The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a shift in the acceptance of remote work preferences, according to a recent survey by PwC, and organizations are being challenged to maximize the potential of their people in this new normal. In fact, researchers say, “We’re on the edge of a new world of work—one brimming with ways to reimagine how we use technology to collaborate, innovate and deliver differently.”

In its recent “workforce of the future survey,” PwC asked 1,528 full- and part-time employees and 505 employers about their perceptions of work productivity and effectiveness during the pandemic.

Among their key findings:

  • Employees working fully remotely have increased from 6% to 59%; an additional 14% now have a combination of remote and office workplaces.
  • While 78% of employers expect at least a partial return to the office, only 1 in 5 employees says they want to return full-time.
  • Most employees want the freedom to choose some arrangement of working at home and at the office.
  • Employees say their top three challenges are work-life balance (especially for households with kids), maintaining productivity, and communicating with co-workers without traditional in-person interactions.
  • Two-thirds (67%) of Canadian employees who report being provided with upskilling opportunities are more productive and confident in their organization’s leadership than those without

How can you prepare for a future of work that is largely remote and address the challenges that come with it?

Allow employees flexibility

The pandemic has quickly changed employee working environments. Fully remote work has increased dramatically from a low of 6% to a substantial 59%. Figure in a combination of remote and office environments and the numbers go from 18% pre-pandemic to 73%.

Organizations are putting in best practices for remote and office workplace environments. Most employers are expecting at least a partial return to the office workplace, but only 1 in 5 employees are willing to go back full-time. Most employees want more flexibility in the future: some combination of remote and office environments. 

However, employees in some industries prefer remote work more than others. 58% of the employees polled in the financial services said they would prefer to continue working primarily or fully remotely. Tech and telecom employees (44%), government (37%), and business (35%) were the next highest respondents.

Address employee challenges

Employees said their biggest challenges for remote work are work/life balance (especially for families with children), keeping up a standard of productivity, and team communication without having in-person meetings. They also reported struggling with their teams, lacking organizational direction, confusion about their duties, and fostering innovation. 

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These challenges directly influence productivity and employees have mixed responses about their perceived productivity. A similar number of employees said their productivity decreased, remained the same, or increased. However, specific industries reported increased productivity than others: financial services (46%), health care (37%), and education (37%).

It’s not just our employees that are finding remote work challenging. Employers reported having difficulty maintaining morale and company culture, adjusting to changing customer needs, and connectivity in a virtual work environment.

Invest in upskilling and technology

Upskilling is an important part of employee and company success during this pandemic and into the future. Employees said they felt they could do their jobs better with upskilling and that it positively affected their perception of company leadership, having access to the right tools, and increasing their productivity.

As companies turn to more remote work, they will need to invest in the physical technology needed to make remote work a reality, as well as provide tools and training to employees.

Access to tools and technology is undoubtedly key for remote work. Still, it is a particular concern for public sectors such as education, government, and healthcare employees. In these sectors, employees said they have decreased access to needed tools during the pandemic.

Preparing for the future of work

The future of work includes remote work in some fashion. 

Allow your employees the flexibility to choose some hybrid remote/office options. Address your employees’ challenges to productivity when they are working remotely. Invest in upskilling your employees and the technologies they will need. 

If you make these your priorities, your company will thrive in the future, whatever may come.