Managers: Do You Know What’s Next for Smart Work?

Offices are reopening. But that doesn’t mean your staff wants to use them full-time.

Even considering how long analysts foresaw a massive shift to smart working, it’s safe to say few anticipated it would happen this quickly. To put numbers on it, Gallup reports the amount of US employees who work remotely doubled in under a month, shooting from 31% to 62%.

Yet the question remains whether that shift should be only temporary. Now that countless business owners are finally able to call employees back to the office, many are left wondering, “should smart working be the new normal?”

However, before we address what will and won’t be “the new normal,” it’s worth considering where we’re at right now.

The State of Smart Work

First, it’s crucial to recognize that change in the workplace has irrevocably caught up to us.

During quarantine, workers saw firsthand that not only can they do their jobs from home, they can do so on a long-term basis. And that’s resulted in millions of workers who want to continue working from home.

According to various recent polls:

  • 53% of US workers now want to work remotely as much as possible (Gallup)
  • 75% of US workers now want to work remotely at least some of the time (IBM)
  • 60% of US workers are confident they’ll remain productive if they work from home indefinitely (Glassdoor)

These numbers aren’t surprising if we consider the historical data. Even back in 2018, based on polling from FlexJobs, we knew that:

  • 76% of employees would be more loyal to their current company if they had smart working options
  • 65% of employees felt they would be more productive working from home
  • 52% of employees thought smart working would have a positive effect on their quality of life
  • 77% of employees believed that smart working would improve their health

It’s not hard to see where these beliefs came from: smart working means no commute, and it means working in a more familiar, more easily controlled environment. According to the American Psychological Association, it also means more productivity, higher job satisfaction and an improved work-life balance.

Just as relevant to employees is the fact that, when considering workplaces as a whole, smart working is becoming standardized. On top of the 23.7% of the US population who used smart working regularly before the pandemic (according to the 2018 US Bureau of Labor Statistics), 55% of managers say they will continue with smart working policies after quarantines are lifted, per a Gallup poll.

Then there are the most visible players in the business world; leading companies like Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Amazon and Facebook have extended smart working options almost to the end of 2020, setting a prominent example of how extensive smart work policies can be.

Looking to Tomorrow

What we have to conclude from all this is that the balance in workplace convention has shifted. Once upon a time, we said that employees want smart work options; we considered smart working as an option benefit, a preferred add-on that can make your company stand out.

But in the near future, it will be more accurate to say that employees expect smart work options. Not only have workers seen the system function and had a chance to enjoy its benefits, but they’re also seeing companies all around them continue to make use of it.

So having said all that, it seems right to return to that initial question: “Should smart working be the new normal?”

Answering that question depends on how you want to answer a different one: how competitive do you want your business to be in terms of talent retention and acquisition?

The way employee expectations are being set, it seems the most promising workers out there will not only be interested in smart work, they’ll have plenty of companies who offer this opportunity if yours doesn’t provide it.

In other words, if your “new normal” doesn’t include smart work, it’s unlikely to include a set of skilled employees, either. By now, preferences have changed, and already the market is beginning to adapt — for employers, that means either keep up, or get left behind.

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