Does the remote work model work?

Let’s take a look back at the remote work paradigm, three years since its mass adoption in the 2020 pandemic.

Image credit: Shutterstock / fizkes

Even though we had access to the technological infrastructure for remote work (high-speed internet, cloud storage, and so on) for over a decade before the pandemic, for some reason it had never caught on.

The vast majority of the workforce in the developed world worked in-office before 2020.

But, with the widespread introduction of the remote work model out of necessity in 2020, many businesses discovered that distance work can be as efficient as in-person employment.

Part of the appeal of the distance work model for employers lies in its efficacy: in the traditional company paradigm, the number of hours spent in the office are the basic measure of productivity, whereas in remote work, “getting the job done!” is the only indicator of productivity.

There is no going back!

Now, over three years since the days of social distancing, many businesses continue to hire distance-working employees. Up to 25% of all full-time jobs announced in 2023 are estimated to be either remote or hybrid.

Distance-working may even eventually become the default form of employment in this decade, because in a way, it is a win-win deal. From the employer’s point of view, remote work is a good model, as it cuts down on the maintenance costs of running an office. From the employee’s point of view, remote work reclaims 45-90 minutes of one’s time every day, which would be wasted during commutes to and from the workplace.

“The data suggests that remote work is here to stay. The terms ‘remote work jobs’ and ‘work from home jobs’ hit their highest Google Trends search for all time in January 2023,” observed data journalist Dr Gleb Tsipursky, in a Forbes article published in the early 2023.

Digitalization is king!

With an increased reliance on the remote work paradigm, businesses need to invest in their digitalization journey. Remote work may eliminate the operational costs of running a brick-and-mortar office, but instead it calls for a transformation in the company’s digital infrastructure.

The good news, however, is that the price of such enabling technologies has been in decline since 2020. Cloud-based storage and cybersecurity solutions are the two most costly services required by businesses relying on the distance work paradigm. Other tools such as online collaboration platforms and video conferencing are practically cost-free, at least for smaller businesses.

As for cloud computing, many vendors have kept offering competitive prices, despite the high inflation rate that has persisted since 2020. Alibaba Cloud, a subsidiary of the famous Chinese e-commerce giant, for instance, began to “cut prices for its products and services by up to 50%,” starting in April, 2023, according to Reuters. The decision has forced some competitors to follow suit.

The psychological toll

Remote work is not free of challenges. The loss of organizational culture is a well documented downside of distance-working. Organizing regular meetings for members of different teams may partly remedy this problem.

More importantly, however, many distance workers complain about increased levels of depression and anxiety after the first few happy months, which may be attributed to the decreased level of human interaction that comes with distance-working.

What is more, the old routine of going to work and coming back home gave a certain rhythm to the daily life. Despite the bothersome necessity of commuting during the rush hours, this weeklong ritual created a cycle in our lives that tangibly separated our private life from work.

Now what?

The rule of thumb in free market economies can be summarized as “if it makes economic sense, it is here to stay.” And remote work does make economic sense, especially in light of the decreasing costs of digitalization.

However, businesses should take the necessary precautions to offset the challenges associated with remote work. Keeping alive the organizational culture and maintaining a “human touch” will be most crucial from a social and psychological point of view. And these may be achieved by implementing a hybrid work model that offers the best of both worlds.