- Which companies have implemented work from home (WFH) policies?
- How has this shift boosted demand for virtual offices?
- What does this mean for the future of work?
Q: Are the amount of people working from home increasing the demand for virtual office services?
A: Yes, with almost half of employees working from home during the pandemic, the demand for virtual office services is increasing.
Prior to Covid-19, only a very small percentage of America’s workers had the freedom to work from home.
One study puts the pre-pandemic figure at 3.6%.
However, once sweeping shutdown orders came into effect in 2020, the number of people working from home accelerated sharply.
More than 40% of the U.S. population switched to remote work in 2020.
Going forward, there is still plenty of speculation over which firms will allow staff to continue working remotely, and for how long.
But the general consensus is that remote work, in its many forms, is here to stay.
That’s music to the ears of those who are happy working remotely.
However, working from home certainly isn’t a song and dance for everyone.
(And no, we’re not referring to the Work From Home song)
That’s because over the past year or more, many issues have emerged with this new remote work system.
After all, the home isn’t meant for full-time work. It’s meant for relaxation and family time.
Some of the biggest problems employees have experienced include:
Employers have also identified problems.
Some business leaders are concerned that their company culture is eroding, due to a sudden drop in social connections and in-person collaboration.
(Although some would argue that if remote work is killing a company’s culture, then that culture wasn’t strong enough in the first place)
For people who thrive in sociable offices, working from home has led to a dip in creativity and motivation.
Accountability and trust have suffered too.
So what’s the solution?
As with every challenge, there is no perfect one-size-fits-all solution.
We are only human, and while some individuals thrive at home or in quiet places, others work best in busy, sociable environments.
Having experimented with different work strategies, many companies have now discovered that most of these problems can be addressed with a hybrid work approach.
Hybrid work involves mixing up the working week, so employees spend some days at home and the remaining days together in a central office.
Some studies have shown that 2 days of remote work per week is the best option for most workers, as it strikes a balance between convenience and social connections.
However, the specifics will ultimately depend on the company, its culture, and its people.
Hybrid work also facilitates better social distancing, as not everybody needs to be in the office at the same time.
Going forward, many companies are considering making hybrid work a permanent feature of their work policy.
Interestingly, this has led to a massive increase in demand for virtual offices (more on that later).
First, let’s take a closer look at some of the companies that are implementing remote work, and how they’re doing it.
Which Companies have Created Work from Home Policies?
However, while many big brands (and small businesses alike) are making remote work a permanent part of their workforce strategies, others are backtracking.
Goldman Sachs is one of them.
CEO David Solomon is a vocal critic of remote work, referring to it as “an aberration that we are going to correct as soon as possible”.
Tech giant Apple is also seeking to bring people back into the office.
In mid 2021, with restrictions easing, Apple CEO Tim Cook informed staff that they would need to return to the office three days per week.
A number of staff pushed back against this approach, claiming that they feel “unheard”. A number of employees even quit their jobs.
This shows a clear divide between how Apple executives and employees view remote work.
This clash of opinion is certainly not exclusive to Apple.
Despite the pandemic lasting more than a year, many companies are still trying to figure out how to create effective post-pandemic workspaces.
It seems that having sampled a more flexible way of working, and having discovered that they can work from home online productively, a significant amount of people are eager to hang onto it.
One study conducted in December 2020 found that 54% of people want to continue working from home after the pandemic ends.
A Harris Poll survey of 2,063 adults (May 2021) found that 40% percent of Americans prefer to work from home full-time, compared with 35% who seek a home-office hybrid.
That’s a boon for companies offering work from home jobs.
In fact, according to Google Trends, searches for terms like ‘work from home jobs near me’ rose sharply toward the end of 2020 — which reflects more companies shifting to a remote model and offering permanent work from home opportunities.
As a side note, it’s interesting to see some other search terms being used such as ‘legit work from home jobs’.
Carry out a quick search for home-based jobs online and you’ll soon find a lot of companies offering so-called remote jobs, which are in fact only remote for the duration of the pandemic — after that, employees are expected to work in-office.
These search terms reflect an element of frustration, as some people clearly want work from home jobs that are not only legitimate, but permanent.
