What will getting back to "normal" work look like in 2021?


With 41.8% of employees in America working from home in large part due to the pandemic, many companies are operating successfully with a distributed workforce. But what will the shift back to “normal” look like once vaccines are in arms? 

The answer is mostly sector-specific, but a new survey from UpWork in December of 2020 told us that a hybrid model with some days in the office and some days at home is most likely, with those at the top of the management pyramid being more likely to work from home. Key statistics from the report and a paper entitled “Why Working From Home Will Stick” by three high-profile economists suggest that now may be the time to work on improving that home office. You will be there for a while in the future. 

  • 44% of employees want to continue working from home some or part of the time
  • 37.5% of employees will be working remotely up to five years from now
  • 22% of all full American work days will be done remotely by the pandemic’s end

Employees want to work more hours at home than companies are willing to give them

Additionally, more employees would like to work remotely than employers are planning for. This could be due to a combination of factors - some may still be wary of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it may spread post-vaccine, and some may just simply prefer remote work. 

The gap between employer and staff expectations is larger the further one slides down the salary scale. Those making above $150K want to work 45.6% of their hours from home compared to the 40.4% employers want them to work. That gap gradually widens until you get to the bottom of the scale, where workers making $20-50K want to work 42.3% of their hours from home, while their employers only want to allow them 15.6% for remote work hours. 

A question of trust: Upper management more likely to be trusted to work from home

The gap can easily be explained by the fact that those making over $150K per year are quite likely in senior management positions, where they report to the top tier of the company hierarchy. The trust placed in these individuals to be “honest” about their use of time and productivity is already high. However, the less someone is paid, the more it appears that trusting them to work remotely becomes a serious management issue. 

Some solid numbers seem to back the company position. Higher earners consider remote work more of a perk than lower wage workers do, and higher-income workers also self-reported larger increased efficiency in working from home - 11.8% higher efficiency for those making $150k or over and 6.8% for those making $20-50K. But it can easily be argued that employers would want the 6.8% increase as well. 

Cost-savings and sustainability: Two strong drivers of remote work

With the COVID-19 pandemic causing a significant economic downturn, a divide has formed. There are industries taking off because of the pandemic such as healthcare and technology, and those that have taken a significant decrease in business such as travel-related industries and some foodservice. Both categories can do with cost savings as either a vital necessity or a buffer against any continued economic declines. The cost savings are obvious; furniture, utilities, and real estate/leasing costs can all be significantly reduced or eliminated. 

Another area that companies will see a benefit in is their sustainability numbers. With the rise of Environment, Social, and Governance (ES&G) investing as a significant movement within the past few years, shareholders are now demanding to see more than a greenwash in a company’s environmental efforts. Reducing employee commutes, slashing utility bills, and saving paper all factor heavily into a company’s sustainability credibility with these investors. 

Overall, the cost savings are the argument that will sway most stakeholders; Kate Lister of Global Workplace Analytics estimates that a typical employer will save $11,000 per year per employee that works remotely half the time. 

What if there was a way for lower-income workers to be held more accountable? 

When clients ask “How will I know if they’re working?” I ask “How do you know they are working now?”

-KATE LISTER, PRESIDENT OF GLOBAL WORKPLACE ANALYTICS

“How do you know they are working now?” is an excellent question. Boomer and Generation X management styles generally require bums to be in seats with management’s eyes on their computer screens. If they look busy, they are busy, right? But not really - according to Global Workplace Analytics, “That’s not managing, it’s babysitting.” 

In the cloud computing world that we live in now, physically looking over an employee’s shoulder is no longer a reliable predictor that someone is actually doing work and doing it well. Smarter tools exist for managers to gain insight into employee performance, and managers should be using them. It eliminates the “trust problem” that keeps management from giving in to worker’s reasonable - and cost-efficient - demands to work remotely. 

One such tool is Prodoscore. Prodoscore is a productivity management platform that integrates with several widely-used software solutions. Instead of invasively monitoring keystrokes or mouse twitches, Prodoscore measures usage of various software solutions, incorporating Natural Language Processing and AI. Using a proprietary algorithm, a productivity score is assigned to each employee based on their use of company tools. It’s not only a great way for managers to understand how their employees spend their days - no matter where they are working - but also a simple way to encourage use of company-preferred solutions in a remote work environment. 

With solutions in place that provide visibility into how employees are spending their days, you can trust that they are getting work done and realize the benefits of having a distributed workforce. The cost savings are far from theoretical - most businesses can reach back into their financials for 2020 and compare them with 2019 to see how much they saved on office and real estate costs year-over-year. 

With so many employees wanting to work from home, it's also a way for you to hang on to top talent and reduce turnover. With the HR benefits, cost benefits, and productivity benefits, there really is no excuse not to encourage more remote work when tools exist to help you with the “trust factor.”