If you’re like me, you’ve been greatly surprised by how well you and your team have been able to work from home since your company’s offices shut down in March. But you may not be shocked now to hear many companies publicly state (like TCS has) they’re not going back to the old arrangement when the pandemic eases. Remote workers are here to stay, as I wrote in a column earlier this year. They will become a fixture of the workplace this decade, especially as companies like ours make it easy for large organizations to keep their at-home workers highly productive and their technology highly secure.
The statistics and stories behind this trend have been rolling in. They provide increasing evidence that the shift of work from offices to homes won’t greatly recede once the pandemic eases. Here’s one stat: In the U.S. in 2018, only 5 million employees (3.6% of the workforce) worked from home at least half-time, according to Global Workforce Analytics. The research firm now forecasts that by 2022, five to six times as many U.S. workers will work from home for the majority of their work week. It estimates that the average employer saves about $11,000 annually for each worker who operates remotely half time. Remote work during the pandemic will save American employers more than $30 billion every day, the firm estimates.
Now here are a few stories. On May 12, the CEO of social media giant Twitter told many employees that they can work at home for here on, long after the shutdown ends. (Though the tweets its users post must be small in words, Twitter is no small company anymore, with $3.5 billion in 2019 revenue, 150 million active users, and 4,900 employees.) Three weeks earlier, Zillow Group, a $2.7 billion real estate information provider, told its 5,200 full-time employees they could work from home through the rest of the year. Lastly, our own company announced last month that for TCS to be 100% productive, only 25% of our employees would be required to be working in TCS offices by 2025. As our chief operating officer (N Ganapathy Subramaniam) said in an April earnings call with stock analysts: “We don’t believe that we need more than 25% of our workforce at our facilities, in order to be 100% productive.” In fact, nearly 90% of our 448,000 employees are now working remotely – a shift we made in less than a month.
These moves are not at all surprising to companies that have operated virtually for years. Take Automattic Inc., known for the WordPress web platform that powers an estimated 35% of all Internet websites today. Every one of the firm’s 1,200-person workforce, in 75 countries, work from their homes. And they have done so since 2005, when the company began.
Three Core Benefits of Remote Work
I see unrelenting forces at work here – enormous pressures that, in addition to the pandemic (and future pandemics), are turning remote work into a fixture. In turn, the benefits from shifting work from offices to the home can be seen in three categories:
- Benefits to companies: the ability to reduce sizable real estate (and associated) costs through the consolidation of office space; the chance to hire talent everywhere, not just where you have an office; and keeping the company open even when its doors must close (so-called ‘business continuity’), among them.
- Benefits to workers: Less stress from long and costly commutes; a global talent marketplace opening up that can be tapped without having to relocate; and more time at home with family.
- Benefits to society: less pollution caused by having to transport so many people to work, as we’ve already seen as one of the pandemic’s silver linings.
Who wouldn’t want these benefits? Of course, they’re all great. Yet they won’t be easy for companies to attain over the long run unless they can support their remote workforces with technology, training, guidance and other services that make them as or more productive than they would be in the office.
What’s Needed to Make Remote Work Permanent
The first prerequisite for permanently remote work is a new mindset at the top of companies. Leaders must no longer believe that people have to show up for work to ensure they’re working. Leaders must also redefine the notion of work hours; the 8-to-5 routine doesn’t always fit neatly into the home lives of workers. Also, having close-knit teams doesn’t require that they all be in the same room – even agile teams that must make decisions in hours or minutes. Companies must turn their agile teams into location-independent agile teams.
The second requirement is technology support – the same white-glove service that many large organizations provide their office workers. We’ve launched a new service, TCS Secure Borderless Workspaces (SBWS), based on our own shift to remote work in March and April. Such services must give a company’s at-home workers remote access to corporate applications and data (which often need to move from computers in those companies’ offices to public or private clouds). They must also provide cybersecurity services that protect workers and company data/systems; project tracking to make sure that work (especially that of teams) is progressing; abundant communication about the revised standard operating procedures and sufficient touch to manage the change seamlessly; and more.
Two of our clients – Dutch insurer VIVAT and U.S.-based workforce provider ManpowerGroup – are now using our services here. During the shutdown, VIVAT has been able to handle 100% of customer claims on-time and efficiently despite its office closures. ManpowerGroup has been able to have 98% of its workforce operate from home in the U.S., Europe and India. The company also closed its quarterly books on-time.
To be sure, there are other requirements to make at-home workers highly productive and secure workers. But the above two prerequisites are a great start.
Whatever the needs for supporting remote work turn out to be, my TCS colleagues and I have seen first-hand the new world of remote work. We firmly believe there is no turning back, pandemic or no pandemic. The companies that best support their remote employees will gain significant advantages over competitors, as well as selling points that attract talent and customers alike.