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The Top 5 Remote Work Stories of 2021

The Top 5 Remote Work Stories of 2021

What a year for remote work it has been. About 32% of all employees worldwide were working remotely, and 1 in 4 Americans worked from home in 2021.

We saw companies like Apple and Google flip flop on their return to office dates, and their workers are still in limbo as we approach 2022.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers surprised everyone by coming out with a formal remote work policy, and JP Morgan forced their workforce to return to Wall Street.

Many companies experimented with hybrid work but with mixed results. 

We have been on the frontlines covering these breaking news stories from the world of remote work in our newsletter: The Remote Times.

We have compiled our best editorials for the year in one article to reminisce how far we have come in the future of work and prepare for the third act of global remote working.

5. WeWork Trying To Bounce Back in a Booming Co-working Market

we work and hybrid work

The company was flying high, once being valued by behemoths like Softbank and Goldman Sachs for $47 Billion.

Of course, the house of cards that built the U.S.'s most valuable startup had to come crashing down at some point. Scandal after scandal and a disastrous IPO revealed Neumann padded his pockets with hundreds of millions of dollars.

The company value is now down 89% since the failed IPO.

Their second CEO, former real estate executive Sandeep Mathrani took control in January 2020, and it is hard to imagine how well that could be going.

30% fewer employees than 2020 and a $2.1 billion loss as of May 2021. Somehow there is still hope.

People prefer flexible work situations. 56% of 300,000 interviewed employees worldwide voted for a hybrid option in LinkedIn's Glint unit survey.  

Another 31% wanted a purely remote setting; only 13% chose what amounts to all-office, all the time. So let's not make it seem like a 50-50 fight of going back to the office full-time. 

With the majority of workers asking for 2-3 day workweeks, then that expensive long-term lease in downtown all of a sudden doesn't seem that attractive. 

Most offices in the U.S. are operating around 30% capacity still anyway. With the Omicron circling, there is a chance some states could reverse guidelines. 

There is also the explosion of the gig economy and many people starting their own ventures looking for short-term rental contracts. 

WeWork is positioned to capitalize on these trends even if the results show slowly. Even every idea of the future of the office is basically a WeWork location with an open floor plan, Kombucha on tap, and rentable desks. 

But let's not go congratulate Sandeep Mathrani too quickly. We are talking about the same guy who said: 

"It's also pretty obvious that those who are overly engaged with the company want to go to the office two-thirds of the time at least. Those who are least engaged are very comfortable working from home,"

Of course, he later apologized for his words. There definitely was a lot of self-interest in convincing people that three days at the office is the most engaged workforce.

As quick as he is to offer a space to the next founder of a coding app for your dog, he clearly isn't interested in remote work.

Besides being flat-out wrong (the economic productivity gains of "work anywhere" may be as large as 5%), WeWork also has growing competition in the co-working space. 

Airbnb plans to build their own network of communal offices, and several other startups like Croissant or Gable are offering their own versions of membership for office space. 

With 13,800 shared co-working spaces globally, everyone wants a piece of the pie. Don't forget about the people renting out their homes and spare bedrooms as offices either.

The appeal of the first option is to meet other entrepreneurs and go to events in a post-covid world. The latter is the convenience and the ability to altogether avoid a commute if you live in the suburbs. 

Will WeWork's brand outlast the rest of the competition?

Or will they find themselves holding onto a bunch of empty buildings because people realize that remote work is more than just a fancy space?

4. Companies are giving up on remote work

Companies want workers back in the office

Source: Wsj.com 

 

Have you ever tried to learn an instrument and quit after picking up the basics?

Maybe you tried taking your kid to guitar lessons, and they learned a couple of chords, but after a couple of lessons-went back to playing video games.

Regardless, there is always a moment of wondering what could have been if you stuck with it.

Maybe not selling out arenas but at least being able to impress people at parties.

The same feeling happens when you hear about the reasons why companies went back to the office in the Wall Street Journal's new article:

"The Boss Wants You Back in the Office. Like, Now."

Leaders of organizations with workforces of more than 5,000 and in industries like banking, mortgage, energy, and healthcare had a lot to say about how remote work failed them.

"Questions that once required chains of emails were resolved in minutes once we went back to the office," one banking CEO said.

He also lamented the inability to advance an important project because it required 30 people in one zoom meeting.

Eventually, he concluded that they couldn't become a great company working remotely.

Ugh.

Well, maybe if they split those meetings up into teams and worked asynchronously, the project would have gone better.

