Who will win the remote work game of chicken?

Who will win the remote work game of chicken?

Excerpted from an HR Dive blog by Emilie Shumway

As the pandemic drags on, one thing has become clear: most employees really, really like working from home.

Dozens of surveys conducted by companies and analytics firms over the past year reveal just how strongly workers feel about the new lifestyle. Nearly half of workers will quit their jobs if they can’t have at least a hybrid option.

On the other hand, those in managerial roles have been slower to embrace the remote work revolution — to put it mildly. More than one-third of small business owners said they’d fire remote workers who don’t return post-pandemic. More than two-thirds consider remote workers more replaceable, according to a Society for Human Resources Management survey.

Demand remains high
While the tight labor market is projected to moderately slow soon, competitive hiring continues apace and remains one of the big job market stories of 2021. Employers currently require greater flexibility and greater speed of onboarding to avoid new hires getting scooped up by the competition.

With such intense competition and the lingering pandemic, companies that used to only consider local talent have broadened their reach.

Assuming companies aren’t asking workers to sign contracts that necessitate eventual relocation, the step seems to be a semi-permanent one, suggesting many companies are embracing the reality of ongoing remote work for at least part of their workforce.

While tech companies have been on the vanguard of the permanent remote work movement — Twitter and Spotify were early adopters during the pandemic, while companies like Basecamp had adjusted to remote work even before the pandemic — they aren’t the only or even the majority of companies hiring remotely.

Evan Hock, co-founder of product at MakeMyMove, a website that connects remote workers looking to relocate with towns that offer relocation incentive packages, similarly believes the remote-work shift is here to stay. Pre-pandemic, there were only a handful of relocation incentive programs available. When he started the site, Hock said, there were 23; now, there are nearly 50.

Remote workers bring tax dollars and spending to rural areas, often revitalizing communities that were previously economically depressed. When it comes to the trend of incentive packages, “It’s not a matter of whether the communities see value in these people,” Hock said. “It’s more just a matter of how they are going to fund the program,” he said.

Hock referenced a study from Upwork, which predicted that 36.2 million Americans will be remote in 2025, a doubling of the number that worked remotely before COVID-19.

Where employers benefit
While the remote work discussion tends to be framed in terms of benefits to employees, employers can also gain from the arrangement. Given the current COVID-19 pandemic, for example, employers who have a fully remote staff — or who, at least, are not requiring workers to come into the office and are implementing safety measures for those who do — are able to avoid the potential health- and safety-related litigation that could arise from workers getting sick.

In addition, companies that downsize their office space, move to a less expensive area or switch to co-working spaces could save big on their overhead costs over time.

So, while some managers bristle at the idea of a permanently remote workforce, remote work is likely to remain a big piece of the puzzle in the future — even if it isn’t the whole thing.

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