Over the past year and a half, the number of workers working from home, or even far from their place of employment, known as working remotely or working virtually has become commonplace. While COVID resulted in a revolutionary shift towards employees working remotely, this was a movement that was already occurring at a rapid rate before the pandemic hit. New and improved communication technologies have played a major role in this movement. The result is that companies and individuals have come to realize the benefits of working remotely. It’s quickly moved from involving a fringe group of professionals into the mainstream. Even the employment site monster.com has a special category for employees seeking to work remotely. According to Flexjobs.com, a number of prominent companies are switching to online remote work. These include Facebook, Amazon, Capital One and several others. Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics, estimates that 25-30% of the workforce will be working from home multiple days of the week by the end of 2021. What are the opportunities and challenges such mobility presents? Let’s look at some of the main ones.
Flexjobs.com mentioned a number of benefits for workers. Some of the major ones include:
- Better work/life balance – especially for families. Keep in mind, this can also be a challenge.
- Reduced stress from commuting and a reduction in time and costs associated with travelling to and from work
- Employees can now live where they choose based on factors other than employment possibilities
- The possibility to eliminate or substantially reduce childcare concerns and costs.
Many individuals are now able to live even thousands of miles from their place of employment. Kirsten Berg, a 2016 Finlandia University graduate in Accounting, currently lives in Alaska but works as the Director of Operations for the Michigan Tech Employees Federal Credit Union in Houghton, Michigan. She says that a big advantage for her was being able to move without having to change jobs. When she moved to Alaska she said “the ability to take my job with me created more opportunities to learn and grow in my current position instead of having to start a new job when I moved.”
Companies can also benefit greatly from remote employment. Some of the main benefits include
- Cost savings on overhead such as office space, maintenance, computer workstations, utilities and parking.
- An enlarged employee hiring base – employers can now search nationally and internationally for the right candidates and forego many of the traditional hiring and relocation costs
- Companies can hire individuals from more diverse backgrounds who may not live within commuting distance. Several rural communities, such as here in the Keweenaw, are actively developing plans for attracting remote-working professionals to the area.
Society in general can benefit through the positive impact on the environment and sustainability brought about through reduced commuter travel.
However, with such a shift in the workforce there will be challenges. These include:
- A greater reliance and investment in communication technologies for both companies and employees.
- The traditional separation of work from personal life may be challenged as people’s homes also become their workplaces. The result can be increased stress and pressures on the employee as well as family members.
- Maintaining effective interpersonal and organizational communication may become more of a challenge. This can be due to the loss of face to face interaction between individuals both within the organization, between organizations, and with customers and other key stakeholders. For example, immediate answers and solutions to everyday questions and problems may be delayed due to the need to contact responsible individuals, who are not in the next office, via phone or Zoom. Such delays can add up hundreds of lost hours of productivity and huge inefficiencies annually.
- In some cases, working across several time zones can present challenges in scheduling meetings and may require more non-traditional working hours for remote employees.
According to Kirsten Berg, it’s important to create a work place, at home or elsewhere, that will work for the person. “Creating a designated place to sit down and work every day helps to develop a consistent routine.” In addition, she added “finding motivation when working remote is similar to having your own business. It is a lot different than being around coworkers. Lastly, maintaining a work/life balance is a new challenge when your work is in your home. It is important to make sure that you have a routine and you are getting a break from your work like you can do in a typical in office job.”
Business schools and other educational institutions need to realize both the new opportunities and challenges this new remote work culture presents. They must then respond accordingly to prepare their students to not only function, but to thrive in this new environment. This will include incorporating “remotability” management throughout the curriculum.
Fortunately, many recent college graduates already have a head start in working remotely primarily due to the COVID pandemic. Finlandia University is no exception as a number of current students and recent graduates have already performed remote internships and company projects. Finlandia’s International School of Business will continue to prepare students to deal with this new paradigm shift to a remote work environment.
Pictured: Finlandia Accounting alumnus (‘16) Kirsten Berg
Article provided by Finlandia’s International School of Business.