Remote work saw a dramatic surge during the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 50% of full workdays in the U.S. being remote in the spring of 2020, up from a mere 6%. Since then, it has gradually declined, stabilizing at around 28% since early 2023. Many top executives, including Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan, Mark Zuckerberg, and Google’s chief people officer, have advocated for a return to the office. However, even senior management acknowledges that this push may not succeed.
The Survey of Business Uncertainty, jointly conducted by the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank, the University of Chicago, and Stanford, provides valuable insights. In July 2023, it asked senior executives at approximately 500 U.S. businesses about their expectations for the work landscape in 2028. The results indicate that executives anticipate continued growth in both fully remote and hybrid work arrangements.
Factors Driving the Growth of Remote Work
Several key factors support the expectation of continued remote and hybrid work expansion:
- Technological Advancements: Remote-working technology has significantly improved over the years. The decreasing inconvenience associated with working remotely has driven more people to choose this option. Investments in remote interaction technologies during the pandemic are likely to further enhance remote work capabilities.
- Startups and Younger Firms: Startups established since the pandemic are more inclined to adopt remote work as they grow. Consequently, the prevalence of job opportunities offering remote work is set to increase.
- U.S. Positioning: The United States is well-suited for remote work. It already boasts one of the highest rates of remote work globally, thanks to its emphasis on decentralization and personal autonomy. Superior management practices and larger residences conducive to dedicated home workspaces contribute to this advantage.
- Employee Preferences: Employees increasingly favor remote work, viewing it as a substantial amenity comparable to an 8% pay raise. This preference reduces turnover rates, potentially by as much as 35%.
Concerns about reduced productivity in remote work are addressed as follows:
- Fully remote work, on average, may be up to 10% less productive than onsite work. However, it is significantly cost-effective due to reduced space requirements and the ability to hire from anywhere.
- Hybrid work arrangements have varying impacts on productivity, depending on job roles, individuals, and management practices. On average, hybrid work appears to have a neutral net effect or potentially even increases productivity. Additionally, it reduces commuting-related time and expenses.
The Case for Managed Hybrid Work
Companies should seriously consider the benefits of remote work, particularly on a part-time basis. Managed hybrid models, where teams gather in the office on specific days each week, could offer the best of both worlds. This approach can yield profitability, employee satisfaction, and environmental benefits through reduced energy consumption.
While the future of remote work remains uncertain, a substantial return to the traditional office is unlikely. As remote technologies continue to advance, employees will gravitate toward companies with flexible work policies. Moreover, executives themselves predict that remote work will persist and potentially grow, signaling that the return-to-office push may face significant challenges.