Remote Work Is (Mostly) Here To Stay

Return to the office post-pandemic? Not so fast! GETTY.

Working from home is far from a new invention, but it took a global pandemic to switch from in-person office workplaces to remote work as the default for people who can reasonably work from a home office. Work will likely move partially back to the office as in-person work becomes possible again. But how much of our work should return to the office? With both upsides and downsides to remote work, research points to a hybrid model (with the majority of time spent remotely) as the most promising direction.

The Upsides of Remote Work

The flexibility of remote work is good for caregivers, both men and women taking care of children and elders. But it has benefits to non-caregiver workers as well, including increased productivity, enhanced job satisfaction, and lower exhaustion.

Researchers from Duke University’s Center for Advanced Hindsight found in a 2020 study of Brazilian government employees that 82% of them would like to spend at least one day of the week working remotely. And the benefits extend to financial savings as well. “According to the Secretary Lenhart, teleworking has the potential to contribute to the reduction of costs in the public sector — it has saved at least $21 million during these last four months due to the pandemic.”

The most popular reasons people prefer remote work are better work-life balance (91%), increased productivity and better focus (79%), less stress (78%) and avoiding a commute (78%). And while commuting is considered the most miserable part of the day for many, causing stress and health issues (not to mention its environmental impact), there is a silver lining that has disappeared along with the traditional commute. The commute helps to break up the day, creating a psychological barrier between home and work life. To get this benefit while working from home without all the negative consequences, some have taken it upon themselves to create an artificial commute, spending just 15 minutes each day to plan their workday and time at the end of the day to transition back to home life. Researcher Nina Bartmann recommends that the average 9-to-5 knowledge worker hide their laptop at the end of the day, change in and out of “work clothes,” and take a quick walk before and after work (which doubles as a source of exercise for an energy boost)!

The Downsides of Remote Work

For workers who can accomplish their work remotely, it’s not clear that they should spend all of their time in the comfort of the home. There are downsides to remote work, which can be offset by securing in-person time.

The main downsides of remote work revolve around the benefits we get from being around other people. As social animals, humans suffer from impaired work relationships when they lack face-to-face contact, and the isolation of remote work can lead to less knowledge-sharing and decreased team cohesion. Fully remote workers may be more focused in their independent work, but miss out on opportunities for meaningful collaboration.

Remote working can also lead to more sedentary behavior. When you don’t have to walk to an office each morning, or from meeting to meeting, you are more likely to stick to the same chair all day, getting up only briefly for lunch.

A Hybrid Model Solution

By adopting a hybrid model of remote work, we can reap the benefits of remote work while eschewing its downsides. The exact split between home and office will vary by industry and the nature of work (e.g., how much collaboration is necessary?), but the right mix is neither 100% at home nor 100% at the office. And the split likely leans toward remote; research from Gallup recommends spending 60–80% of time remote (or, 3–4 days at home in a 5-day work week). People who spend the majority (but not all) of their time working remotely have the highest level of engagement and satisfaction with their work.

To achieve the hybrid model, gleaning the upsides of focused productivity from remote work and the upsides of collaboration from in-person work, we can take advantage of the best of both worlds by designating certain types of tasks for home and others for the office. Dull, tedious tasks are better suited for the office where we are better at avoiding temptations, while creative tasks are better suited for home where flexibility allows us to think more freely.

Though collaboration is important in both environments, and companies with a “ connected culture “ are more likely to thrive, collaboration naturally looks differently at home and at the office. You can schedule more meetings on office days to combat loneliness and facilitate idea-sharing, and schedule more focus time on home days to optimize productivity and creativity.

The question isn’t whether or not remote work is here to stay, but rather how much of it will stick around. Let’s hope employers look to the evidence and keep ~60–80% of their work from home. While I am, like many, enjoying much of my time at home during the pandemic, even I have to admit that having to shower every few days for in-person time may just be worth it to see my coworkers again when we transition to a hybrid model of remote work.

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Originally published at https://www.forbes.com.

Aline Holzwarth is an applied behavioral scientist, primarily focusing on digital health research and scientifically informed product design. alineholzwarth.com

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