The Future of Remote Work

Before the pandemic, remote positions were not as available and the expectation to be in office was unwavering. However, the threat of COVID spread prompted employers to implement a work from home model.

This shift to remote and hybrid schedules has increased from just 5% of hours being worked remotely before the pandemic to 21% post pandemic, KXAN reported.

“It’s kind of unfortunate that something so bad had to happen before companies and stores realized that we can do a lot of this from home,” said Jody Hernandez who shifted to a hybrid schedule during the pandemic. Hernandez worked as a secret shopper prior to the pandemic for Macys then moved into a hybrid position as a jewelry inspector due to the flexibility offered for his growing family.

“It was April fool’s day, April 1st, 2020, I was on maternity leave at the time too and my world just got straight up rocked over the course of three months, from having a baby in February, our first child, to the pandemic hitting mid-March to losing my job mid-April. I had no idea what work was going to look like for me,” said Elise Vinick of Austin, Texas who works remotely.

Laid off workers like Vinick turned to remote work for flexibility during these uncertain times. Remote work has exploded since the pandemic reported TIME magazine and is expected to trend this way going into next year.

Layoffs due to the closure of many businesses during the pandemic left many with few options. Vinick was laid off at the height of the pandemic while on maternity leave and looked to freelance work before landing her current hybrid position as the Director of Marketing for her firm.

“For me I definitely knew I needed a role that was going to offer flexibility in some capacity and that was actually why I did not go back to the agency world,” said Vinick.

City employees impacted by closures due to COVID led to fully remote plans to retain employees while limiting the spread.

Executive Director at Texas Work Force Commission (TWC), Ed Serna said “In late 2020 and early 2021, we made the conscious decision to formalize the expanded telework/remote work practice for two major reasons: first, we wanted to negate the on again/off again effects of the COVID virus. Second, we realized we could possibly use this as a way to recruit and retain staff in an employment market in Austin that was rapidly expanding and becoming very difficult to compete in regarding salary and benefits.”

 KXAN reported in the first quarter of 2022, nearly 25% of job postings at the largest companies in the U.S. were for permanently remote positions, according to the job listing service Ladders. An increase from 4% before the pandemic.

Concerns rose over a lack of productivity when working remote, however the opposite was found to be true. A study conducted by county auditors found that productivity increased when employees went remote, reports KXAN. TWC tracked performance from the start of the pandemic through February 2022 and found “in most cases our work output and quality either remained the same or improved over the past two years. Our major programs (Unemployment Insurance, Workforce Development, Child Care and Early Learning, Vocational Rehabilitation and Civil Rights) have all reported either improvements or a steady state in performance.”   

Brigid Shea infographic

The County Commissioners office reported benefits include the decrease in greenhouse gases alongside an improvement in employee morale.

“We saw so many benefits from telecommuting, we saw that our actions had a meaningful impact on the environment, so not only did it improve congestion, it improved employee morale because people were not stuck in traffic going to and from work” said Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea.

Travis County is pushing a plan to have at least 75% of eligible employees continue to work from home on a permanent basis.

There are however those just entering the workforce who are not passionate about remote positions. Concerns over lack of socializing has left a feeling of disconnect as opposed to in office culture. Nexstar Media reported that at least seven out of 10 employees feel more isolated than they had before going remote.

“One of the biggest downsides to remote work is that it is lonely, I am not seeing anyone in person, usually on a monthly basis,” said Vinick.

Virtual communication is not as engaging as in person communication said Ethan Vaught, a remote employee.

“Remote work is very boring most of the time, like extremely boring and very nonproductive,” said Vaught. If you like interacting with people, working from home is absolutely not conducive to that.”

With the economy shifting into a recession, dependency on remote work has its draw backs. The economy has played a major role in the tech industry laying off thousands of remote workers. According to NBC news  137,00 employees have been laid off by over 1,000 tech companies with remote workers being the first to go.

The Business Journal reported that a survey focused on managers found that remote workers are likely to be laid off first. Remote workers do not have the same access to career development opportunities as their in-office counterparts, leaving remote workers hesitant on their next career move.  According to a CNBC Workforce survey, “remote workers are the most likely in the U.S labor force to worry about being laid off and struggling to find a new job quickly.”

The societal impact remote work may have, has yet to be determined. As companies work to determine business needs, employees are left to grapple on what the future of their careers may look like. An AT&T study found that the hybrid work model is expected to nearly double from 42% to 81% by 2024.

Despite the concerns of remote work there is a consensus that flexibility is a big factor in job satisfaction and life dynamic plays a major role as to how one may perceive the pros and cons of remote work. A Fortune forum survey found that workers “who are in cubicles Monday through Friday are much less satisfied with their job compared to remote workers with more flexible arrangements.”

Vinick recognizes that while remote work is lonely, there are more benefits in a hybrid or remote role than that of an in-office role.

“The fact that I can go make myself lunch, I can get laundry done, I can get dinner prepped, I can go take the dog for a walk midday,” said Vinick. “I have more flexibility as far as my schedule goes with that, that is more valuable to me than the social interaction at this point in my life”.

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