However, the same Harris Poll survey found that 25% want to go back to the office full-time.
Figuring out a way to appease such a polarized workforce is a significant challenge.
A growing number of U.S. workers who disagree with their employer’s new work policies are voting with their feet, and quitting.
But that’s not all.
The problem is that too few companies, employees say, have provided detailed guidelines, policies, expectations, and approaches about future work arrangements.
One survey of full-time employees found that two-thirds say their employers have not communicated a post-pandemic office strategy, or have only vaguely done so.
This lack of clarity is leaving employees anxious.
Experiencing a global health crisis is troubling enough. The last thing companies should be doing is adding yet more anxiety and uncertainty into an already tense situation.
So what should be done?
First and foremost, talk to your people.
Find out what they want, what they’re happy with, and what they feel needs to change.
Hybrid work will likely appeal to the majority of your workforce.
But employers must first create a clear strategy detailing what type of hybrid work pattern they are confident working with, and how they expect to implement it going forward.
Even the term ‘hybrid work’ is full of ambiguity.
Ultimately, the exact arrangement will be unique to the company and the workforce it serves.
Case Study: Quora’s Remote First Strategy
Online knowledge-sharing platform, Quora, announced in June 2020 that it would switch to “remote-first”.
CEO Adam D’Angelo explained that “remote work will be the primary orientation of our company – the default for all choices.”
Specifically, for Quora this means:
- All existing employees can relocate to anywhere Quora can legally employ them (apart from people whose jobs depend on their physical presence).
- The company is keeping its current office in Mountain View and converting it into a coworking space “for employees who value it and want to regularly work out of it.”
- The CEO and leadership teams will not work from the main office, and won’t be expected to visit more than once per month.
Why remote-first, and not “all remote”? The company said it made the decision to keep its current office so that it can accommodate employees who enjoy working there, due to social interaction or because their home is too distracting to work from.
Many companies are experimenting with flexible work arrangements and switching to a more hybrid strategy.
Even organizations in traditional industries are making the switch, including hybrid law firms.
By April 2020, about 40% of law firms had adopted a hybrid work model, and virtual court proceedings became a regular occurrence.
However in many situations, remote work policies have been inconsistent and problematic.
That’s why consistent outreach is so important.
It’s essential to provide regular, clear communication to keep staff in the loop.
It will also help to solve the ‘last mile’ issue — the gap between executive decisions being made, and workers gaining full understanding of what to expect and what they need to do.
How Work from Home Policies Led to Increased Demand for Virtual Offices
The world adapted pretty quickly to remote work in 2020. Now, hybrid work systems are becoming the method of choice for many companies.
It’s the ‘happy medium’ of the workplace world.
What’s more, a hybrid model makes virtual offices an attractive choice for companies of all sizes.
Virtual offices are designed to work hand-in-hand with remote companies and those operating with a distributed or home-based workforce.
And as you might expect, demand for virtual office services — including business addresses, flexible workspace access, and remote receptionist services — have risen sharply alongside the shift to remote work.
Q. What is a virtual office?
A. A virtual office is a combination of remote office services. It provides small businesses and entrepreneurs with a recognized business address, a place to receive mail, and access to meeting rooms, without paying for full-time office rental.
Other services include remote receptionist support, virtual phone systems, and flexible hourly access to meeting rooms and office space.
Read more here: What is a Virtual Office and How Does it Work?
What’s driving this demand for virtual office services?
Many companies are downsizing their office space. Some are converting their HQ into a touchdown coworking space, while others are cancelling office contracts completely.
Therefore it doesn’t make sense to pay for an expensive office space when it’s going to sit empty for most of the time.
Think about it:
Most offices already sit empty at nights, on weekends, and during holidays.
If employees work from home for 2 days out of 5, that’s a further 40% reduction in office usage.
Yet the rental cost will remain the same, regardless of how many people are physically using the space.
That’s a colossal waste of financial resources.
That’s one reason why virtual offices are soaring in popularity.
Another is the huge rise in new businesses that formed in 2020.
The number of business startups in America grew from 3.5 million in 2019 to 4.4 million in 2020, a 24 percent increase.
Those startups don’t necessarily need a physical office.
