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The State of Remote Work

The state of remote work

Frontline workers in manufacturing, distribution, healthcare and more barely had a moment at home before being back at work. But for those who could work from home did work from home. And most are still there, sipping coffee in their fuzzy slippers.

One in three companies anticipate half or more of their workforce will remain remote post COVID-19, according to HR consulting firm Mercer. For comparison, only one in 30 had that level of remote working in place before the pandemic struck. Why allow such an extreme shift? Perhaps it’s because 94% say productivity has remained the same or improved since employees began working remotely.

Who’s Staying Remote?

The list of companies staying remote until at least January 2021 is long and still growing. According to the New York Times, Google was one of the first to announce that July 2021—further out than most—was its return-to-office date. Uber, Slack, Airbnb, Target, Ford Motor, and DocuSign followed. Facebook, Twitter, Coinbase, Shopify, and Microsoft have now permanently shifted their work-from-home policies to include flexibility for more employees.

Austin-grown Dell may have more than 50% of the company’s 165,000 full-time employees around the world working from home after the pandemic lets up, reports CultureMap Austin. And SHRM reports that online real estate marketplace Zillow also joined the list in July. About 90% of Zillow’s workforce of 5,400 will have the flexibility to work from home permanently as an ongoing option, which completely bucks the attitude they had in place before.

“We have historically discouraged employees from working from home, preferring face time and in-office collaboration versus virtual exchanges,” Zillow’s Chief People Officer Dan Spaulding told SHRM. “Our old preferences have been debunked during the pandemic…Since first closing our offices in March, our teams have evolved new and inspiringly creative ways to work together, support each other, and embrace the approximately 500 new employees we’ve onboarded, entirely remotely.”

The Hybrid Solution

But don’t get caught up in the hype. While Microsoft is on the list of employers moving to remote work permanently, it’s not an all-in situation for them and for most others. According to The Verge, the software maker has unveiled ‘hybrid workplace’ guidance internally to allow, simply, for far greater flexibility once U.S. offices reopen.

“While…[we] seek to be on the forefront of what is possible leveraging technology, we have also communicated that we are not committing to having every employee work from anywhere, as we believe there is value in employees being together in the workplace,” Kathleen Hogan, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer of Microsoft, announced in October.

The company has determined that while most roles within their ranks can be done remotely, working from home only part time (less than 50%) moving forward is optimal. Microsoft was also among the first to formalize allowing employees during this time to relocate to another part of the country while remotely working, but compensation and benefits will change and vary depending on the company’s own geopay scale. 

Who Gets the Golden Ticket?

For employees returning to the office, at least in a part-time capacity, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) found that many companies are using a mix of algorithms, dashboards, and surveys while weighing liability concerns and bruised egos to determine who’s in first. IBM prioritized scientists working in quantum computer labs. Houston-based CenterPoint Energy asked officers and director-level employees to return first. And real-estate startup SquareFoot Inc. prioritized brokers “after an internal survey determined they needed the physical space more than, say, engineers,” the WSJ notes.

Companies like SquareFoot found that more employees wanted to be back than they could allow with social distancing and other safety measures in place. It told WSJ it’s developing a reservation system backed by an algorithm that evaluates requests to use office space.

“It takes the emotion out of the whole thing,” says SquareFoot President Michael Colacino. “That’s the benefit of doing it in an automated way, because what a nightmare to be the person that has to kind of do a Sophie’s Choice on your employees.”

TechRepublic reports that other companies are offering perks to entice employees to return. Free meals, fuel and transportation reimbursements, childcare stipends, and “old-fashioned bonuses” are just some of the ways employers are luring the pack back in.

If you’re anxious to reopen the workplace—even in a limited capacity—review our safety tips here. PwC offers a few dozen questions organizations should ask themselves before bringing employees back to work as well. It’s a lot to consider, so talking it through with an HT Cares! advisor can help. 

Making Remote Work Permanent

PwC found that the inspiration to permanently shift to remote struck as early as April for many organizations. Back then, nearly half (49%) of companies told PwC they were planning to make remote work a permanent option for roles that allow it. Those who already operated in a digital-first environment—in the cloud, using collaboration tools, etc.—had an advantage. Another 40% of companies say they’re planning to accelerate new ways of working and automation as part of their return-to-workplace strategy.

Zapier offers tips for 100% remote work transformations. One key to making it happen is to do your best to mimic your office culture in the new remote environment, Sarah Park, president of MeetEdgar, told them. “Is your culture based on spontaneity and bumping into each other? Then set up Slack channels for water cooler conversation,” the Zapier team writes.

Built In Austin offers a great 2-part series on supporting remote employees that’s worth a read. It features advice from local companies like Living Security, Square Root, ShipWell, Canva, and AdAction that are making it work.

If your company is like most, you’ll be allowing more remote work flexibility after the pandemic. But how much? And how will you make it work within your work culture permanently? Those are critical questions that will need some careful consideration to answer. We’re here to help if you need us.


The HT Group fills roles in Temporary Staffing, Executive Search, Technical Recruiting, and Retained Search.

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