Pondering how remote work will be different after the pandemic presupposes that Covid-19 will go away at some point, which it might not. Hopefully, we will get a grip on it at least enough that fighting over toilet paper in the Walmart aisle and stay-at-home orders will become a thing of the past.
But one thing is certain. Remote work before Covid wandered onto the scene was a different beast than what we are experiencing now. And therein lies the interesting part.
What will the world of work look like in a few years once the disease is (hopefully) under control, and people would be allowed to return to a central office? We have a few ideas.
National Rural Infrastructure Will Catch Up
If there’s one thing preventing a move to permanent global work-from-home right now, it’s the wildly disparate quality of internet service. Even amongst states here in the US, the numbers are surprising. While most California metro areas bump along at least 100 Mbps on average and the majority reach max speeds of 1 Gbps with fiber-optic service, not all are so fortunate.
So working in the Golden State from home is more realistic than if you want to try the same thing from one of the five states below:
- Alaska – 17.03 Mbps
- Mississippi – 24.77 Mbps
- Idaho – 25.30 Mbps
- Montana – 25.70 Mbps
- Maine – 26.05 Mbps
Even in this high-speed broadband world, all are not created equal. This is one area where the pandemic is likely to have a positive long-term effect. Due to a lack of consumer demand as a result of a lighter population, broadband internet providers have not, as a rule, ventured far outside the city limits with their service. The infrastructure is costly to install, and they’re not going to take that financial risk without assurances there will be a return on the investment.
Hard as it might be to believe from our vantage point two decades into the 21st century, there are still some people in the hinterlands who log onto the internet through a dial-up connection. Yep, good old 56k is still alive and on life support. Obviously, no one with only this type of access would be able to function in today’s work world, and especially not as even more bandwidth-intensive technologies become mainstream.
Look for private and public collaborations to raise funds to build out faster service in rural areas over the next few years. Maybe even faster than that.
Covid is Only a Quickening Agent
The reality is that remote work had been experiencing a healthy growth spurt over the last 10-15 years before Covid was a thing. In fact, the incidence of working from home had increased 91% since 2010 without a pandemic to drive it. The rate over the past few months has been so fast that it’s hard to find reliable numbers.
That’s why we see Covid as a quickening agent. In other words, it is a temporary (hopefully), atypical force that provides an unnatural momentum to something, in this remote work. While it might have taken us another ten years to reach the same population penetration that Covid provided, we would have arrived at the same spot eventually.
This means that we’re going to see future changes happen all at once rather than grow slowly into them. One area to pay attention to is the remote work support industry.
A natural by-product of this acceleration towards remote work is that the commercial real estate space will see a sudden, dramatic increase in supply that can bring rental costs down. Businesses with physical storefronts will thus see lower overheads due to cheaper rents. According to Rob Evans, the founder of rope access training company, Graviteq, this will force landlords to get more creative with their leasing. Instead of charging fixed rentals, landlords may prefer signing leases where the lease pays a percentage of their revenues towards rent. This is a win-win for both parties since rents increase or decrease as the economic climate changes. Evans says that he has been operating on this model for quite some time now and has worked really well for both him and the landlord.
In Support of Remote Workers
For you entrepreneurs out there, pay attention to this section because fortunes are going to be made in short order by those who take this idea and run with it. The following assumes that Covid won’t magically vanish, and there will be greater pressure than ever from the new work-at-home crowd on company management to continue working remotely even after the current strict stay home orders are lifted.
The bottom line is that someone is going to have to step into the void to meet the new level of product and service demands generated by this huge remote work market. They won’t be content to sit in that straight-backed wooden chair or uncomfortable stool at the kitchen table forever. They’re going to want nice office furniture, laptops, desks, and more. In short, they’re going to want to replicate at home the comfort and convenience of their former office.
While they might be gathering around the water cooler with only the kids and pet Shih Tzu gnawing on their ankle, a certain percentage are still going to want the same water delivery. This applies to lunch also. It won’t take long before the contents of the refrigerator become deadly boring. What do you do then? Order out, of course. Look for competition in the UberEats business model to ramp up. Now would be a good time to secure that perfect domain name because there are about a million people ready to dive into this opportunity.
What about the office supply emergency that will be declared when they run out of Post-it Notes? There’s no time to wait for Amazon. What do you do? Call the office supply delivery service, of course. These ideas just scratch the surface of what to expect in the remote work support industry, but you should understand that it’s going to be huge.
While it might feel like a “through the looking glass” moment right now due to the speed with which it was thrust upon us, check back in a few years. Remote work will be such an ingrained part of the world that it will be ones who still go into an office or factory who are the minority.
Don’t hate Covid for upsetting the applecart of business as usual. It didn’t turn it over, but rather just gave it a hard shove down a steep hill with no one driving. You’ll be fine as long as you don’t jump out. Just hang on tight and ride until it coasts to a gentle stop. We’re all going to be okay. Well, most of us, anyway.