Like the rest of us, they can work from home.
But the business still needs a commercial address for official purposes such as business licensing and permits, bank accounts, and entity registration. In terms of customer perception, it looks a lot more established than a home address, too.
That’s where a virtual office comes in.
It provides a recognized address location without the physical office space attached to it.
Whenever physical office space or meeting space is needed, companies can rent onsite facilities by the hour.
That way, a virtual office for work from home teams allows companies to access professional workspace on an as-needed basis, without having to pay high rental or lease costs.
After all, from time to time we still need to meet in-person. Even the most established all-remote companies recognize that digital platforms can’t completely replace in-person collaboration.
Some firms prefer to utilize satellite offices — such as coworking spaces — to provide flexible access to an office environment and maintain corporate culture.
The key takeaway is, there are a number of options which means businesses can maintain a corporate environment or hub, in a more flexible and cost-efficient way.
Because we don’t need physical office space full-time, round the clock.
We never have.
It took a global health crisis to push business leaders into a flexible work mindset.
Many of them have valued the experience and are now actively working to retain some level of flexibility going forward.
What this Means for the Future of Work
The office isn’t dead.
It never will be.
That’s because we can’t all work from home, all of the time.
For every person that enjoys the convenience and no-commute policy of WFH, another is suffering in silence and isolation.
For others, silence at home is impossible to find.
Those with children at home, or who are living in shared or multigenerational households, struggle to find a quiet space to work and focus.
And we’ve all read stories of people working from bed, or even from the bathroom.
According to a November 2020 study, 72% of 1,000 Americans surveyed said they had worked from their bed during the pandemic.
After more than a year of working in unsuitable conditions, the impact on workers’ psychological and physical health is worrying.
And that’s why many workers want to use an office.
Or to be more precise, they need an office.
The difference is, they want change. They don’t want to go back to old norms and rigid 9-5 schedules.
They don’t want expensive, time-draining commutes.
They want flexibility — and hybrid work is a viable solution.
This realization is driving huge change not just in the world of work, but also in our lifestyle choices.
When there’s no central office, there’s little or no commute, which means people are no longer tied to a specific city.
With a virtual office, companies can create a corporate presence in any city — even if their staff isn’t based there — with the option to meet or utilize onsite workspace anytime they need it.
For example, Alliance Virtual Offices has a global network of virtual offices, with hundreds of centers located throughout the United States.
It enables companies to build a presence in a specific location without the exorbitant cost of traditional real estate, and without the parallel cost of living within a reasonable commuting distance.
Another benefit of a flexible, work-anywhere approach is that companies can hire from anywhere.
After all, companies based in expensive areas like Silicon Valley are missing out on a huge talent pool simply because a lot of skilled, qualified people — particularly younger people — can’t afford to live there.
What’s more, studies show that employees who work from home at least a few times per month are happier, more motivated, and more productive.
But for some companies, this is old news.
Plenty of global organizations have been running successful remote work strategies long before Covid-19 reared its ugly head.
Take Buffer for example.
The social media management platform ditched its company office back in 2015, and has been growing with a remote team ever since.
It uses a carefully curated selection of digital tools to maintain communication, collaboration, and project work — and for the social side, it organizes regular team ‘retreats’ to enable people to get together in-person.
Another company that has been continually growing with a remote team is yours truly: Alliance.
Alliance is a global company that has always operated with a decentralized workforce.
Just like the businesses it serves, Alliance has remote workers all over the U.S. and worldwide, and thrives on a strong remote team culture made possible through technology and digital collaboration tools.
Alliance, among many others, is living proof that flexible and remote work, works.
When it comes to working from home, there are always winners and losers.
It works for some, and not for others.
But the same can be said for full-time office work, too.
It’s about finding balance.
Flexibility helps people feel trusted and empowered, which in turn leads to better motivation, productivity, and loyalty.
As companies navigate the future, many are finding that a flexible hybrid work strategy appeals to their workforce.
A well-planned and clearly communicated hybrid work policy enables people to work more productively, and gain the best of both worlds: an office for creativity and collaboration, and a remote location for convenience and better work/life balance.
Thinking of going remote? Are you switching to a remote-first or partial hybrid strategy?