New Articles

Should Companies Rush Headlong into Permanent Remote Work?

remote work

Should Companies Rush Headlong into Permanent Remote Work?

New research from Stanford shows 42% of US workers are working from home full-time. After a successful transition for COVID-19, more and more tech companies are allowing their employees to work remotely for the foreseeable future. Twitter recently announced that most of their employees may continue working remotely as long as they want to. And 4,000 Nationwide Insurance employees recently became permanent telecommuters.

The benefits of an all-remote workforce are considerable and fairly easy to measure. But are we losing something equally important by ditching the office and in-person work?

The four benefits of all-remote work

When real estate startup Culdesac announced they were giving up their San Francisco headquarters, co-founder Ryan Johnson tweeted: “Remote work is going great for us.” Google, Facebook, and Zillow recently told their employees that they could continue to work from home until 2021. Google recently abandoned more than two million square feet of planned office space. “Our bias against working from home has been completely exploded,” Dan Spaulding, Zillow’s chief people officer, said. Zillow is “not seeing any discernible drop in productivity.”

Here are four reasons companies are ditching their offices for all-remote workforces.

1. Offices are expensive

According to commercial real estate firm Cushman and Wakefield, companies have been pushing more workers into less office space for years. Packing everyone in came at the cost of minimizing distractions, which is consistently the top driver of employees’ ability to focus on their work.

Not only that, but until there’s an effective treatment and/or vaccine, these uber-dense offices aren’t going to cut it. Spacious offices with thermometers, hand-sanitizer stations, phone sanitizer stations, new HVAC systems, touchless systems, and more they need to be safe are going to cost even more.

As we enter a COVID-led recession, Kate Lister, president of consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics, predicts that investors are going to insist that firms cut costs. Letting go of office space accomplishes this without cutting headcount.

2. Offices are distracting

Going all-remote not only saves companies money on office space, but also can lead to fewer distractions and more focus for workers.

A few stats:

–The average company sees a 10% to 43% increase in productivity after going all-remote.

–In a recent survey, 54% of workers said their productivity had improved since working from home full-time.

–64% of workers said their work quality has improved.

3. Commutes are terrible

Americans spend 30 billion hours commuting every year. Long commutes are one of the main reasons workers say they want to work from home. Research shows longer commutes are associated with obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, back and neck pain, divorce, depression, death, political disengagement, poverty, absenteeism, lower productivity, and even pregnancy complications. Long commutes also exacerbate pollution and climate change.

4. Talent is distributed

Firms that hire remotely can access far more talent and may be able to offer lower salaries. Currently, Facebook is paying employees based on their geography’s cost of living. It may also make it easier for teams to meet their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion goals. For example, it’s easier to employ people with disabilities when you don’t have to worry about office accessibility. Companies with greater gender diversity are 15% more likely to be high performers, according to one study. Companies with greater ethnic diversity are 35% more likely.

Drawbacks to all-remote

Remote work isn’t without its drawbacks, including loneliness and boredom. In addition, we found that many workers are having more meetings and working longer hours after going remote. There’s evidence that full-time remote workers have a harder time problem solving and being creative than their in-office peers. Many contend that it’s easy to overlook the value of the spontaneous ideas and networking that in-person coworking facilitates.

“Many companies are jumping into ‘remote-first’ too head-on,” said Can Duruk, Product Manager and co-writer of The Margins newsletter. “Once people burn through the accrued social capital you will see productivity drop as relationships decay, new hires not gelling well, etc.”

Futurists have long predicted that as telecommuting became technically feasible, firms and workers would abandon high-cost cities. Research shows that physical co-location is still valuable enough to justify the rents.

One interesting criticism of all-remote teams is that trust and social capital are hard to establish and maintain over distance. As trust and social capital are measurably associated with higher performance, will we see performance dip as they erode?

“We are operating under the assumption things won’t deteriorate and we are making these sweeping changes without much data,” Can said.

More broadly, some fear that widespread adoption of the all-remote model will finally lead to the long-predicted de-urbanization. A move away from large cities would have negative impacts on the environment. Urbanites use less electricity, drive less, and spend about $200-$400 less on electricity each year compared with suburban dwellers.

Plus, people who live in cities have more access to health care, employment, and education.

Alternative models to all-on-site and all-remote work

Workers tend to be happiest and most productive when they have the freedom to live where they want and choose how to organize their time.

This is in line with a Gallup poll showing that just 40% of Americans who are currently working from home are excited to go back to working in their office full-time. Nearly 60% would prefer to work remotely “as much as possible” going forward.

Within a couple of years, Kate Lister from Global Workforce Analytics predicts that 30% of workers will work from home a few days per week.

“I’m partial to what Stripe is doing,” Can from The Margins said. “Treat remote as a hub to position it to succeed, ensure people are available in the same time zone. Seems gradual enough to be low-risk, discrete enough to measure and tangible enough to support.”

