Guest blog by Eleanor Wyatt, Remote Work Wellness

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work was a relatively uncommon job perk. By mid-2020, it became a necessity with nearly half of all employees working remotely during the pandemic.

With the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic well underway, the companies that found themselves unexpectedly thrust into remote work are finally hitting their stride. What lessons have we learned at Performance Works International and what struggles remain? These are the unexpected upsides and ongoing challenges of the remote shift.

The Good: Remote workers are just as productive

Managers feared that remote work would enable slacking off, but data proves the opposite is true: Due to shorter commutes, a reduction in office space, and talent pool expansion, remote work is predicted to increase productivity by 5% across the economy. Managers are noting productivity upticks among their own teams with shorter project turnarounds and reduced absenteeism.

The Bad: Remote teams are harder to manage

Management is a stressful job under normal circumstances — just take a look at the statistics here — and remote work amplifies those challenges. Work-life balance is harder to maintain when subordinates work varying schedules and miscommunication and silos run rampant without appropriate communication infrastructure. Going forward, remote team managers must strike a balance between being responsive to remote employees’ needs and avoiding micromanaging.

The Good: Flexible work lowers employee turnover

Employees are also happier working from home. Three out of four remote workers say they’re less stressed, more focused, and less likely to get caught up in office drama while working from home. That spike in job satisfaction contributes to a 25% lower turnover rate in companies that offer remote work.

The Bad: Remote work can be isolating

The flip side of fewer water cooler conversations is that remote employees are prone to loneliness and isolation. It’s up to managers to keep remote workers engaged by creating opportunities for connection and ensuring remote workers have access to the information they need to perform. Many companies are discovering the best way to achieve this is with a hybrid working model that gives employees the best of both worlds — face-to-face connection and remote flexibility.

The Good: Remote work accelerated digital adoption

The rapid shift to remote work triggered a scramble to equip employees with the necessary tools to work from home. Suddenly, companies were migrating to the cloud and digitizing internal operations to reach employees at home. Beyond enabling remote work, the digital workspace is making organizations more integrated, organized, and resilient than ever before.

The Bad: Remote work increases cybersecurity risk

The race to digitize also left companies with big holes in their cybersecurity infrastructure. Each remote worker represents an endpoint and, in turn, a security risk. The result of these vulnerabilities was a dramatic spike in cyber attacks, particularly ransomware and social engineering attacks. To manage risk in an increasingly dangerous virtual world, organizations must adopt a proactive approach to IT support. This includes ramping up training, requiring employees to connect over VPNs, and ditching bring-your-own-device policies in favor of secured devices.

Remote work has a lot to offer organizations, but the rapid transformation to working from home hasn’t been without its challenges. As companies look forward to another year, it’s time to move out of crisis mode and start planning for the future of flexible work. Whether your organization goes remote-first, adopts a hybrid work model, or returns to an office-first culture, the demand for flexibility isn’t going anywhere. The companies that fare best in the digital era will be those that adapt.