For most businesses switching to remote work was a forced adaptation due to the pandemic. However, as vaccines continue to be rolled out and economies re-open the next few years are going to be a test as to whether remote work can be a viable model for the future of work.
As for now, it is safe to say that remote seems to be working well for a lot of businesses. Most companies are retaining remote work as their default work model for the foreseeable future. Twitter, Facebook and even Apple have a section of their employees working either completely remotely or partly, with some having to report to the office on certain days of the week.
However, not all industries have been able to make the switch to a remote or a hybrid model. Many industries require employees on-site to function. These are manufacturing, medical care and the service industry. In contrast other activities like communication, information technology, education and even medical care, to an extent, can thrive remotely.
As you might have noticed the potential for remote work is skewed towards high-skilled work in a handful of industries and geographies. Most industries due to the nature of the work done cannot operate remotely for most of their employees.
This and other trends are going to be key in the near future for remote work. As such let us first try to find out the industries that will mostly be affected in the near future and the trends that follow.
As noted above high skilled occupations are most likely to be affected by the shift to remote work. In fact, even in industries where employees don’t really have to be in the office to work, remote working still negatively affects their productivity. For instance, most parents agree that online teaching reduces the quality of education. The same goes for online courtrooms which functioned during the height of the pandemic but have since gone back to physical courts out of concern for legal rights and equity.
Still, remote work does have real benefits with the potential to make some occupations more productive than brick and mortar offices. Identifying these occupations is key to unleashing the full potential of remote work.
McKinsey and Company do this for us by ranking by industry sectors that have the highest potential for remote work.
“To determine the overall potential for remote work for jobs and sectors, we use the time spent on different activities within occupations. We find that remote work potential is concentrated in a few sectors. Finance and insurance has the highest potential, with three-quarters of time spent on activities that can be done remotely without a loss of productivity. Management, business services, and information technology have the next highest potential, all with more than half of employee time spent on activities that could effectively be done remotely (Exhibit 2). These sectors are characterized by a high share of workers with college degrees or higher.”
This ranking will also have repercussions for whole countries as nations with huge sectors ranked highly in the chart above will have a lot of remote workers. This is the case for most developed nations. The UK, for instance, has a very large finance and insurance sector and so will have a very large proportion of their workers operating from home.
However, emerging economies will find it difficult to unleash remote work potential. Why?…Majority of their workforce are part of the demanding sectors like agriculture and manufacturing, with low remote work potential.
India is a good test case. Despite its high-tech and financial services industries, majority of its workforce are in retail services and agriculture.
“In India, for instance, the workforce could spend just 12 percent of the time working remotely without losing effectiveness.”
That said we do expect emerging economies will eventually cover the gap as internet and mobile connection improve in remote areas. Couple this with an increasingly educated mass and decreasing populations in the West, Asia and Africa are going to be the future of remote work.
While the pandemic forced companies to adopt remote work, this model is unsustainable for most businesses. The truth is most companies need their employees at the office even for just a few days of the week. The solution, therefore, is a hybrid model. One that retains the benefits of remote work for employees but also encourages teamwork at the office.
There is no doubt that remote work is great for employees but it makes HR so much harder for managers. The common saying for freelancers is that ‘Remote kills HR’ and this is not hyperbole. Supervising and maintaining good employee relations is much harder online. There is simply no easy way of doing it through our machines. That is why companies are relying on new technologies to keep up their employee productivity.
Increased adoption of remote work means that there will be less demand for office space over time. Companies will find little use for specific offices for their employees working from home.
Since most operations are online, there is demand for tighter cybersecurity measures as the whole company is dependent on this. Cloud platforms specifically will see increased demand and supply of cybersecurity products to protect companies from attacks. Remote work will continue to rise and may eventually become the default mode. Therefore, businesses will have to prepare themselves to leverage this new model.