On its earnings call last week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella summed up the current and long-term changes from COVID-19 with a simple sentence: “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” On a previous blog post, a similar argument was made; that is, the pandemic is accelerating trends in the way people work, not necessarily creating ones.

In a post-COVID world, more people than ever before are working remotely. After weeks of employees adapting their usual job tasks to be completed online or at home, remote work stands positioned to become even more acceptable by employers and workers alike. While it had been on the rise already for years, COVID-19 social distancing accelerated its use.

States of Play, a joint CNBC/Change Research survey of swing states, recently collected data from over 5,700 adults across six states in April 2020. Close to half (42%) reported that they were now working at home, but only 9% reported working from home full-time before the pandemic. Almost one out of five adults (19%) are working from home for the first time, and 14% are working from home more than had been previously.

Of course, industry and job type does influence who can work remotely. Many positions in the service, hospitality, and retail industries need to be performed on-site. Higher-income earners are more likely to be able to work from home. States of Play found that those making between $50,000 to $100,000 per year make up over a third (36%) of remote workers, while those making more than $100,000 salaries make up nearly half (46%).

Perhaps the most interesting finding from the survey is that roughly a quarter (24%) of respondents said they would prefer to continue to work from home more—or even full-time. In light of this demand, employers should consider how a move to off-site work can benefit both employees’ productivity and personal lives as well as their company’s own goals.

Benefits And Challenges For Employers

Employers should be encouraged that for most (60%) of the employees surveyed, their productivity stayed the same or even increased. For those that reported being less productive, their particular situation may improve after the pandemic, as productivity can be negatively impacted by a lack of childcare, increased family responsibilities, financial concerns, stress, and other health issues.

Companies should also consider the positive influence remote work can have on employee well-being. For one, employees will benefit from the time saved commuting. The States of Play survey found that people enjoyed spending time with family, pursuing hobbies, relaxing, and sleeping with their extra time. All of these can greatly benefit employee wellness and support overall job performance. Interestingly, 28% even reported that they used the time saved from commuting to work more. Thus, time saved can lead to a more productive, satisfied workforce.

Working from home also affords employees a degree of flexibility within their daily schedule. Accomplishing non-work tasks like scheduling health appointments, taking care of family members, staying physically active, and meeting other responsibilities can also improve overall wellness and happiness, while being more in-control of their work schedule can lead to better focus and performance.

Employers should also consider the cost savings associated with a remote workforce. With more shifting to off-site work, businesses can spend less on real estate by downsizing the amount of office space needed. They can also reduce spending on office supplies, furniture, and on-site amenities while saving money on energy and utility bills. Of course, any savings will also need to be weighed against the potential expenses. Many companies need to expand their technology resources to accomplish projects remotely. However, investing in more computers, software, and equipment can also further support productivity and turn out to be a better use of company resources.

Beware Of Employee Loneliness

For some workers, the transition to remote work may be more of a challenge. Loneliness and feeling disconnected can be very negative influences on employee health. Benefits that support mental and emotional wellness should be provided or expanded, and managers should make a greater effort for casual conversations, team interactions, and personal support when dealing with off-site workers. This can be accomplished through occasional on-site meetings, virtual group meetings, regular communication, or even “after-hours” social gatherings.

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