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Future of work: Remote work gains traction amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Reference:Businessline | Updated:28 April 2021

Work is the power source of urban vitality and even non-workaholics spend a large part of their times in the office. But when the contagion struck, companies had to make some changes to follow the social distancing rules.  

Some firms have half of the team members at the office, while others moved all their businesses online, so employees can do their job anywhere they want. For many people, a mobile device and a smooth network connection can do the job. But the question is, can an offline office really be optional? And what's the future of telecommuting?  

"It's definitely becoming increasingly popular, but I do not think it will replace the way people traditionally work because telecommuting has quite a few disadvantages," said Zhong Ling, professor of Economics at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business. 

"It is a good option for independent workers, like graphic designers and programmers. It is not good for delivering tricky conversations, such as negotiations, or for managers to deliver a critical comment to workers. So, it is going to replace some jobs, but not all jobs," Zhong said.

Another question people often ask is how much this new trend will affect work efficiency and corporate earnings. 

"Telecommuting offers people more flexible hours, work and life balance. There are reports saying that people working from home have higher work output. As to corporate earnings, if you see it from the perspective of cutting cost like people no longer need offices, it can help firms save money," Zhong said. 

"Besides that, companies can hire people remotely, in this way firms have a larger pool of potential candidates they can choose from. That leads to a firm finding a better match for the position. That can definitely help boost efficiency and company profits," she added. 

Zhong also mentioned the positive impact of telecommuting – a smaller carbon footprint. That's because the demand for public transportation would decline significantly if most people can do their job from home. 

Many world-renowned companies have also made changes to their conventional way of work. Social media giant Facebook is reportedly planning to allow its staff to continue to work from home even after the pandemic ends. In fact, staffers could even apply for permanent remote work with their managers' approval. 

Google has also set remote work guidelines – those who want to continue to do so after September will have to formally apply for it. And in some circumstances, its employees can even work from home for up to 12 months. 

E-commerce giant Amazon is bucking the trend though as it expects more of its U.S. corporate office workers to be back in the office later this year. But they can continue to work from home through June 30. 

General Motors has also unveiled more flexible work arrangements. The company's chairman and CEO Mary Barra said where work permits, employees will have the flexibility to work.  

The company will also equip manufacturing sites with additional laptops and other devices and allow online training to be completed from work or home.

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