The problem was trying to work as if they were in the office while they were at home. It is hard for an organization of that size to complete that full change management process, but it isn't impossible.

Huge tech companies like Coinbase, Square, and Gitlab can do it with more complex processes than banking software.

The difference is that they adapted.

Another example is United Wholesale Morgage that talked about how excited everyone was to come back to the office.

Mind you, their office has a gym, basketball court, and a sprawling outside foodcourt for barbecues. They had goody bags on each employee's desk and an ice cream truck on their back-to-the-office day.

Come back to the office; they have hotdogs!

That does seem enticing, but not every company has a college-like campus to work at. It also seems like a bit of a bribe.

These companies survived the pandemic, business is booming, and their workers are happy. But they never gave remote work a chance like that keyboard collecting dust in your closet.

It gives other companies an incentive to deny remote work and flexible work arrangements.

Not to mention the danger of the new Omnicron strain circulating and no mandatory vaccinations at any of the companies mentioned.

On the flip side, you have 40% of workers saying they will quit if remote work isn't offered. One-third of global knowledge workers are expected to be remote by 2022.

Millennials and Gen Z overwhelmingly also prefer remote work over their baby boomer and Gen X counterparts.

They don't want the same system as their parents. The one where they grew up watching their parents come home from work every day stressed and complaining about their day.

Flexibility is their top priority. And the majority of workers who said they would quit their jobs if there is no remote work say the control it gives over their lives is the main deciding factor.

The workers at UWM sure seem to be having a great time back at the office as the pandemic isolation begins to wear off.

It will be interesting to see how they are in six months as they find themselves in the same position two years ago.

Unable to control their work life balance anymore because they have to work from one location for 8 hours a day.

But at least they can play basketball!

The companies rushing back to the office and forcing workers back, even with hybrid arrangements, miss the level of control they once had. They say remote work failed them, but it allowed them to survive and thrive for the last year and a half.

However, it is a new world now. As cool as being on campus is, its even cooler to spend time on yourself and with your kids in the morning.

Or learn to play an instrument during your lunch breaks.

3. Can PWC going remote save them from an employee exodus?

PWC to allow 40,000 employees to work remotely

 

In October, Price Waterhouse Coopers, the accounting and consulting giant, announced that all of their 40,000 client services employees will be able to continue work remotely from anywhere in the United States.

The announcement did come with some caveats:

  • Workers looking to relocate to lower-cost areas will face a pay cut.
  • Those working in I.T. or workplace services teams or anywhere outside the U.S. have to follow a hybrid model.
  • Workers are still required to come into the office three times a month for team events or collaboration activities.

The news is bittersweet.

Although we give props to PWC for taking this step forward, it carries some of the controversial ideas we have written about before.

The whole reason that the 160-year-old company made this decision is that in a recent employee survey, they found 65% of all U.S. employees are looking for a new job, and 88% of executives said they are seeing higher turnover than usual.

The most cited reasons for job-hunting included wages, benefits, career advancement, and flexibility.

Talk about an unhappy workforce.

However, our prediction is that this move won't impact the mass employee exodus or help them with their plan to hire 100,000 new workers in the next 5 years.

Why?

If you look at the Employee reviews on Indeed or Glassdoor, the most common complaints of ex PWC workers are below-market salary and poor work-life balance.

While the company can be forward-thinking in its adoption of technology, it can still be held back by archaic beliefs of milking employees for everything they think they are worth.

Certainly, the name and network alone are great places to start for recent grads, but it will continue to face low retention rates of great talent if there isn't a fundamental shift in how they treat their employees.

Still, the move alone will have a domino effect as other large corporations take notice and start experimenting with their own sweeping hybrid or remote policies in 2022.

The thing is, you can't just slap a remote work sticker onto your employee benefits and also include a huge "But" or "only if you meet these requirements."

Professionals have realized their bargaining power after the pandemic and expect to have certain flexibility benefits.

And, of course, be paid for their skills, regardless of location.

This is just one of the first steps in the future of work, and perhaps PWC will keep tweaking their remote policy until they get it right.

The old giants who don't go remote or only go halfway will continue to see employees leave and have trouble attracting a new diverse generation.

2. Disabled People Face Uncertainty in the Future of Work

rachel christian

 Source: Businessinsider.com

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26% of adults in the United States have some kind of disability.

We are talking about more than 80 million people who have struggled to find reliable sources of income for the majority of their lives. Not because they cannot work, but because the world we live in is highly inaccessible.

Take, for example, Rachel Christian. An accomplished journalist and personal finance writer who also happens to be legally blind.

