You may have found yourself working from home as part of the widespread effort to flatten the curve and keep community spread of the COVID-19 virus at a minimum. While widespread remote working was first introduced as a means to an end, that doesn’t mean this trend is simply going to disappear once the pandemic is under control and workplaces begin to reopen.

It’s been a huge topic of contention, as many Australian workplaces have remained inflexible for the evolving needs of the workforce, while great technology developments continue. 

Now, companies are beginning to see the real benefits of working from home and are adjusting as a result. Optus, for example, is making a permanent switch and remote work will be the new normal for Australia’s second largest telecommunications company.

Conversely, an article from the January issue of Fortune Magazine titled “Showing Up Will Matter Again” projected that in the 2020s, people in developed economies will rediscover the value of physical presence – engaging with others face-to-face, eye-to-eye. In addition, it said companies were encouraging or requiring employees to come back to the office because researchers find that creativity and innovation are group activities built on trust, and “there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction to build up this trust”.

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So what does this mean for the future of work as we know it? We take a look at the shift in this article.

Remote work trends before and during COVID-19

Before the pandemic, remote work was already emerging as a key trend shaping the modern workplace. According to a survey by Buffer, an incredible 99% of employees said they wanted to work from home at least some of the time. Despite this, it was still far from the norm: an Indeed report revealed that 65% of businesses didn’t offer a work from home policy.

However, COVID-19 completely flipped this on its head. The pandemic forced employers to rethink and offer remote work solutions for employees, in order to prevent the spread of the virus and ensure the health and safety of their workforce. A survey by Slack showed that 45% of employees are now working remotely, and roughly two-thirds are doing so as a direct result of COVID-19. 

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What does this mean post-COVID?

The end of the pandemic doesn’t spell the end of remote work – far from it. While working from home has been introduced as a short-term solution, it’s caused companies to rethink and adapt their structures and processes as a result. Why? Because employees successfully adapted and are proving outcomes can be achieved without needing to be face-to-face or physically present.

According to Slack’s study, 74% of organisations plan to move at least 5% of their permanent workforce to remote work after COVID-19 lockdowns. On top of this, the surveyed employees expect their companies will adopt more remote work-friendly policies following the pandemic. 

How to work from home permanently

There’s no doubt that working from home will be a popular option on the table for many employees once we begin to see recovery from the pandemic and lockdowns are eased. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you should jump straight into working remotely five days a week. 

Working from home still comes with challenges and downsides, particularly when you’re doing it for a prolonged period of time.

Before making the call, here are key considerations to keep in mind:

  • Do you have a safe and ample space to work from home permanently? While a makeshift office is suitable for the pandemic, it can be challenging to separate your work and personal life if this becomes your new reality going forward.
  • Really question whether working from home conducive to your best work. Many people might just want to jump on the bandwagon “because we can” but does that negatively impact your internal and external interactions required of your job? Does face-to-face meetings with your contacts and clients put you in a stronger position against your competitors and make for better relationships?
  • What are the current challenges you’re facing with remote work, and how can you address these moving forward? Think about your productivity and motivation, your sense of belonging and connection, and your involvement (or lack thereof)  in company culture, announcements or events.
  • Do you want to work remotely all of the time, or only part time? This is a good moment to review your current work situation and tailor it to what fits. You could try working from home a couple days a week, or work from home in the afternoon to be able to pick the kids up from school.
  • How will you report to your manager and keep the lines of communication open? Will it be through online calls or weekly face-to-face meetings? What needs to be vastly improved following your work from home experience during COVID?
  • What tools do you need to enable remote work? Keep in mind that although your team might be using certain platforms and technologies such as Slack and Zoom now, this may change once everyone returns to the office.
  • The COVID work from home experience taught us a lot about mental agility, wellness and the need for connection and interaction. If this is important to you, perhaps your work from home arrangement will only be one or two days a week.
  • What will your transition look like? Do you expect it to happen right away or will you need to slowly readjust to working from home again?
  • Keep an open mind. Even if your workplace allows your work from home arrangement, ensure you constantly reassess and review your situation because you may find other life factors make it no longer feasible or you’ve simply missed the physical office and want that work environment again.

It’s essential to communicate with your manager and work together to find the best solution for everyone involved. 

Importantly, be transparent about your wants and needs once you’ve spent some time self-assessing. Also, remain open to different approaches as your workplace may not be able to 100 per cent accommodate your requests. Remember, it’s about creating a solution for the long run.

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