Remote work. Telecommute. Flex work. Digital nomadism.
We've heard the terms used for more than a decade as the internet and social media have exploded into every aspect of our work and personal lives.
In the United States alone, more than 43 percent of workers have the ability to work away from their offices, according to 2016 Gallup data. Many don't have a brick-and-mortar workplace at all. And an increasing number of whole industries are adopting remote work policies, including finance, insurance and real estate.
But the current coronavirus outbreak could force a mass-adoption moment. Over the past week, tech and media titans including Microsoft, Google and Twitter have all provided the option of remote work to thousands of employees.
Microsoft notified employees that they could work from home through March 25, according to a public note released on March 4. And in a fourth-quarter earnings call in February, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said he wanted to shift towards a "distributed workforce" — code words for emphasizing remote work across a larger area.
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The debate between remote and nonremote workers has often hinged on the fear that without the physical presence of a supervisor or manager, productivity will slide. In 2017, IBM even famously ended its pioneering remote-work policy for more than 5,500 new employees.
Among those who worked remotely, 77 percent said that they were more productive when working outside the office. Thirty percent even went so far as to say they accomplished more in less time when they worked away from the office.
As American health officials race to contain the spread of novel coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is advising employers to “ensure that you have the information technology and infrastructure needed to support multiple employees who may be able to work from home.”
The question is, if America’s companies and workers turn to remote work en masse, will they return to their workplaces when the outbreak is over?
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