Fifty-seven percent of small and midsized business owners who increased remote working due to the COVID-19 pandemic said they will likely maintain the option for employees in the long term, according to a new study by Intermedia. This indicates a shift not only in the way businesses operate but also how owners, employees, and customers will engage with one another in the future, the cloud communications provider said.
Among the biggest benefits of shifting to remote work, SMB owners have found that employee availability (up 19%), job (up 15%), and life satisfaction (up 7%) have all increased, while overhead costs have gone down, the study revealed.
Respondents offered real-world examples with comments like “workers attitudes have improved” and employees are “happier” and “more productive,” the Intermedia survey said.
“There are obvious pressures from the shelter in place protocols, but workers specifically noted their reduction in stress was due to no longer dealing with stresses around office work, commuting, time away from family, and the costs associated with being in a physical location,” the company said. This seems to result in workers who are more engaged and ready to make a difference, Intermedia said.
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“Embracing remote work has been a love-hate relationship for many SMB owners,” the company said. “With new technology allowing workers to work from wherever and whenever more than ever before, employers have had to balance this reality against having the peace of mind that frequently comes from being in the same physical space as your employees.”
As owners try to adapt to this new tech reality, more and more companies have been adopting a hybrid approach—offering the option for some remote work but not fully committing, the survey found.
The coronavirus has made it clear that the need to work remotely is no longer a perk or a convenience—it’s a necessity. But thanks to the technology that has been enabling more productive and collaborative remote work in recent years, notably, unified communications tools, the ability to stand up a remote work environment can be easy, fast, and affordable, Intermedia said.
However, with any change, especially when that change occurs so rapidly such as the need to shift the majority if not all of a company’s workforce from a centralized to remote model, there can be issues and concerns.
Of the SMBs surveyed, nearly 85% of their employees worked in a centralized office pre-pandemic, Intermedia said. That number has, not surprisingly, decreased dramatically—to 26% of respondents—once social distancing and shelter in place orders went into effect.
There is still value in in-person meetings
One of the top concerns respondents voiced was the ability to engage with new prospects and continue to serve existing customers while coronavirus-related interaction restrictions are in place.
Almost all SMB owners (94%) said in-person interactions have been essential to conducting new business in the last two years. Additionally, 72% said that the current restrictions on face-to-face meetings will play a significant role in their team’s ability to continue business as usual.
However, technology was not cited as a top concern, implying that getting the right tools deployed to keep their businesses running was not a barrier, the survey found.
“In fact, survey findings indicate that companies are turning to technology to help deliver face-to-face interactions once reserved for in-person meetings,” Intermedia said.
While 57% of respondents indicated a reliance on video conferencing pre-pandemic, that reliance has jumped to 84% currently–an increase of 27%, the most significant jump across all communications channels covered within the survey, including phone, email, and chat.
Remote work isn’t just a temporary fix
Remote work has been expanding considerably over the past few years. It’s allowed companies to have a larger pool of candidates and reduce costs.
“Workers crave a more flexible lifestyle that balances work and play, which often means they want the option to work from anywhere,” Intermedia said. Technology now provides a perfect foundation for employees to work from any location with total accessibility, easy collaboration, and robust security.
“COVID-19 has certainly made us reexamine the entire concept of work, illustrating that many jobs can be done remotely without sacrificing productively,” Intermedia said. “More business owners realize that employee availability and job satisfaction can remain high, if not increase, within a remote working environment…even after the pandemic passes.”
Intermedia said the survey was conducted in April among 250 business owners or senior decision makers, from organizations employing between 5 and 250 people in organizations where at least half of staff are normally office based.