The pandemic has forced many companies to adopt remote work policies, and many offices are considering long-term or permanent shifts to remote work. But, what will the transition to remote work look like? In many ways, the bumps and challenges have already been addressed during the early onset of the pandemic, but offices that plan to adopt permanent remote work policies will likely need to also adopt more technology tools and support and new office designs for fewer employees.
“I expect there will be a permanent shift to remote working for many people depending on their industry. This was a trend we were already experiencing before COVID-19 that has been accelerated because of the pandemic,” Cindy Cooke, SVP at Colliers International, tells GlobeSt.com. “Many individuals flourish working remotely, however, some are more productive working in an office environment that provides structure and camaraderie. As companies continue to embrace remote working, I anticipate changes in office designs, especially those that adapt to having fewer employees in the office at the same time and those that prioritize employee health and safety precautions.”
Technology has played an essential role in the transition to remote work. Companies that had already embraced technology were better prepared to shift to remote work during the pandemic. In addition to virtual communication tools, like Zoom, offices also needed to boost server systems and remote access to files. “The revolution of the tech industry truly saved many businesses during this pandemic,” adds Cooke. “Thankfully, we were working remotely prior to COVD-19 so many tech services were already in place. The first area in need of improvement were the Internet capabilities. In a very short period of time there was a huge demand from people working from home to schools and students, so much so that several times our virtual presentations or Zoom meetings were interrupted due to intermittent internet coverage. Quick, efficient access to all files remotely and the ability to collaborate with staff quickly became an essential need for not just staff but also colleagues and clients.”
Unequivocally, communication tools have been the most important to businesses during the pandemic. These tools have enabled businesses to continue to communicate with clients and conduct businesses. “For us, Zoom and video conferencing became critical in communicating with staff, colleagues and clients as well as the virtual video tours of properties,” says Cooke. “We were already providing virtual video tours for our clients pre-pandemic, but this offering became that much more important when businesses were shutdown. On top of this, we noticed that clients who utilized virtual leasing services for their properties were quickly outperforming the market at the onset of the pandemic.”
While these tools have helped maintain business activity, they aren’t a replacement for in-person teamwork or communication. “There are so many technological tools that allowed people to effectively communicate and collaborate while working from home,” Russell Appel, founding principal at The Praedium Group, tells GlobeSt.com. “Our team used video conferencing systems to conduct our weekly pipeline meetings, speak to investors, and we hosted a webinar on the state of commercial real estate for our professional community. However, video is not the same as in-person; it’s very hard to build relationships and trust through technology mediums. Technology has not been able to compensate for the intimacy and trust that is earned through in-person meetings.”
For that reason, it might be unlikely that there will be a total shift to remote work, even if more companies adopt some sort of pseudo-remote work policy. According to research from DWS Group, the preference for remote work will depend on the ability to perform work duties remotely. However, if employees refuse to return to work without proper social distancing, there might be a need for more office space to accommodate a safe in-office experience.