As we begin to see a glimmer of light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, society is asking itself what a world of normalcy will look like. In today’s corporate world, the big questions of the year are who will remain virtual — and for how long.
Companies ranging from Twitch to Twitter have taken on the extreme, stating that their staff will have the option to work from home permanently. This is contrasted by many other companies, particularly in the banking industry, that have taken the opposite approach, saying that working from home is not the new norm.
Each organization, culture, and work environment is unique. Some companies emphasize collaboration or have particular client demands, making a return to the office central to their success. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, it is undeniable that companies — particularly those in the tech sector — are evaluating various work models as they prepare for the post-pandemic world.
But what does it actually mean to work remotely? As we enter the post-pandemic world, the definition of remote work needs to be reexamined and subsequently redefined. Physical presence doesn’t necessarily equate to engagement, and technological advances have afforded us circumstances where virtual engagement is many times more effective.
At the same time, there remains a bigger question about what defines an optimal work/life environment. Pre-pandemic burnout was characterized by longer traffic-laced commutes and over-indexing of time spent in the office. Today, it’s the 24/7 availability of a remote worker trapped within the confines of his or her own pandemic-zoned home.
So let’s scrap the traditional definition of remote for a bit and develop a new rubric. There are new post-pandemic landscapes of engagement, and consideration of each is critical to driving a company’s next generation of success.
Here are the four categories of engagement in the post-pandemic world.
1. Physically remote, virtually engaged
Let’s face it: Zoom is a pandemic lifesaver. Overnight, the platform magically saved companies by enabling employees to conduct meetings, pitch partners and train staff remotely.
Companies like Evercast are taking the Zoom professional experience to the next level, enabling anyone to stream, edit and develop movies live. Thus there is now an opportunity to create more diverse, higher-quality films on the front end and to leverage significant travel and broader overhead cost savings on the back end.
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2. Physically present, virtually engaged
While it may seem like the corporate crown jewel is for employees to be physically present for as many hours of the day as possible, this has also been proven a fallacy in many cases. Yes, companies may argue that on-site laundry, daycare, and gourmet chefs keep people productive in the office longer, but what really is the value of this presence? Do employees actually contribute or learn more?
Advances in augmented and virtual reality (VR) technology have made training and advancement more effective, regardless of location. Specular Theory, for example, trains military pilots utilizing VR technology. Not only is this much more cost-effective than carting a full-scale flight simulator around the globe, but studies have found that VR-assisted learning can improve retention by 400%. The same goes for surgery: The Western Orthopedic Association found that medical students who utilized VR completed surgical steps 20% faster and 38% more accurately.
VR is being utilized in corporate training environments as well. TRANSFER has created VR-powered corporate training modules, noting that not only are they more effective, but they are preferred by 85% of employees over alternate training solutions, such as in-person trainers.
3. Hub-and-spoke present
With the advent of the new remote-work norm, migration has been on the rise. According to U.S. News & World Report, the top states for inbound moves in 2020 were South Carolina, Oregon, South Dakota, and Arizona, while the top outbound-move states included New York, California, Connecticut, and Illinois. Some of these moves will be permanent.
While people may be relocating from big cities, that doesn’t mean they are all moving to a remote mountain range high up in the Rockies, void of neighbors within a line of sight. It’s just the opposite, in fact. Hubs like Sacramento, Phoenix, Austin, and Atlanta have become top relocation destinations — Austin has even doubled its inbound moves year over year!
With this trend exists the opportunity for a hub-and-spoke model of geolocation, whereby companies shrink their headquarters space in favor of a more distributed physical presence. People may be moving out of their companies’ epicenters, but that doesn’t mean that they are all independently dispersed. By creating smaller, more dispersed sub-branches, companies can give employees more diverse personal location choices, along with the opportunity to see their teams in person and utilize advances in streaming technology to communicate with other spokes as well as with their main hubs.
4. Hybrid present
There exists an opportunity to be located in-office for part of a working week but to be remote for the remainder. The benefit of this model is that it allows teams to collaborate in person for a portion of the week and also drives greater productivity by reducing commute time. In 2018, the average commute hit 27 minutes one way. That’s nearly five hours per week of wasted hours in driving time alone. Not to mention the additional costs to employees for gas, car maintenance, and child care.
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The concept of part-time virtual engagement can provide a new sense of balance for employees, increasing their overall satisfaction and productivity. Companies can, in turn, realize higher levels of profitability and retention — a win-win alternative to the standard pre-COVID-19 daily commute-powered work environment.
Our physical world has changed overnight. So why does our definition of virtual have to stay the same? The leaders who will win are those who do not see option A or B but create their own C. Those companies will define a new hybridized definition of virtual.
Technology has paved the way for such to exist. And it will only get better.