Since she was 15 years old, she gradually lost her eyesight due to a rare retinal disease called cone dystrophy.

She has missed several career opportunities not based on her qualifications but because the jobs required possessing a valid driver's license (despite no driving involved).

Then you have Gabe Moses, who lives in New York City and used to commute 45 minutes every day to spend 8 hours sitting at a desk in a call center.

A frustrating experience for anybody, but Gabe also has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and dysautonomia. EDS can cause chronic pain, muscle weakness, and ruptured blood vessels, and dysautonomia affects the nervous system meaning Gabe is confined to a wheelchair.

He returned home from work in so much pain that he lost his ability to speak.

When most jobs went remote during the pandemic, it turned out to be a godsend to not just all the 9-5ers out there but the many people often forgotten from the workforce.

Rachel was able to get her dream job at a personal finance website looking for remote workers without ever disclosing that she was blind.

It was a non-issue.

She can work at the home apartment as dark as a cave without inconveniencing anyone and have all the visual accommodations on her computer without answering any uncomfortable questions.

Gabe's company went remote, and he has spent the last year and a half working on his stomach, which is much more comfortable for him.

After work, he now has the energy to spend time with his wife and go out for walks with his dog by tying her leash to his wheelchair.

As heartwarming as these stories are, there is still a lot of work to be done.

One of the hardest things for many disabled people has been experiencing something they have been asking for so long and told it wasn't possible.

"All of a sudden, when everybody else needs it, we move heaven and earth to make it happen," said Shelby Hintze, a producer for a local news station in Salt Lake City with spinal muscular atrophy.

In 2020, only 17.9% of people with disabilities were employed, down from 19% in 2019.

Then you have employers forcing workers to come back to the office at least 3 days a week or even full-time, directly impacting people like Gabe.

Companies with employees who have disabilities or are immunocompromised should allow them to continue working remotely with no questions asked.

Companies hiring for multiple remote positions should also have diversity programs that prioritize disabled individuals.

Remote work has the potential to be a democratizing force for employment. But it is something the disabled community has been requesting for years.

We should be conscious of the realities that millions of people face before declaring a broken system fixed.

1. The Ethics of Tattleware

remote surveillance software

Source: The guardian.com

 

A drop of sweat falls down on David's keyboard as he struggles to get through the last minute of his shift.

He wants to look down and wipe the keys, but he can't.

The digital surveillance software on David's computer takes a live photo of him every 90 seconds and might catch him with his head down.

The platform called Sneek could then beam the offending image to a digital conference room where his whole team can see.

He powers through the last thirty seconds with his fingers slipping across the enter key and tells everyone he is signing off for the day.

He pauses, waiting for a response, praying his boss doesn't click on his profile in the conference room for an instant video call.

Hoping that nobody sent the photo of him falling asleep at his desk after lunch to the Sneek Slack channel.

Silence.

This was actually the experience of a recent college graduate at an undisclosed company that went remote during the pandemic.

His company bought a Sneek subscription, and three weeks later, David left his job.

"Tattleware" or "Bossware" is an extreme on a spectrum of time tracking software.

That doesn't change the fact that the entire industry has seen a massive boom since March 2020, as employers scrambled to create remote policies from scratch.

The question here, though, is to what degree can employers monitor their employees?

For operations that require handling highly-sensitive information, monitoring employee screens is needed to stay in business.

There are obvious benefits to taking control over an employee's laptop for I.T. issues or tracking employees' hours for specific projects.

The point is that it is a transparent process.

Not using software for running keyword searches through emails or tracking text messages behind employees' backs. So far, there have been numerous reports of abuse.

Trust is a hot commodity in a remote work world, absent of personal interactions.

Companies risk further alienating their employees by creating stressful and disingenuous environments.

Eventually, they will go somewhere else in a scarce talent market.

The ability to work remotely was never meant to replicate the nauseating feeling of having your boss come up behind you and watch what is on your screen.

Remote work is about flexibility, not being tied down to one location.

Output, not activity.

Although we are sure, there is a Black-Mirror type future where Amazon monitors the amount of keyboard strokes of their customer service workers.

Oh, wait...they are already considering it.

Wrapping Up

If you want more content like this sent straight to your inbox every Friday then sign up for The Remote Times

And make sure to check out our other blog posts where we give key remote work tips and tackle the hottest issues every week! 

See you next year!

 

Grow remote with GroWrk. We provide and manage laptops, devices, other equipment and services to remote teams in over 150 countries.

 

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Growrk remote partners
Mark Gregory

December 28

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