COVID-19 Showed Us We *CAN* Telecommute
Updated: Jan 6, 2022
If the idea of coworking and virtual workspaces hadn’t yet occurred to us pre-pandemic, surely it did during the pandemic.
And now the hard part is over, thanks to COVID-19.
Businesses all across the globe sent workers home during the pandemic—figuring out along the way what kinds of technology and other support tools they needed to keep people connected and productive.
As early as April 2020, a survey by Clutch found that 44% of all workers were working from home five or more days per week, up from 17% before the pandemic.
We reimbursed employees for laptops and monitors and such, or sent as much as possible home with them from their physical offices. And then those offices sat, empty, unused, draining operating budgets.
A study by Global Workplace Analytics suggests that businesses in the U.S. alone could save more than $700 billion in a single year by shifting more employees to work-at-home options.
Among the many lessons learned during the pandemic: traditional, physical workspaces may not be as necessary as we previously thought.
If we hadn’t already, during the pandemic we collectively learned the ins and outs of virtual communication and collaboration.
We Found Out That We *Could*
Though freelance workers have known this for decades, it took a pandemic for others to find out that many jobs can as easily be performed at home as at the office.
A majority of people working from home during the pandemic (62%) had rarely or never worked from home before. During lockdown, 55% of employed adults who found that their job responsibilities can mostly be done from home began working from home exclusively.
And Productivity Doesn’t Suffer
One of the main reasons most businesses resist telework arrangements is a fear that people working from home will be less productive. But that’s not what employers have found during the pandemic.
Comparing a survey in June 2020 with results from another survey in January, PwC found that a higher percentage of employees say they’re more productive now than they were before the pandemic (34% vs. 28%).
And, says PwC, executives agree: over half (52%) say average employee productivity has improved vs. 44% who said the same in June. Less than one in five executives want to return to the office as it was pre-pandemic.
According to a McKinsey consumer survey, 41% of employees were more productive working remotely than they were while working in the office. During the pandemic, employee confidence in their ability to be productive also grew, with 45% saying that their work productivity grew as the pandemic wore on.
Teleconference Burnout Exaggerated
Though the media likes to focus on the folks complaining about the increase in teleconferencing during the pandemic, the statistics don’t support the burnout trope.
According to Pew Research, 81% of people working from home part or full time say that they use video calling or online conferencing services and 63% of them say that they’re fine with the amount of time spent on video calls. Only 37% say that they’re worn out by video calls.
While telework means that we miss out on the connections we make over the water cooler or in the break room, we discovered a new source of connection: We like seeing our co-workers’ home offices/living spaces; their cats and dogs and kids that appear on screen at inconvenient times; and their various interpretations of work-at-home wear.
The same Pew study found that 65% of teleworkers find that video calling and teleconferencing tools are good substitutes for in-person contact.
Collaboration is important for many jobs and projects. Where once we might meet in a conference room down the hallway, or simply stick our head into a co-worker’s cubicle, we had to find other ways to collaborate across geographical divides during lockdown.
So, along with video calling and online conferencing programs, usage of messaging platforms like Slack or Google Chat also increased.
On the flip side, in attempting to keep employees connected, businesses using these technologies found that collaboration with others, such as contractors, also improved. By removing the physical meeting place, businesses removed one of the primary logistical barriers to in-person collaboration.
The World is Our Oyster
Using video conferencing and other online tools while allowing people to work from home opens a whole new world of talent to employers. Telecommuting not only eliminates geographic boundaries, it also makes jobs more accessible for people with disabilities.
According to Pew, more than 12% of the working-age population are disabled (16 million). A full three-quarters of unemployed workers with disabilities cite discrimination in the workplace and lack of transportation as major factors that prevent them from working.
We Can’t Un-ring This Bell
Employers had already been grappling with the differing expectations of younger generations in the workforce. Now that the work-from-home model has been proven by pandemic, many employers will be hard-pressed to find and retain the talent they need if telecommuting is not an option.
According to Pew, two-thirds of people want to work from home, and 36% would actually choose working from home over a pay raise. Two-thirds of employees would also take different job if it meant reducing their commute.
We Save in More Ways
Aside from saving money on the overhead of a physical office, telecommuting delivers other savings to businesses. Allowing telework, for example, reduces attrition and has a high impact on employee retention. When losing long-term employees can cost a company between $10,000 and $30,000 each, keeping them happy is a great way to save money.
Telework also gives people more flexibility for managing family affairs, health care, and other personal matters—something 79% of employees rated highly when ranking the success of telework.
Further Fostering Better Connection
Though most of the research suggests that a majority of employees and managers like what they’ve experienced of telecommuting through the pandemic, about one-third have found it harder to collaborate.
That’s where improvements in virtual venues can create a more immersive and personal experience for telecommuters.
Along with hardware innovations like cameras that can follow you around the room, software innovations can help create a more lifelike ambiance for telecommuters.
That was the inspiration behind the latest offering from Kinetx Co systems architects.
Kinetx Co designed its Kino video space platform for conversations, not just presentations or meetings, after seeing the frustration of its own IT specialists while using standard video conferencing platforms.
The goal with Kino was to create a hybrid workspace that bridges the gap between in-person and video, making people feel present and available to each other, just like in a physical office. To do this, Kino allows workers to stay visible and connected to the entire team, yet at the same time, they can pull one or more colleagues into a focused conversation—much like ducking into a colleague’s cubicle to ask a question while the office activity continues to buzz in the background.
Organic and personal, Kino video communication includes features that bridge the gap between an in-office team and remote members, like a privacy mode, which is like closing your office door; a conversation panel that allows users to see all active group conversations and join in; controls for backgrounding or amplifying conversations; an announcement option; and quality video for a richer, more human way to communicate.
However, there’s always room for creating more engagement in the virtual space. Insert Hello Mailbox Virtual Coffee. By offering “Let’s Grab Coffee,” virtual meetings via Kino (internal or prospective sales) are elevated through sight, sound, and now taste. Yes, we can have real coffee together in a virtual space!
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Survey by Clutch:
Studies by Global Workplace Analytics: http://www.globalworkplaceanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics
PWC Remote Work Study: