The Future of Remote Work

Around the world and in every industry the future of work has changed dramatically. Some roles made an easy transition to remote work delivering significant benefits. Other roles were unable to work away from the workplace leading to furloughs and layoffs.

Most office worker roles actually made a successful transition to remote work. Forcing an urgent transition to what was previously only a workplace experiment. The success of remote work has seen global surveys of executives confirm that remote work or a hybrid version is definitely here to stay.

McKinsey Global Institute have conducted analysis and found that the potential for remote work is “highly concentrated among highly skilled, highly educated workers in a handful of occupations and geographies”.

However at least half the workforce has little or no opportunity to work remotely. People who need to work physically collaborating with others, those who use specialised machinery etc.

They go on to explain that greater “than 20 percent of the workforce could work remotely three to five days a week as effectively as they could if working from an office. If remote work took hold at that level, that would mean three to four times as many people working from home than before the pandemic and would have a profound impact on urban economies, transportation, and consumer spending, among other things.”

Whats next for Remote Work

“Hybrid models of remote work are likely to persist in the wake of the pandemic, mostly for a highly educated, well-paid minority of the workforce.”

Many of these roles that can not work remotely are low wage and more likely to face disruption from the mega trends of robotics, automation and digitisation. The transition to remote work therefore brings a greater risk of widening social inequalities.

Remote Work Suitability is Determined By Tasks and Activities Not by Occupations.

In a significant MGI study that considered more than 2000 activities applied in more than 800 occupations to analyse which had the greatest potential for remote work.

Remote Work

Manual & physical activities (or those that require fixed equipment), processing customer transactions in stores, using lab equipment and operating machinery. I don’t think any of us are quite ready for a fully remote robot surgery yet either…

Some activities which can be done remotely such as counselling, coaching and providing feedback are better done in person. Similarly building teams and collaboration is more effective face to face. As is negotiating, teaching, problem solving and creativity.

Remote Work Industry Sectors

Advanced Economies Have Greater Potential for Remote Work

The analysis goes on to show that some countries benefit much more than others. Business and Financial Services represent a large proportion of the UK economy. Because these industries have a higher potential to work remotely, the UK the workforce could theoretically work one third of the time remotely without productivity loss.

The results for advanced economies were between 46 and 26%. The results for emerging economies however were between 26 and 12%.

Remote Work
Image Credit: Avi Richards – Unsplash

Hybrid Remote Work Has Important Implications

With more people working from home there is potential for “profound impacts on urban economies”. Less people travelling on roads and using public transport into central business districts. A flow on impact to the demand for office space. Moody’s Analytics predicts that the office vacancy rate in the United States will climb to 19.4 percent, compared to 16.8 percent at the end of 2019, and rise to 20.2 percent by the end of 2022.

Productivity Planning Will Need to Change

With many organisations now passing nine months of remote work there already growing learnings to how to plan for and drive productivity across the remote workforce.

Remote Work - Productivity

Broadband connectivity is one potential impediment to remote working with a Stanford University study finding that only 65 percent of Americans surveyed said they had fast enough internet service to support viable video calling. In much of the developing world, connectivity is sparse or non-existent and will require significant investment in digital infrastructure.

Key Takeaways

  • The benefits of remote work are strongest for office workers in developed economies but there are industries, tasks and activities that do not lend themselves to remote work.
  • There is a risk that this transition could create further economic and social divide between workers who have the flexibility and opportunities associated with remote work and those that do not.
DIGEST of an article from McKinsey Global Institute
What’s next for remote work: An analysis of 2,000 tasks, 800 jobs, and nine countries
By Susan LundAnu MadgavkarJames Manyika, and Sven Smit
Published: 23rd November 2020

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