Will Coronavirus Have a Lasting Impact on Remote Work?
Remote work

Will Coronavirus Have a Lasting Impact on Remote Work?

Krish Ramineni

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We're already seeing dozens of companies encourage employees to work remotely in response to Coronavirus. Amazon, Google, Salesforce, Twitter, and Facebook to name a few have taken precautionary measures.

With cases being reported here in San-Francisco as of a few days ago, this is no doubt the right move to ensure employee safety above all else. These current events also got me thinking about the lasting impact of a Black Swan event like Coronavirus will have on the future of work.

Google, Coinbase, Twitter, & other tech companies are telling employees to work remotely

At Fireflies, we've been mapping trends in our own data and seeing a rise in remote meetings over the last 10 weeks. From customer surveys and feedback, more folks have responded that they were looking for tools that would help them work remotely and collaborate better with their teammates.

This coincides with efforts taken by companies we work with and support today like Microsoft, Zoom, and Google Meet.

Microsoft announced that their Teams collaboration platform would be free for six months so that the company's employees, customers, partners and communities can continue working remotely.
Google announced that the Hangouts Meet collaboration platform will be free until July 1 this year for all G-suite customers so that they can take advantage of remote work.

The silver lining from these events is that companies are recognizing that distributed work does not have to hinder employee productivity. I believe it increases employee productivity and gives them more flexibility to do their best work.

People are opting for remote jobs

Distributed teams have already been on the rise this past decade. The number of folks searching for remote careers has been growing exponentially on platforms like weworkremotely. We are seeing more than 150% growth in the last 12 years in remote work jobs. Frankly speaking, technology has had a huge role to play in this tectonic shift as well as corporate culture.

From the advent of smartphones, people have preferred texting and communicating asynchronously. Tools like Slack have reduced email burden and made communication faster. Better video quality and reliable web-conferencing makes it easy for anyone across the globe with internet access to hop on a meeting. For a knowledge worker, this is almost everything they need to get work done.

In the information age, technology bridges the distance gap to the point where it's no longer even a factor. Granted, not all work is done over computers. You can't forget about the people working hard to get your next day Amazon delivery or the folks that have to show up to hospitals to treat patients. I agree that sometimes we get into a bubble and see everything through the lens of technology workers, which is not always reflective of the rest of the world.

However, I do believe that the remote work will have a large part to play in the future of work in many industries beyond just tech. There are also economic and social factors at play driving this shift.

Avoiding a long work commute

People in the Bay Area don't want to spend several hours a day stuck in traffic commuting back and forth from their offices. Bay Area drivers in 2016 spent an average of 59.5 minutes each day in cars and on transit, which together adds up to nearly 465 days of our lives spent commuting. The Bay Area and surrounding regions lead the nation with more than 120,000 people commuting at least three hours each day.

Can you imagine spending 60 hours a month in your car rushing to work in the morning trying to beat traffic and coming home late?

Overcoming housing costs

The rising cost of homes and rent makes it untenable for many folks to  afford proper housing. If a Twitter engineer making $160k in SF  says he's barely scraping by raising 2 kids and paying $3k in rent each month, just imagine how difficult it is for people outside of the tech industry.

The situation has gotten so bad that a startup like Zapier was willing to pay employees $10k to relocate outside of SF because they recognized how expensive it was. People want flexibility. The opportunity to work from any location gives them the ability to control their living expenses, which forms a significant portion of a family's monthly budget.  

Remote Work will Become Mainstream

Coronavirus is lifting many preconceived notions about working from home. In the past, only certain types of clerical/freelance work was seen as feasible remotely. Remote work was synonymous with side gigs someone could do while taking care of their kids at home.

Now, this notion has changed dramatically. Entire companies are being run remotely with executives, managers, engineers, and every other department working from home or in a distributed location. A company like Gitlab has taken this to another level by building a billion-dollar company with 700+ employees where every single person is working remotely. I've very optimistic that there will be many more companies like Zapier and Gitlab that operate at a massive scale as fully distributed teams. Because of the advantages of remote work, it's also seen as a favorable perk during the hiring process.

Fireflies taking notes on remote interviews

Speaking of hiring, Amazon is changing many on-site interviews with interviews over video-conferencing due to growing concerns about the virus this month. At Fireflies, every employee is interviewed remotely. There are folks we've never even met in person who've been on the team for many years. Contrary to the old school of thought, you can still vet potential hires thoroughly and build a meaningful connection. In fact, the onus is far greater to evaluate a lot more closely before making a job offer.  

There were only a handful of companies 5 years ago that ventured into building fully remote organizations. I believe Coronavirus is showing how even large complex companies can facilitate distributed work in some capacity. For the mainstream media, it's no longer going to be seen as a taboo to say that you work from home.

Conferences and events will go remote as well

Remote work doesn't just stop with what's happening at the office. We're seeing conferences and events either being canceled or shifted to virtual events. Saastr announced that they've had to postpone their conference this year to later this fall. YCombinator is making its demo day fully online for the current cohort. Facebook, Intel, Twitter, dropped out of upcoming conferences like SXSW. Google cancelled its developer conference.

It's tough for organizers who spend millions of dollars planning the event, getting the platform, speakers, and sponsors to have to make these last-minute shifts. No one saw this coming 2 months ago.

Some companies and startups will be seriously impacted in the short term because of these events being cancelled. 12 high profile conferences have been cancelled to date this year. Experts are estimating $1 billion in economic losses.

Many enterprise companies get a large number of their leads and deal flow from setting up booths at events like these and talking to prospects. The larger the deal size the more important these conferences are. There are people out there that refuse to do a deal or buy a product unless they see the vendor in person, shake their hands, and make a gut decision.

If you're a millennial that prefers texting or Snapchat stories, that may sound crazy to you, but that is how companies operate and there is a good reason for that. Trust is important and people associate trust with meeting someone and gauging if they could work with them.

Remote conferences are a really interesting idea worth exploring. Some have already tried them to varying degrees of success like the Remote Work Summit. Just imagine how much time and money  conferences would save on staging, booths, food, swag, security, and personnel needed to run a conference. If there are creative ways for participants to interact only, explore digital booths, leave their contact information among other things, it could prove to be effective. Because everything is streamlined and recorded, it makes it easier for companies to follow up with prospects or check out presentations later.

Remote work allows us to adapt to global events

Overall, Coronavirus has left its mark on the tech industry along with every other aspect of our economy. Whether, this impact lasts 3 months, 6 months, or forever, the important thing now is to see how companies adapt and evolve. Around the world today, 44% of companies don't allow remote work at all. I'm confident those policies will be revised over time considering the magnitude of current events.

According to surveys, 69% of millennials would give up other work benefits for a more flexible working space. Who wouldn't want to spend more time with their family, cut out commuting, and work from places where they could actually afford housing? Companies that allow remote work have 25% lower employee turnover than those that don't. Human capital is so important in this day and age. No matter how much automation and AI is making its way into the workplace, knowledge workers communicating with each other is going to be needed.

The question people will really be asking is if online forms of communication and collaboration can be on par with in-person collaboration. I believe this is possible and in certain cases, online collaboration is more efficient than what people are doing in the office.

Are you or your company considering remote work? Let us know in the comments section below.

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