The major downside to the split-office model happens when some workers are working from home full-time. Those workers are going to have a different experience than workers who come into the office, even occasionally. Remote workers may have trouble establishing relationships, getting put on the right projects, and getting promoted.

“It’s important that we are conscious of this situation if we want our high performers, wherever they may be, to be recognized for their excellent work,” writes CIO Contributor Dan Mangot. “Similarly, we need to make sure that those who are struggling, get the support they need so they can continue to be valuable members of our organizations.”

Going forward

While the benefits of going all-in on remote work are considerable, it’s also worth considering the drawbacks. For many workers and many companies, a staggered or split-office approach may work best.

To learn how to transition some workers back into office work, check out 6 tips for transitioning into a split office setup.

vulnerabilities

Top 4 Teleworking Vulnerabilities (and How to Mitigate Them)

Between social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders, it’s clear that we’ll all be spending a lot of time at home.

While many of us might normally work from home a day or two out of each week, few firms are used to having all their staff work from home for weeks at a time. 

This means that many companies have not implemented security measures that are most appropriate for a fully remote team.

To help you make the adjustment, here are some big-ticket vulnerabilities along with recommendations on how to best mitigate them.

1 – Using personal devices

The laptops and desktops your firm owns are secure. They have up-to-date patching and anti-malware. They have simple but important polices like an automatic screen lock. They’re backed up and might even have hard drive encryption and remote wipe capabilities.

Do the personal devices accessing your data even have anti-virus beyond Windows Defender? Are any running Windows 7, which has been out of support for months?

If a vulnerable machine is accessing your firm data, that data becomes vulnerable.

Best practice is to only allow your people to work from firm-owned equipment. If you try purchasing new equipment today, though, you will probably run into significant delays with manufacturing. Your second-best option is to roll out workstation management software to these personal devices. Your IT team can help with this.

2 – Heightened scam activity

Scammers are having a field day with this pandemic. We’re anxious, we’re distracted, we’re working with new and unfamiliar technologies, and we’re accessing confidential data outside of our secure office network.

In a span of just seven hours, cybersecurity company ESET detected 2,500 infections from malicious emails that played on COVID-19 themes. Phishing emails that appear to come from legitimate sources like the World Health Organization offer links or attachments with information about the spread, face masks, a vaccine—anything that will tempt recipients into clicking and infecting their machines with spyware, ransomware, or otherwise.

And the massive success of these scams means that hackers will double-down.

Fortunately, we can avoid these scams by practicing the same awareness tactics you’ve heard before:

-Don’t click links or download attachments you weren’t expecting.

-Watch for poor grammar and generic greetings (sir/ma’am)

-Don’t offer up personal information unless you can verify the request (by calling the sender, logging directly into your Facebook account, etc.)

Regarding coronavirus specifically, be sure to stick to official websites (WHO, CDC) for the latest news on the outbreak.

3 – Not using multi-factor authentication

Multi-factor authentication keeps you protected even if you make a mistake—which, as I mentioned above, is a lot more likely in today’s landscape.

Say you fall for a phishing scam and enter your Office 365 credentials onto a fake web page. But, your Office 365 account is set to send a verification code to your cell phone. Even with your email address and password in-hand, the hacker still can’t access your account unless they’ve also managed to steal your cell phone.

In January 1.2 million Microsoft accounts were compromised. Microsoft has said “multi-factor authentication would have prevented the vast majority of those one-million compromised accounts.”

Work with your IT team to (forcibly) enable multi-factor authentication on as many applications as you can. This is often not labor-intensive, and it can do wonders to keep your accounts locked down.

4 – Sharing devices with others

If you live with roommates or family members, you may find them asking to borrow your machine for anything from their distance learning assignments to streaming movies.

Whether this machine is personal device or owned by the firm, letting others onto the same equipment being used to store and access client data puts that data at risk. It only takes one wrong click to put your threat detection and response software—assuming any is installed—to the test.

And in some cases, someone just seeing an open document on your machine is a compliance violation.

Your firm policy may already have guidelines against sharing devices, but keep in mind that this is new territory for all of us, and that some may need help finding an alternative.

_________________________________________________________________

Heinan Landa, CEO and Founder of Optimal Networks, a globally-ranked IT services firm, and author of The Modern Law Firm: How to Thrive in an Era of Rapid Technological Change.

services

WITH ZOOM, WE ARE ALL TRADING IN SERVICES

New Modes of Living and Working

As we struggle to maintain continuity in our work and school lives during the pandemic, technology has come to our aid.

Those of us who work on teams spread throughout the country or the world have already unlocked the secrets of online collaboration platforms like Slack and Quip. (We use Quip at TradeVistas for project management.) Others are quickly moving to them or discovering functionality they previously overlooked in Microsoft Teams or similar business software.

“Zoom” has become a verb for online video conferencing the way Skype had been for years for international communication. The class I teach at Georgetown is completely online. (We were already extensively using the learning management system called Canvas). The university reported last week they reached a high of 1,459,100 minutes of instruction on Zoom in just one day.

