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What to expect next from the great shift to remote work

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6 mins

What a difference a year makes. In late 2020, a Washington state resident became the first person in the United States with a confirmed case of the novel coronavirus. Little did we know the impact it would have, and continues to have, on the way we live our daily lives in America.

If you’re one of those fortunate enough to have remained employed, you likely underwent a major shift in how and where you did your work. And it’s quite possible that’s not going to change anytime soon.

According to a study conducted by Upwork, 41.8% of Americans are still working remotely, and by 2025 36.2 million Americans will be working remotely, an 87% increase from pre-pandemic levels.

The Breeze 2020 Exit Survey found that 72% of individuals who worked from home due to the pandemic plan to continue doing so in some capacity.

Employers have found that employee productivity levels have remained the same or actually increased in most cases, and their workforce is happier working remotely full-time or only going into the office several days per week.

Not only has the shift to remote work affected millions of American workers, but it’s also had a ripple effect on our culture as a whole. Let’s look at what’s been happening due to the shift and what we can expect next.

A rise in freelancing

Upwork’s study also revealed that organizations are now facing a talent shortage because of the shifting workforce. The study noted that 58% of hiring managers feel “stretched to capacity,” and a majority of teams lack people with the skills and talent needed to complete projects, leading to projects being delayed or canceled.

Having become more comfortable with remote work, companies are now more open than ever to working with freelancers to bring unique talents to the table and supplement their established employee base's efforts. In some cases, employers are even converting freelancers into full-time employees, which is a welcome next step for many freelancers.

A dip in commercial real estate

You only need to take a Saturday stroll through the mall or look at an office building parking lot to see that people are staying home more, and most are not suffering because of it.

Thanks to Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and other productivity tools, it’s been relatively easy to set up home offices and still get your work completed. Office buildings are now faced with a growing number of vacancies because companies are shutting their offices because of the cost savings they can realize with a remote workforce or dramatically cutting back on their square footage requirements.

Meanwhile, digital retailers such as Amazon, eBay, and Etsy are flourishing as consumers become more comfortable with online shopping and find it much more convenient than a trek to the mall or shopping center to find the same product, at what is more often a higher price. This has forced mall anchor tenants like Macy’s to shutter some of their stores and has forced many smaller retailers out of business.

Hospitality has also been decimated. Companies' reluctance to have their employees fly commercially has led to staggering vacancy rates in hotels across the country, with many more people staying at home and conducting meetings virtually. This trend is likely to continue as companies realize tremendous cost-savings from having employees attend meetings, trade shows, and conferences from home.

[ Related read: 5 fortunate industries with the most pandemic-proof businesses ]

Changes in American politics

America’s three biggest metro areas — New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago — have been shrinking. Many people that are now working from home permanently have chosen to move to the suburbs and enjoy more living space for less money, and a surprising number of families have chosen to move to the country or relocate to less populous states, such as South Dakota. The flight of Californians to Arizona, Nevada, and Texas has been well documented.

In terms of politics, this is re-allocating the Democratic bloc. A sizeable demographic shift may empower Democrats in the Sun Belt, lessening the Republican’s stronghold on cities such as Dallas, Houston, and Phoenix. The sections of the populace making a move are young and middle-aged, college-educated, and white-collar workers — the prime demographic for liberal voting behavior.

Greater focus on diversity, equity & inclusion

With a work-from-home environment becoming more of the norm, companies are finding it essential to promote work-life balance, employee happiness, and inclusion. They’re including all of their remote workers in their initiatives, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or other personal traits that have led to discriminatory practices in the workplace.

Many employers have been making a concerted effort to close the gap with gender-based pay inequity. According to HR consultancy Mercer, a recent study of 1,157 organizations showed that 56% of employers conducted a gender-based pay equity analysis in 2020, compared to 35% in 2016. With companies cutting costs in many areas thanks to the remote work shift, more raises are back on the table, as many companies make wage adjustments for both base and variable pay.

Great strides are being made towards a more diverse workforce for many companies, thanks to the proliferation of remote work. With many large companies having offices in major metropolitan areas, they’ve found that many workers have no desire to commute or relocate to corporate offices. As a result, employers are increasingly hiring highly-qualified talent from minority communities away from the city.

This widening of the talent pool means more opportunities for people of color, the disabled, and women working from home needing a flexible work schedule because of children at home or being caregivers for a family member. This improvement in diversity improves company culture and employee engagement.

While the long-lasting effects are uncertain after one year, even a moderate increase in remote work will lead to fundamental changes in e-commerce, digital entrepreneurship, and the country’s political structure. These changes may have occurred naturally over time, and regardless of the pandemic, the future looks much brighter in 2021.

Having grown up in upstate New York, Bob Phillips spent over 15 years in the financial services world and has been making freelance writing contributions to blogs and websites since 2007. He resides in North Texas with his wife and Doberman puppy.

The information and content provided herein is for educational purposes only, and should not be considered legal, tax, investment, or financial advice, recommendation, or endorsement. Breeze does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, reliability or usefulness of any testimonials, opinions, advice, product or service offers, or other information provided here by third parties. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

— Published February 25, 2021
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