September 29, 2023

Not just a passing trend: WFH trends & future

Since 2009, the number of people working from home has increased by 159%. Millions of employees swear by the benefits of working from home, highlighting not only better work-life balance, but increased productivity and work satisfaction. Most of the businesses have allowed (well, were kind of forced to) their employees to work from home, but more and more companies are going back to mandatory office-only policies. Some employees feel no difference, some make peace with it, some find it difficult to deal with the change, some even change jobs, and many more are left dreading an email announcing the end of their WFH rodeo. What are the reasons companies are switching back to work from the office, what do employees think about it, and do the benefits of WFH outweigh the challenges?

WFH pre-pandemic

Most experts would agree that the COVID-19 pandemic has not started the work-from-home trend but definitely accelerated its popularity. Companies had no choice but to do everything to go online and keep their business afloat. This inevitable experiment taught us that this way of working was possible, but not always effective.

In the EU, before the pandemic, remote work was already becoming more common. When it comes to occasional WFH, it was enjoyed by around 9% of the pre-pandemic workforce. In 2019, approximately 1 in 20 employed people in the EU usually worked from home. In 2020, this number more than doubled, with 12.3% of employees usually working from the comfort of their home environment, and in 2021 this number rose to 13.5%.

Pre-pandemic, Nordic countries were leading in remote work adoption, with around a third of the workforce working from home regularly or at least sometimes, however, the upward trend in WFH was seen in most EU countries. The share of regular or frequent remote workers was above 30% in a range of knowledge-intensive business services, as well as in education and publishing activities. It was also high – around 20% – in telecommunications, finance, and insurance. In contrast, the lowest number of remote workers were employed in administrative and support services, as well as in the sectors that involve physical work, such as manufacturing.

WFH today

As of 2023, 12.7% of full-time employees work from home and nearly 30% of the workforce work a hybrid model. Although significant, it still means that the majority of the employees (59.1%, to be exact), still work in the office. In fact, only 16% of companies operate fully remotely, whilst 44% of businesses do not allow remote work. Here are some interesting numbers, demonstrating the employee sentiment about the current state of the way of working:

> 98% of workers would like to work remotely at least for some time

> 97% of people would recommend remote work to others

> 56% of employees would prefer fully remote work

> 11% of workers prefer to go to the office occasionally

> 3% of employees would choose the office-first approach but would still like the remote option to be allowed

While remote work is typically seen as beneficial for workers, it also offers a list of advantages for employers:

> Increased productivity

Based on a recent study, 77% of those who work remotely at least some time show increased productivity, with 30% doing more work in less time and 24% doing more work in the same period. This demonstrates that an effective remote work policy can lead to increased work output and effective time management.

> Work satisfaction

Remote work is a highly sought-after employee benefit associated with higher employee engagement. In today’s competitive landscape, a remote work policy is crucial at all levels to foster employee satisfaction and organizational goals, while restricting remote or flexible work can limit employees’ career advancement, affecting talent retention and diversity in leadership roles.

> Continuity of operations

If you hack remote work in your company, you can ensure the ability to overcome unexpected shutdowns and crises, just like the pandemic. Adequate preparation for the unexpected enables companies to effective remote communication, the use of technology systems, leadership in remote meetings, and distance delegation.

> Expanded talent pool

Allowing remote work increases an organization’s ability to attract the most qualified candidates. Expanding the job pool improves the overall quality of the workforce, especially as a significant portion of the workforce approaches retirement.

How to make WFH effective in your company?

All the benefits and a strong general preference towards flexible work and still – we have 44% of businesses who want to hear none of WFH. Companies that are reluctant to provide their employees with an opportunity to work from home usually don’t do it out of spite – it is as simple as the number of challenges outweighing the perks. Such businesses often name issues such as accountability, data security, technical challenges, a hit to company culture, employee engagement, uneven work distribution, and leadership adaptation as the most challenging when it comes to shifting to more flexible work environment arrangements. While we have plenty of examples of companies overcoming these hardships, it can be a lengthy process. Here are some things to think about:

> Establish clear expectations regarding work hours, communication, and deliverables.

Ensure that employees understand what is expected of them while working remotely by setting KPIs. Do not forget to include security protocols, data protection, and reporting requirements in your policy.

> Provide necessary equipment and resources to ensure regular communication.

Ensure that remote workers have the necessary equipment, such as laptops, software, and access to company systems, to check in with their supervisors and perform their tasks effectively.

> Use technology.

As discussed, the pandemic period has accelerated the growth of connectivity and resulted in loads of amazing tools to stay in touch and manage projects remotely.

> Encourage work-life balance.

Allowing WFH and micromanaging at the same time is a no-go. Employees should be trusted with their time planning & tasks as well as be encouraged to use their breaks, establish boundaries, and use PTO.

> Regular check-ins.

Trust & autonomy doesn’t mean forcing your employees to run without any support. One-on-one check-ins with remote workers to discuss their progress and address challenges are critical, and regular recognition of their contributions can boost their motivation.

> Social interaction.

The vast majority of employees wish to work remotely does not mean they don’t like their co-workers. Virtual team-building activities and social events are important to maintain a sense of unity.

If your company is joining the WFH trend just now, educate your employees on the best ways to manage their time and work from home effectively. Some simple tips for creating a designated workspace, establishing a routine, minimizing distractions, setting realistic goals, taking breaks, and utilizing available digital tools for organization and connectivity can do wonders.

The future

57% of workers would look for a new job if their current company didn’t allow remote work. That is not surprising, as millennials will comprise around 75% of the global workforce by 2025, and they are not afraid to job hop looking for the best opportunities and work-life balance. That alone definitely demonstrates that businesses are undergoing significant changes, and CEOs must embrace these changes to shape the future of their organizations. Companies that expect the need for employees to have flexibility when it comes to work location to be just something that will pass, should re-evaluate if the challenges of allowing such an option still outweigh the benefits.

For now, it is clear that the majority of workers expect to have a choice in the way they work. The amount of research on this trend has accelerated in recent years. The combination of these two factors will likely encourage the not-yet-too-sure companies to give in once they can make data-driven decisions.