Biggest Week Ever in Business App Downloads

Video conferencing apps Google Hangouts, Houseparty, Microsoft Teams and ZOOM Cloud Meetings saw major jumps in use in the United States and Europe. According to App Annie, during the week of March 15-21 alone, business apps surpassed 62 million downloads worldwide across iOS and Google Play, apparently the biggest week ever.

With the exception of middle and high schoolers hanging out on Houseparty, many of us working online are exchanging professional, technical, business and other commercial services. If your client or customer is overseas, you are likely delivering what’s called a cross-border service. No better time to appreciate this major component of global trade.

The WTO Modes of Services

In the World Trade Organization (WTO), negotiators divided up services trade into four “modes of delivery” related to where the supplier and consumer are located at the time of the transaction. In Mode 1, known as cross-border trade, the parties are in separate countries and the service is most likely provided digitally via email or through an online platform. One example is consulting services – perhaps a report delivered over email.

In Mode 2, known as consumption abroad, the consumer travels to another territory to receive the service. Examples include hospitality services associated with tourism, medical treatment, or a “semester abroad” at a foreign university. Mode 3 involves putting out a shingle to provide services in another country, known as commercial presence. Finally, in Mode 4, the service provider travels to the customer such as a software engineer working on a project overseas on a temporary visa.

Ascendant Modes of Trade in Services

Every day we engage in or benefit from some form of globally traded services, though we rarely think of it. Among the biggest traditional components of global trade in services are transport and travel – including the trains and ships that move cargo, and the planes that move people across international borders for work and tourism. We’ve written before about how important the tourism is to the global economy – global travel exports were worth $1.7 trillion in 2018.

But other less obvious components of globally traded services have grown larger in recent years. According to the WTO’s 2019 World Trade Statistical Review, the “use of intellectual property” as a service exceeded $3.1 trillion in 2018. The most dynamic services sector continues to be telecommunications, computer and information services (or ICTs), which grew more than 15 percent in 2018.

The Multiplier Effect of Digital Technologies

Telecommunications, computer and information services offer multiplier effects – they create efficiencies and infrastructure that enable new products and new services. Financial technologies bring about cashless payment systems, online platforms like Spotify enable music streaming, technologies embedded in your thermostat promote smart energy use through an app on your phone, sensors on machines inform computers when repairs may be needed. Micro-entrepreneurs sell their products globally through Etsy, eBay or Amazon Web Services.

Enterprise software, cloud computing, data processing and analytics services can help make any business more productive and profitable. They are the backbone of production, distribution and marketing of many physically traded goods while facilitating trade with customers anywhere in the world digitally.

Eighty percent of all U.S. jobs are in services-providing industries. The definition of a “tradable service” is constantly changing and expanding. In 2018, U.S. exports of ICT services alone were valued at $71.4 billion while service exports enabled by ICTs added another $451.9 billion. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that services potentially enabled by ICTs accounted for 55 percent of total U.S. services exports. Yet the United States is fourth in globally exported ICT services, narrowly behind China, India and far behind the European Union.

Growth in ICT enabled services

The Doctor Will “See” You Now

The scourge of the COVID-19 pandemic, with its prolonged and widespread “stay at home” restrictions, is forcing all of us to shift or accelerate our digital habits. We have no choice but to buy non-essentials online. Our kids are e-learning. Doctors are seeing patients online when not critical. Graduating students will have virtual commencements. And most of us are forced into video conferencing all…the…time.

And while many people will be binge watching or gaming (WarnerMedia, Disney Plus, Netflix and Hulu all reported 65 and 70 percent jumps in number of streaming hours), some of us are trying to continue working online, despite these bandwidth hogs. Some businesses have no choice but to cope by providing virtual services – tax advisors are using secure document portals and phone consultations while fitness instructors check your form by webcam. These are stopgap measures now that might augment their businesses when things go back to “normal”.

LinkedIn With One Another

Recently, I decided to join a LinkedIn Live presentation by one of my favorite business gurus. I was astounded at the scrolling list of locations from where viewers were joining: United Kingdom, South Africa, Romania, Tunisia, Qatar, Poland, Pakistan, Jamaica, India, Colombia, Sudan, Turkey, Lebanon, Yemen and Afghanistan. On and on it went – I stopped writing them down. Nearly the entire world is experiencing the effects of the pandemic in some way, but through modern telecommunications and information technologies, we stay connected.

Those of us who can provide our global services online are the lucky ones. Our appreciation goes out to those workers who are keeping factories running to make essentials, who drive trucks and who staff pharmacies and grocery stores to ease our ability to work and learn from home, out of harm’s way.

____________________________________________________________

Andrea Durkin is the Editor-in-Chief of TradeVistas and Founder of Sparkplug, LLC. Ms. Durkin previously served as a U.S. Government trade negotiator and has proudly taught international trade policy and negotiations for the last fifteen years as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service program.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.