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COVID-19 and the Future of Remote Work

COVID-19 is disrupting basic patterns of human behavior—forcing adaptation on an unprecedented scale. Even now, as 2020 winds down, lockdowns and social distancing regulations remain in place around the world as case numbers skyrocket.  


In this environment, businesses rely more and more on telework to maintain productivity while reducing transmission risks. With untold millions of people suddenly shifting to remote work throughout the course of the year, we now have a much better understanding of the advantages—and drawbacks—of working out of the office.


As a recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute points out, while COVID-19 is accelerating movement towards remote or “hybrid” work models, “the potential for remote work is highly concentrated among highly skilled, highly educated workers in a handful of industries, occupations, and geographies.” 


While the vast majority of the workforce, particularly in the developing world, remains effectively incapable of working remotely, a massive post-pandemic increase in the number of people working remotely is likely to be a major long-term legacy of COVID-19. As businesses rapidly speed up their digitization strategies in response to the ongoing crisis, staff working in sectors that prioritize higher education, cognitive problem solving, and complex collaboration processes like finance, management consulting, insurance, IT, and science are the most likely to be affected by this important trend.    


COVID-19 has broken down many of the technological and cultural barriers around the concept of remote work. However, challenges remain. Going forward, businesses shifting to hybrid and/or work-from-home models will come under pressure to maintain staff productivity, engagement, and morale. Choosing and successfully deploying the right technological toolkit will be critically important.