2020 was a dramatic year for the work landscape, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing companies to adopt work from home policies to keep their employees safe and support national efforts to fight the spread of the virus. Sectors such as banking and healthcare, which had long opposed the rising trend of remote work, suddenly had to transition to work from home or risk shutting down their operations altogether. As this challenging year comes to a close, we look at how work from home has changed the way companies do business in 2020.
Remote work was already increasing prior to 2020. FlexJobs’ Remote Work Statistics for 2019 report showed that the remote workforce had grown 44% in the previous five years and 91% over the last ten. At the height of the first wave of the pandemic in April-May, Upwork estimated that 47.7% of the US workforce was working remotely full-time.
Increased productivity and fewer distractions
While the rushed adoption of work from home policies at the start of the pandemic meant many organizations had a bumpy start adapting to the new normal, nine months later, according to Upwork, 68% of managers reported that remote work was now going smoothly, with teams and employees already growing used to how things operate remotely.
An impressive 95% of respondents to a recent FlexJobs’ survey said their productivity was higher or the same working from home, with 51% reporting being more productive when working remotely. The main reasons were fewer interruptions, more focused time, a quieter work environment, and a more comfortable workspace.
According to a survey from Mercer, an HR and workplace benefits consulting firm in the US that interviewed nearly 800 employers, 67% of respondents reported that company productivity had been the same, with a further 27% saying it had increased.
Data Security and Work from Home
While remote work is proving to be a positive step for many companies and employees in terms of productivity, data security took a hit in 2020 as a consequence of the shift towards work from home. This is mostly a consequence of the way organizations have developed their cybersecurity and data protection policies until now. The focus has always been on protecting a company network within the secure confines of an office. The mass exodus of workers from the office to their homes turned these policies on their head, with many organizations failing to properly educate employees on data security practices from home.
When cybersecurity company Kaspersky and Area9 Lyceum analyzed the anonymized learning results for an adaptive learning course for those transitioning to work from home in April 2020, they found that 90% of learners selected an incorrect answer when asked questions related to the basics of secure remote operations.
According to cybersecurity company Malwarebytes’ Enduring from Home: COVID-19’s Impact on Business Security report, 20% of cybersecurity incidents in 2020 were caused by remote workers. The report also showed that 45% of companies failed to perform security and online privacy analyses of software tools they implemented for remote work policies.
Work from home inadvertently also led to a boom in the use of shadow IT. The unauthorized adoption of video conferencing tools, file storage, and sharing services, virtual coworking spaces, and personal messaging apps exploded as employees scrambled to find new ways to communicate and work together remotely. This rise in shadow IT was due to a failure on the part of companies to provide employees with the right tools when they began working from home. 37% of employees cited old and outdated technology as the reason why they use shadow IT, with a further 33% being frustrated with the inefficiency of remote support.
All this can spell disaster for companies’ data security as it can put sensitive data at risk of loss and theft. As shown by Malwarebytes’ report, opportunistic malicious actors have already begun taking advantage of the weak links in data security in remote work.
Remote Work is Here to Stay
A survey conducted by research company Gartner in June 2020, showed that 82% of interviewed company leaders intended to allow employees to work remotely some of the time after the pandemic, with 47% willing to let employees work from home full-time.
Upwork’s report meanwhile looked at the American workforce nine months after the start of the pandemic. At the time the report was released, 41.8% of the American workforce continued to be fully remote. Responding managers believed that 26.7% of the workforce would continue to be fully remote during 2021, signaling that individuals are likely to begin returning to the office, but a significant share will continue to work from home. The report estimated that by 2025, 36.2 million Americans would be working remotely, nearly double the number from before the pandemic.
When it comes to employees, the FlexJobs survey reported that 65% of respondents wanted to continue working remotely full-time post-pandemic, with a further 31% wanting a hybrid remote work environment. Adding the figures up, it means 96% of employees would prefer to continue doing some form of remote work. 27% of respondents even went so far as to claim they would be willing to take a 10% to 20% pay cut if it allowed them to continue to work remotely.
While before 2020, remote work was up for debate for many companies and sectors, the pandemic made it a reality overnight. Both employers and employees were now able to judge its merits based on direct experience and they all seem to have come to the same conclusion: work from home is a good thing and it should stay.
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