Remote vs In-Office, which is right for the future of work?

As technology has advanced, so too has the concept of the workplace. It used to be that the equipment, resources, and people you needed to get work done were only accessible in an office. However, as desktop computers evolved into laptops, hardwired phones evolved into smartphones, and dial-up internet evolved into high-speed fiber and 5g connections – many started to ask, “why do I need to go into the office to work?”

Depending on where you reside globally, you may be anywhere from 2 – 5 months into a grand “work from home” experiment caused by COVID-19. This pandemic has forced many organizations to rethink the “where” and “how” work gets done. Companies that would have never allowed folks to work from home for an extended period are now forced to admit it’s a viable option as productivity and engagement have not seen dramatic declines. Twitter recently announced, with the exception of a select portion of roles, employees will be allowed to work from home indefinitely! This surprising turn of events caused by COVID-19 has some experts (and hopeful employees) wondering if the days of the office are numbered. 

So, what does the future of work have in store – a return to the office or the promised splendor (or for some, horror) of working from home? The reality is probably somewhere in the middle. Very likely, what the future holds is “flexibility.” The COVID-19 situation has proven the tools exist to allow employees to have flexibility in where and how they work.

The truth is that working remotely is not for everyone. There are circumstances, personalities, projects, and teams that will naturally dictate the need to work in an office or at least face-to-face. For example, just because Jane works fabulously in a remote environment doesn’t mean Tim, a key person on Jane’s team, works well entirely remotely. Similarly, a complex project that requires close collaboration may not be one that can be completed efficiently by a virtual team. But with the flexibility and power to work remotely, you can virtually bring together groups regardless of location and unlock new possibilities in the ways work gets done.

What does this flexibility mean for global talent mobility? Will the efficacy of remote work signal the decline of the “mobile” employee? Very unlikely. What we will see is a shift in the type of mobile employees and the duration of trips/assignments. For example, flying to another country or state and needing to quarantine for two weeks just for a few days of work is unlikely to happen. Mobility teams will also need to re-evaluate their policies to accommodate new work structures and life in a pandemic world. 

The increased use of remote work also presents another population of globally dispersed employees that talent mobility teams may have to help manage. With the ability to work remotely also means that employees could be working anywhere in the world without  HR or managers knowing. This creates potentially massive compliance and financial risk – one that mobility teams are in a position to help organizations manage. We will dive into this topic on our next blog post on the tax, financial, and compliance implications of managing a distributed, remote workforce.