Remote work seems like a new concept for many of us, but it was already gaining momentum well before the COVID-19 pandemic. The advent of the internet and personal computing made it possible, and the increasing digitization of our world made it inevitable. Between 2005 and 2017, FlexJobs reported a 159% increase in the number of employees working remotely in the U.S. Before the pandemic had reached our shores, around 4.7 million individuals or 3.4% of the population held remote positions.

There are a host of facts and figures behind the steady growth in remote-work adoption. Oft-discussed benefits like flexibility, work-life balance, and even improved productivity made the top of the list, but they are far from the only forces at work. Remote work lets organizations hire from around the globe, allowing them to tap into Silicon Valley-level talent without having to write Silicon Valley-sized paychecks. Instead, companies can hire the very best from areas where more modest paychecks are proportionally greater compensation thanks to a much lower cost of living.

Remote Work Use Case, Bravo!

Despite headlines in recent years announcing that major companies such as Yahoo, IBM, and Best Buy would end their work from home policies and attempt to bring remote workers back to the office, evidence suggests that remote work experiments have been a success.

A two-year study from the Stanford Graduate School of Business looked at Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency. Ctrip headquarters are located in Shanghai, where finding office space to house the company’s 20,000 employees was becoming prohibitively expensive. Ctrip executives were interested in allowing employees to work from home in order to reduce real estate costs—the same aim behind IBM’s remote initiative. Like IBM, they feared sacrificing an engaged and productive workforce would be a major drawback. According to the findings, they needn’t have worried.

In the Ctrip study, the participants who worked from home all but one day each week were actually 13% more productive than the control group that worked only from the office. According to Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom, two main factors contribute to the productivity boost. First, remote workers are more likely to work a full shift. Without a lengthy and stressful commute burning time to and from the office, and with a stocked kitchen just a few steps away for lunch, working from home allows employees to make the most of their time. It also reduces distractions that are extremely prevalent in an office environment, whether it’s a collection for a lottery pool or a discussion about last night’s season finale around the water cooler.

The Ctrip study is promising, but Bloom’s latest research offers a decidedly less rosy outlook on the remote work shift brought on by the pandemic.

The Other Side of the Story

When COVID-19 closed schools and businesses and forced governments around the globe to issue shelter-in-place orders, there was no time to produce the policies, training materials, and technological solutions necessary to ensure a smooth transition from home to home-office. Many companies were forced to implement hastily compiled remote work procedures in order to maintain a semblance of normal operations, and Bloom predicts that this rushed transition will have consequences: “We are home working alongside our kids, in unsuitable spaces, with no choice and no in-office days. This will create a productivity disaster for firms.”

The current conditions for many remote workers bear little resemblance to those manufactured in the Ctrip study. In the study, participants had a dedicated home-office only they could occupy, and they would also visit the company office one day per week. One other crucial difference? Taking part in the study was voluntary, meaning employees working from home wanted the arrangement. Today, remote work is more often mandatory. Even for parts of the world that are in some phase of reopening, many employees are forced to stay home by their organization’s policies or to care for their children who have no option other than home schooling/daycare.

While the impact of the remote-work rush remains to be seen, one thing is clear: after the pandemic has passed, remote work isn’t going to go away. A 2019 Buffer survey of almost 2,500 remote workers found that 99% wanted to be at least partially remote for the rest of their careers, and 95% recommended remote work arrangements to people in their social circles. Remote work cannot exist in and of itself. To make the most of the shift, focus on empowering your remote workforce with additional tools and technologies that create as much of a semblance of a prior time working in an office environment.

To learn more about the potential benefits of a remote workforce and the tools you need to tap into such a strategy on the mainframe, download our whitepaper on the subject.