As some parts of the U.S. see new spikes in COVID-19 cases, the future of the workplace seems uncertain. It's difficult to predict what companies will do in the coming months, but a full return to work for all employees doesn't seem likely.

Because of video conferencing and other collaborative unified communications technology, the transition to remote work went more smoothly than expected. As a result, we predict that many organizations will adopt a hybrid work culture, in which employees spend part of their time in the office and the remainder working remotely. A recent poll from Gartner supports this thought: It found 48% of employees are likely to work remotely at least part of the time in the post-pandemic world, compared to just 30% before the crisis began.

According to research from McKinsey, 80% of employees said they enjoy working from home -- but that doesn't mean everyone will appreciate it over the long term. Some people who miss the in-person interactions of the office are longing to return.

As organizations around the globe plan for the future, most of us will likely be making some big decisions about whether we'll continue to work remotely, in the office or in some kind of combination of the two. For this reason, we've gathered the advantages and disadvantages of remote work in a post-pandemic world.

The advantages and challenges of remote work

As with most things in life, there are pros and cons to working remotely. When deciding whether it's a good fit for you, it's best to look at all of these.

Let's look at the positive side first.

  1. Say goodbye to the commute. Clearly, one of the main benefits of working from home is the ability to roll out of bed and reach your "office" in just a few steps. The time gained by not having to drive to and from work can be spent any way you choose – a later alarm, a solid workout, extra time with your family. Commuting can also add a stress to the day, especially when you waste time sitting in traffic or your train is delayed. Removing this daily stressor is good for your overall health and well-being, something we can all use in this anxious time.
  2. Say hello to more flexibility. When you work in a physical office, your hours are rigid. Your day begins when you arrive and ends when you leave. Remote working gives you the option to create a more flexible schedule. You can hop on a video conference to discuss a new project with team members and a client, then take a break to walk the dog or have lunch with your spouse. If you're a morning person, you can sign on early and crank out work when you're at your best, take a longer mid-day break and circle back to work later in the day. Communications technology that offers a unified experience across all devices, along with and a mobile-first design, makes it easy to monitor work items whenever you step away.
  3. Become a productivity powerhouse. Forty-one percent of employees said they were more productive working remotely during the pandemic, according to McKinsey. That's a definite plus for organizations. Unified communications technology such as collaborative workspaces and desktop sharing enables employees to exchange ideas and files just as easily as if they were sitting right next to each other. Those who no longer have a commute can use that time for work and even get an earlier start on the day. Some employees find home to be quieter than the office, with fewer distractions and interruptions by co-workers. With the right setup at home, productivity can soar.
  4. Get comfortable. While there've been many jokes made about conducting video conferences in your pajamas, comfort is a definite advantage to remote work. If you don't have any video calls on a given day, you're free to wear whatever you like. You can save money on dry cleaning, and you may find you're more productive when you're truly comfortable. And while we recommend dressing appropriately when you'll be on-screen with colleagues or clients, many people have embraced a more casual style of dress during the forced remote-work period.
  5. Stay safe. Uncertainties surround the coronavirus. Will it mutate? Are people who've recovered from it immune to a recurrence? When will a vaccine become available? Many of us simply feel safer working from home until we have answers to such questions. Fortunately, unified communications technology makes remote work possible for the long term. Video conferences keep face-to-face communication alive. One-to-one and group messaging, real-time screen sharing and the ability to join meetings in a single click promote collaboration and open communication – even when employees are physically distant from each other.

Of course, nothing's perfect, and remote work comes with some downsides. We recently explored its disadvantages, and here's a recap of the top five:

  1. A fading team culture. Socialization plays a key role in creating cohesive teams. When you only work remotely, it can become difficult to maintain the bond with your colleagues. Technology makes it possible for companies to continue promoting team unity (virtual coffee breaks and team trivia meets are great examples), but it takes extra time and planning to make sure virtual events don't fall to the wayside.
  2. The struggle to innovate. Many of our best ideas come while we're chatting with a co-worker in the break room. It can be difficult to maintain this type of creative exchange and innovation when everyone's working in their own private space. Technology allows employees to engage in video brainstorming sessions, and employees can always get on a group call to share thoughts and ideas. However, companies should plan these sessions and encourage participation. It may take time for team members to adjust to these new ways of interacting to keep the creative juices flowing.
  3. Feelings of isolation. Some of us may enjoy the extra time at home with our spouses and kids, but for those who live alone, working remotely can be extremely lonely. Without the more casual, interpersonal interactions you normally have at the office, you may feel as though your entire life revolves around work. Feelings of depression and loneliness aren't uncommon, and sitting at your computer all day with little to no human interaction isn't good for the spirit. Video conferences, instant messages and audio calls can certainly help battle isolation, but companies also need to provide the appropriate mental health resources for employees struggling with these issues. These workers are prime candidates for getting back into the physical office as soon as possible, even if it's only with a hybrid model
  4. Increased anxiety. A recent survey by the Harvard Business Review discovered that employees reported higher levels of stress (67%) and anxiety (57%) during March and April of this year, when remote work was in full effect. We're in an extraordinary situation; employees are worried about job security, financial stability and physical health. Workers who have children at home have been forced to juggle remote work with virtual school. Others may be worried about exposing elderly parents to the virus while trying to provide care. Every day, the news presents more information, making it difficult to plan for the future and keep a positive outlook. The lack of personal contact that comes with remote work only adds to the anxiety, since employees no longer have the casual breaks and conversations that can lighten their mood and create a sense of hope.
  5. The never-ending workday. Remote workers often find it hard to stick to set hours. The lines between work and personal life become blurred or even disappear. Many employees find themselves putting in longer hours, since work and home are no longer separate. Especially for those with younger children at home, work-life balance becomes a challenge. All this means employees who struggle to set clear boundaries and can't resist the urge to "call it a day" may not be the ideal candidates for remote work.

It's impossible to predict what the office will look like in three months, six months or a year. Every day, new developments and guidelines force companies to adapt. Although the spring and summer have shown us that it's possible for companies to operate successfully with a remote workforce, the approach isn't optimal for everyone. As organizations look to the future and make decisions around remote, in-office and hybrid working models, employees should think about the pros and cons of each.

Fortunately, the technology is available to support workers in any approach they take. Whether your organization opts to stay remote, begins to bring people into the office or leverages a hybrid model, a unified communications platform that provides collaborative tools keeps your entire team connected and engaged.

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