remotely full-time. When forced into the deep end, even organizations that had never entertained the idea of supporting flexible working were able to do it, and do it well.
The success of this great experiment has had two direct consequences for businesses. First, employers realized that their employees didn’t need to be tethered to the office to do their jobs. If someone needed IT support, they were able to get it virtually, and if they needed to speak to a colleague, they used Teams or Zoom. It’s therefore unsurprising that 83% of large enterprises are anticipating a long-term transition to remote working, and so treating it as a strategic priority.
Second, it has changed our collective definition of remote working. This is interesting to me personally because it represented a turning point for my organization. As soon as we embraced remote working as a strategic initiative at 1E, our employees immediately started to reflect on where they wanted to live now that they have the choice. Our HR team was inundated with inquiries from employees about the scope of their newly acquired flexibility. Many now want to move out of big cities and into greener spaces, and others want to move countries entirely, while some still want to be able to use our office space when it suits them. By definition, they see themselves as Work From Anywhere employees, and so, we’re committing to practices that actively support their choices.
By no means do I think we’re an isolated case. Once flexibility is normalized, employees will have different expectations and look for organizations to cater to their individual circumstances. Those that don’t adapt risk losing top talent and their competitive edge at a time when industry leaders are likely embracing this strategic shift.
The business case
If you’re not already convinced, try this stat for size: 1E’s CFO calculated that the average large enterprise could save 60% in office costs from adopting a Work From Anywhere model and another 40% from reduced travel and events expenditures. Additional cost savings can also be accrued from productivity improvements and reduced labor costs.
That said, the business implications of Work From Anywhere extend further than balancing the books. When organizations break free of geographic constraints, they can dip their toes into a larger talent pool. The business then benefits from greater diversity, skills and experiences that can only aid in accelerating innovation and profitability.
While the majority of large enterprises are accustomed to supporting a geographically dispersed workforce due to the very virtue of being global enterprises, the new challenge will become ensuring collaboration and innovation go unhindered. That means businesses will need to change how they conduct sales due to decreased international travel; HR leaders will need to recalibrate what constitutes a positive company culture in the absence of a physical office space; and IT leaders will need to reevaluate how they invest their budgets as remote workers have different needs than office-based employees.
While there’s still work to be done in terms of realignment around remote working, I’m optimistic and excited about where businesses are heading. Already, mindsets have shifted in favor of flexible working and strategies and investments are following suit.