Before the COVID-19 virus necessitated governors across the country to institute policies that required employees who could work from home to do so, many companies required that their employees work in the office all — or most — of the time.
The business world may see a paradigm shift once the danger of infection has passed, as companies who’ve transitioned to working remotely discover that personnel work just as productively (and sometimes even more so) when they telecommute. And it’s quite likely that some employees won’t want to return to their offices once the closures are lifted.
After all, working from home doesn’t change the type of work you’re doing, just the environment in which that work gets completed. Many companies have already invested in reimbursing employees for the expenses incurred to set up a home office: chairs, desks, computer software, more robust network systems.
More traditional companies may transition to a format similar to one that distributed companies already use. Those companies have a workforce located in multiple places, often from home and outside the boundaries of a physical location.
Experts in the remote work industry theorize that this current situation will provide the impetus for companies to build a culture that supports the long-overdue work flexibility. Many more workers may expect telework options, which eliminate long commutes and remove the need to take PTO to care for a sick family member.
Tech industry companies have already seen an uptick in the demand for systems that facilitate remote conferencing and offered an expanded range of free resources that include:
- Expanded Zoom meeting times
- Slack hosting free consultations for companies transitioning their workforce to work from home environments for the first time
- Microsoft offering the company’s “productivity suite” free for small businesses for six months
While working from home is hardly a “business as usual” proposition — and some companies will return to a 100% in-office policy after the crisis ends — all businesses are gaining valuable experience about how to accommodate work-from-home requirements should the need arise in the future.
Technology Fast-Tracking Digital Transformation
It’s not just remote work that’s been influenced by the COVID-19 virus. Many other industries have seen the need to fast-track their digital transformations as people heed the warnings to stay home to protect the health of themselves and their communities. The tech industry has jumped in to fight the pandemic from behind-the-scenes, as well as working to help companies, industries, students, patients, and regular workers, too.
While telemedicine isn’t a new technology, many health systems haven’t prioritized its use. Now, doctors are relying more on the technology to triage and diagnose patients without requiring in-person visits. Patients can avoid seeking treatment at facilities and continue to limit person-to-person contact.
Schools and universities across the country closed to slow the spread of the virus, transitioning students to online learning environments. Although some colleges and universities already offer online learning, it’s not standard for the majority of K-12 educational organizations. The transition to digital education will continue to see growing pains, but experts theorize that more school districts and institutes of higher education will incorporate online instructional planning into their strategies as part of their preparation for potential future disturbances.
Conferences. This trillion-dollar industry provide a critical forum for information and idea exchange. Many companies are working to bridge the gap between virtual and in-person events, launching platforms that combine video, livestreams, and networking. Organizers and business owners have collaborated to design and execute alternate options to facilitate these conferences, and technology will continue to innovate how people meet and interact virtually.
While many states have banned open houses, sales continue. Inspectors and appraisers are still working, and on closing day, settlement companies are seating buyers and sellers in separate conference rooms or even conducting meetings virtually. Some states — like Illinois — see real estate as an essential service. Pennsylvania, New York, and California disagree.
A major level of frustration stems from the fact that it’s nearly impossible to conduct a closing online because the remote online notarization legislation hasn’t yet passed. According to Todd Ewing, chief executive at Federal Title, big lenders like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae hesitate to buy loans without that legislation which allows for the online notarization. Federal legislation to authorize this option was introduced on March 18, but now it’s on hold.
Appraisers and inspectors must also rethink the safest ways to conduct their business. People are trying to minimize human exposure, wearing masks and gloves, removing shoes before entering homes, and going virtual when possible.
Investing in technology that allows buyers to see potential spaces is something that many realtors think will continue once the crisis passes. Using FaceTime, virtual sales appointments, video conferencing, and go-to meetings not only help those in real estate connect with buyers and sellers but also with other professionals along the real estate supply chain.
A real estate tech strategist, Mike Delprete, thinks social distancing requirements will accelerate adopting services that streamline real estate transactions. Others see a continued increase in technology used to enhance operational efficiencies — with more built-in systems that monitor and track essential building functions, perform maintenance, and even predict (and potentially prevent) building system failures.
Those involved in the real estate industry — like the professionals at CREA United who include realtors, settlement companies, banks, title companies, lawyers, architects, construction companies, tech companies, business developers, and more — agree that no one can truly know the short- and long-term implications of this current situation, but that the best approach is to maintain an open mind to new solutions.