Even before COVID-19 reared its ugly head, the idea of remote work wasn't new. But in just a few months, the pandemic forced an overwhelming number of businesses to allow at least some of their employees to work from home. While many hoped the move would be temporary, a large number of workers are still connecting from home, with no end in sight.

In fact, statistics show that some degree of remote work may be here to stay. According to Gartner, more than 80% of business leaders say their organization will allow employees to continue working remotely at least some of the time. Nearly half, 47%, plan to let workers make the shift to remote work permanent.

Also worth noting: the look and feel of the workday has changed. Gartner found that many companies plan to offer employees either flex hours (43%) or flex days (42%). Some, 15%, plan to shift to a work week of four, 10-hour days.

Any way you slice it, the workplace has been changed by the pandemic. And as the new landscape emerges, organizations face both benefits and challenges in dealing with employees and customers. Companies must navigate the new terrain while keeping employees and customers engaged. Fortunately, the communications technology needed to support a remote or hybrid workforce is available, which makes it possible for companies to support a permanent shift to remote and flex work.

The pros and cons of remote work

There are tangible benefits for companies that permanently adopt remote work. In particular, SMBs can reap significant savings by eliminating or reducing the costs associated with office space, such as rent, supplies and utilities. Companies can also cast a wider net when searching for workers, since employees will no longer need to physically come into the office. They can uncover completely new talent pools by offering permanent remote work.

While most people don't enjoy quarantining or social distancing, the majority of employees do prefer to work remotely. Flexible schedules and the elimination of commutes are just two reasons that 98% of remote workers prefer to continue working from home, according to the State of Remote Work Survey by Buffer and AngelList. Businesses that continue to allow remote work―either all or some of the time―can benefit from a happier workforce and the improved employee morale that comes along with it.

Although managers may have concerns about the productivity of remote workers, studies show there's no major cause for alarm. One survey of 800 employers found that 94% saw employee productivity remain the same or improve during the pandemic-induced remote work shift. We also conducted our own survey of SMB decision-makers and found that 52% saw productivity improvements when employees worked from home.

Of course, these benefits are only possible when organizations offer communications tools and technologies that empower employees to do their jobs successfully and efficiently from home. For example, an integrated communications solution that combines video, voice and chat, makes it easy for workers to communicate with each other, managers and customers. They can easily share files, notes and images, making collaboration simple, regardless of whether team they're at home or in the office.

Despite its benefits, remote work also presents some challenges. It can be difficult to provide employees with a seamless experience when they're working from home or alternating between in-office and at-home days.

A unified communications platform that provides a single experience across multiple devices overcomes this hurdle. Regardless of location, employees have access to the same suite of communications and collaboration tools and can easily switch from one device to another―without interrupting their workflow. A cloud-based solution that includes contact center service keeps remote workers connected with customers, so you don't have to worry about losing touch during this critical time.

Maintaining corporate culture is another challenge that comes with permanent remote work. In the Gartner survey, some 30% of business owners expressed concern about it. Among the best ways to sustain corporate culture is to practice continuity and regular communications with employees, regardless of their location.

Businesses should reach out through more than one channel to keep employees engaged. Video in particular is an excellent way to keep engagement high, but it's also important to encourage employees to interact with each other. Tools such as shared screens and smart workspaces will help you out here.

Organizations that want to overcome the challenges of remote work need to invest in the right technology. In our survey, we discovered that 20% of SMBs plan to implement solutions to support remote work, including remote IT support and cloud collaboration tools. While this is a good indication that businesses understand the importance of investing in the right technology, we encourage more to follow suit.

Who is making the permanent shift?

Businesses of all sizes and across industries have already made a long-term commitment to remote or hybrid work arrangements. Some have even given employees a choice in how they'll work once all restrictions are lifted.

The list of companies adopting this approach is getting longer by the day, with some big names in the mix. Just a few examples:

  • Google extended its remote work policies until the summer of 2021 and is making plans to accommodate a permanent remote work solution.
  • Twitter announced in May that employees have the option to work from home permanently.
  • Microsoft is allowing employees to work from home on a case-by-case basis, but also gives employees the option to work from home less than half-time without needing approval.
  • REI sold an eight-acre corporate campus as part of its shift to making remote work a regular occurrence.
  • American Express is giving employees the choice to stay home and has also extended its remote work policy through the end of June 2021.
  • In late July, Zillow said it will allow employees to work from home permanently.
  • Nielsen is converting some of its offices into meeting spaces for employees, so they can gather in-person after the pandemic passes while continuing to work from home most of the time.
  • Coinbase is allowing most employees to work from home indefinitely. Once restrictions are lifted, those employees who want to return to the office will be able to do so, either all or part of the time.

This is just a sampling of some of the companies that have realized remote and hybrid work models actually offer a sustainable way to run productive and successful businesses. With the right communications tools and technology, organizations can keep employees connected, customers engaged and run day-to-day operations from anywhere, and from any device.

get great content like this weekly
Ready to talk to sales? Contact us.