Everyone can agree that the COVID-19 pandemic reshaped many aspects of life.
Career-wise, the pressure for workers to remain productive without leaving their homes popularized emerging technology that was already gaining traction in the years prior. Google, Zoom, and plenty of other companies saw a drastic increase in their web communication services throughout 2020 as employers made the transition to a “temporary” remote workforce.
But the necessary jump to remote work during the pandemic revealed much about how Americans (and indeed, many international workers) approached labor. It became apparent that commuting to a desk job wasn’t always the most efficient way to manage work, and in some cases was deemed “traditional” or “antiquated.” The temporary precautions of remote work steadily became the new normal for numerous companies as a result.
Nevertheless, some still argue that gathering employees together under the same roof provides its own benefits that the remote alternative simply can’t match. So what truly are the pros and cons of both remote work and in-office work? And which should your company push for?
Remote Work: The Pros
Let’s begin by analyzing the advantages of hosting a work force solely through digital interactions.
It is evident that many employees favor working remotely over commuting to an office every day. Some of the reasons are straightforward: individual travel expenses are reduced, scheduling is a bit more forgiving, better health choices are achieved, and additional free time is often available.
Employees who work remote feel more independent and capable. Business leaders place more trust in their workers to get the job done with less supervision. Instead of being consumed by household chores and activities, the vast majority of employees find they are better able to focus on the task at hand when office distractions are taken out of the picture entirely. 77% of employees report higher productivity from home.
Remote work also allows employees to have better control over their own schedule, allowing them to make better life decisions that affect their overall career performance. Without the need to prepare for work and commute for a 9 to 5, remote workers are often able to work whenever they feel the most productive with free time to spare. With this extra time, employees can receive more sleep, eat better meals, and partake in health-promoting activities such as exercising or leisure reading.
This freedom has become highly desirable even after the pandemic regulations began to recede. One survey from 2021 indicates that roughly 70% of service-related employees (customer service, support leaders, etc.) wish to continue operating from home, with many claiming it fits better with both their lifestyle and their productivity.
Businesses are now listening to their employees and catching on with the trend: 16% of U.S. companies are now fully remote. Against the expectations of many, remote worker productivity has remained largely consistent after making the transition. In some cases, work performance has even increased.
Remote Work: The Cons
Remote work isn’t for everyone. There are several disadvantages that are undeniable.
Perhaps the largest hurdle for remote workers is the communication gap. Collaboration, while still certainly possible, is made slightly more tedious by managing instant messaging accounts, keeping a close eye on emails, and scheduling calls via phone or video. Whereas in-office workers can simply approach one another in-person, remote workers have to take several extra steps to share ideas and requests.
Not all workers are suited for remote work, either. Working independently places the challenges of organization, time management, and technological finesse on the individual. The extra freedom comes at the cost of extra responsibilities, and some employees prefer to keep things simple by working in-office instead.
Lastly, remote work also tends to make motivation more difficult to maintain. With far fewer social interactions, a lack of traveling outside the home, and the pressures of self-management, it is easy to develop an attitude of procrastination. The intangibility of remote work can often make job effort appear meaningless. Prioritizing employee social channels is key to keeping morale high when workers must stay separated.
In-Office Work: The Pros
Although the business trends of today might give the impression that remote work is the absolute best solution for every company, the tradition of working within an office space still has its share of merits.
Communication is a cinch when all employees work in close proximity. Positive work relationships are easier to come by through face-to-face interactions, and the physical presence of others stands to offer company-wide motivation and cooperation to a high degree. In the wake of anxiety-ridden lockdowns, the ability to reestablish social ties to other workers is a relief.
Additionally, consider that face-to-face requests are around 34 times more effective than reading emails and texts. The appeal of physically speaking with co-workers can’t be underestimated.
For workers who are wary of the responsibilities an independent work life demands, having their workspace and schedule managed for them is also a clear benefit for those staying in the office. In fact, 50% of workers claim they actually focus better at the office compared to at home!
The benefits of in-office work extend to an individual’s mental health, as well. In a psychological sense, a designated place of work can help employees relax better when returning home. Whereas remote work blends work and home life a little too well at times—keeping employees on their toes throughout the day—leaving a physical workspace helps them “check out” of the job mindset and fully embrace their time off. Better work-life balance comes about as a result.
A physical place of work also makes it easier for companies to reinforce a strong culture through activities, events, and incentives. While this can be managed remotely to a degree, most employees would be hard-pressed to pass up seeing seasonal office decorations or participating in a company picnic. These are aspects that are nigh impossible to achieve when every team member stays at home.
In-Office Work: The Cons
The cons of in-office working are generally as straightforward as the pros for remote work: commute costs leave employees frustrated, workers possess a smaller sense of freedom, and the clear distinction between work and personal life isn’t always compatible with an employee’s schedule.
For some, these drawbacks are unbearable, but for others they can be quite tolerable (and even worthwhile).
The Verdict: Should Your Company Go Remote, Or Stay Office-based?
Our conclusion is simple: it depends!
While many employees prefer their new remote lives, the loneliness of the pandemic has left a sour taste in the mouths of others who still prefer face-to-face work environments. Ultimately, the decision to migrate your workforce to stay at home or keep them close together comes down to circumstances.
What are the requirements of your company’s line of work, and how do your employees feel about their current environment? Would a remote option enhance worker productivity, or just add more obstacles?
If the choice isn’t very clear, one option is to consider integrating both remote and office-bound positions into your company. Another idea is to provide all team members with days for remote work and days for office work. This way you can incorporate the best of both worlds.
In the end, listen to your employees and consider how either a remote or in-office work environment would affect the work that needs to be done. One is not necessarily better than the other in most cases.