4 Charts That Explain Why Companies Must Embrace Remote Work: Employee Voice

Apr 06, 2021 - 4 minutes read time

A smiling asian woman with pink suit working in office desk using computer

The pandemic is far from over. But employers can’t wait to see their workers back. Most desperate of all are real estate developers. Whether it’s in New York, San Francisco, London, or Hong Kong, office vacancy has hit a record high. Average rental prices haven’t quite fallen by the same degree. But that’s just a matter of time. In previous slumps, falling rents lagged vacancies by about a year.
4 Charts That Explain Why Companies Must Embrace Remote Work: Employee Voice - Howard Yu
Source link: bloomberg.com

So the hopeful say workers will return to their offices in the near post-corona era. City politicians appear to be the most eager. Their tax revenues count on the cafés, pubs, and restaurants that rely on the teeming crowds of office workers. 

Some bosses also see working from home as a “pure negative.” Others argue that in-person presence, bumping into colleagues in hallways and around watercoolers, are key to foster innovation and to maintain a company’s culture. 


But this debate has been partly settled by the workers already. They see things differently. 61% of workers said they would prefer that their companies make remote work permanent—indefinitely—according to a survey by LiveCareer that polled over 1,000 Americans.

4 Charts That Explain Why Companies Must Embrace Remote Work: Employee Voice - Howard Yu

Not only do the majority want to stay away from the office’s watercoolers forever, but also, if people are forced to return, they would quit. 29% said they’ll go work for someone else if that happens. 

4 Charts That Explain Why Companies Must Embrace Remote Work: Employee Voice - Howard Yu

The bottom line? People prefer employers that offer flexibility. Very few people actually want to see their colleagues from nine to five every day. 

4 Charts That Explain Why Companies Must Embrace Remote Work: Employee Voice - Howard Yu

Now some bosses may say, “I’ll just pay above the market rate.” Sure, but if you need to pay more money to retain key talents and then pay for the office space and free coffees and running the staff cafeteria, that’s clearly not economically competitive. 

That’s why you see that even among tech companies, they have office staff returning on a time schedule, driven almost entirely by the company’s own attractiveness. More specifically, how posh its headquarters are. The pampering of the physical space is essentially a form of wage top-up in asking people to return.

The Information, an influential Silicon Valley publication, has compiled an extensive list on how tech companies plan for their employees’ return:

1. Most days in office, similar to pre-pandemic levels, while adjusting for the new, virtual work routines:

Apple, Netflix, Google

2. Hybrid mix of in-office and remote work, with employees having the flexibility to choose their own arrangement: 

Microsoft, Uber, Salesforce, Facebook, Adobe, Cisco, Snap, Twitter, Zoom

3. Remote first, where most staff won’t work in an office but can meet up at the headquarters: 

Shopify, Dropbox

4. Fully remote, with minimal or no office space: 

Gitlab, Zapier, Cameo

In the tech sector, employees are notoriously difficult to retain. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings admits his company pays top talents more than any other company would offer them—even if it’s more than what employees are asking for. 

Notice that it’s only Netflix, Apple, and Google in Silicon Valley that can afford to put up a straight face, expecting their employees to return in droves to the headquarters. Others, well, they adjust and adapt. Because they must. 

Work related or not, who doesn’t want to hang out at Apple’s $5 billion HQ?
Work related or not, who doesn’t want to hang out at Apple’s $5 billion HQ?

I have a hard time thinking this dynamic is confined only within Silicon Valley. After all, so many companies outside of the IT sector are also pursuing “digital transformation.” They are competing for the same talent pool of data scientists and software developers.

Meanwhile, smart companies or smaller upstarts will use remote work as an attraction to poach experienced managers from the bigger incumbents. The result is a race to the bottom. Everyone is forced to embrace remote work, gradually in the beginning and then suddenly all at once. 

What this means is that companies must prepare themselves ahead of time. There is so much that organizations must learn to minimize the need for face-to-face meetings. Simplifying workflow and eliminating complexity are the most obvious areas for improvement. 

As I argued here before, the time is ripe to learn from those “remote complete” organizations. Their leaders have built a system to keep employees motivated and consistently productive while monitoring progress from a distance. They are living future work today. 

Like many other business trends, remote work is obvious. You don’t need a crystal ball to see that it’s coming. Being smart is not about foretelling the future. It’s having the ability to develop and implement new strategies as the future unfolds. Successful companies are the ones that close the gap between knowing and doing. They figure things out along the way. Laggards are the ones that keep talking with no action. 


Thanks for reading—and be well,
Howard Yu signature

P.S. What’s the discussion on remote work at your company? Has it announced its plan? Are you going back to the office in the long run? What would you prefer if you have a choice? Tell us your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you. 

This article is co-authored with Angelo Boutalikakis, a research associate at the LEAP Readiness Project.



Willy Sussland Apr 06, 2021 at 2:59pm

A very interesting outlook for all the work that can be done remotely. It will be also interesting to see how companies will manage formal and informal in person meetings when a physical presence is deemed more creative and more impacting than tele-conferencing.

I have not seen as yet estimates on the volume of business that remote-working will generate or replace. Certainly this situation will bring about all sorts of innovations be they tangibles or intangibles.

It will be interesting to have estimates on the part of work will have to be done physically in given locations such as plants, hotels, in repair shops, hospitals et cetera. Will jobs tied to work-in-place become snubbed ? and will work-in-place workers start looking for alternatives ?

No question, remote-work will imply material and moral changes.

Many thanks for the inputs.

vikram khanna Apr 06, 2021 at 1:29pm

Howard, thank you for another insightful article. Delighted to be on your mailing list.
Just a few thoughts on some of the issues you raised, based on the experience of my company:
1. There are different categories of employees. Some (such as myself, a writer) are easily able to work from home. But many roles need face-to-face interaction and collaboration.
2. WFH is a huge disadvantage for new recruits who don't know anybody in the company, and find it difficult to integrate into the corporate culture
3. My company has found that online communication over a prolonged period creates "distance" between staff. Communication happens but can get edgy and sometimes not easy to manage. Relationships tend to weaken.
4. Some staff need access to specialised equipment and documents that are located at work. They cannot fully do their jobs at home.
5. Spontaneous conversations, brainstorming, gossip, etc no longer happen with WFH. These are important for certain professions (such as journalism).

So WFH will face many challenges going forward, despite its many attractions and benefits.

Hope all is well with you
with warm regards

Fletcher Sharpe Apr 06, 2021 at 1:09pm

It's true, remote work is increasingly rising and is unlikely to stop anytime soon. Pandemic just accelerated the already inevitable.

Riya Odling Apr 06, 2021 at 8:53am

Very insightful and thoughtful analysis Howard, thanks for sharing.

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