Do you work from home? Or can you work anywhere have a laptop and wi-fi? Are you a trader or selling stuff online? You’re part of a growing trend in modern work practices as the fancy city office becomes an expensive relic of the ‘old normal’.
2020 became the year of people working from home. In same case, it was the year of being told to stay home so there wasn’t much option. During Thailand’s lockdowns in April and May, offices were closed and employers had to scramble to find alternatives to the “office”. With the rise of Zoom and other video conferencing software, ways of tracking time-on-keyboard and hundreds of other monitoring apps, employers suddenly discovered they could actually run their businesses without an office. There were certainly new dynamics and unforeseen challenges, but for the most part, it worked.
Companies had worked from central office locations for a hundred years. The remote/work-from-home option was a new test for everyone involved but many early wrinkles have been ironed out after an accelerated learning curve due to the Covid-19 situation.
In the early days, most companies weren’t ready to close up the office and send their workers home claiming that some basic operations such as accounting and invoicing were not yet able to be done online (Thailand has a love of hard-copies and paperwork).
Team meetings were also more clumsy online. There were even companies that told their staff to keep coming in to the office as there was no legal barrier preventing them from doing so. But many smaller and less digitally-savvy firms required workers to come in and risk contracting the virus.
In the US, the Bureau of Labour Statistics found only 29% of jobs in the US could be completed from home, while in Thailand (a far less digitised and service-based economy) the percentage was probably lower.
But larger Thai firms, such as Unilever and True Digital allowed nearly 100% of their white-collar employees to work from home early during the lockdown phase. Other companies adapted quickly and found that working remotely, or from home, allowed their businesses additional flexibility. Many workers also say they enjoyed the lack of office interruptions too.
While Unilever was unable to send its factory workforce home, it was able to shift all sales and executive personnel fully online to avoid possible Covid exposure finding hitherto unknown improvements in the firm’s e-commerce presence.
Thai startups such as Eko (“your complete employee experience platform”) was able to capitalise on the rise of work-from-home with its “work anywhere” employee application. Eko experienced 200% year-on-year sales growth in the first half of 2020 as companies looked for solutions to connect employees from home.
Teleconferencing juggernaut Zoom was trading shares at US$88 at the start of 2020, to rise to $568 by mid-October, only to trail off to $337 by the end of the year – the fickle nature of a fast-rising tech start-up.
Employees, generally, prefer the shift to working from home and the flexible hours. It doesn’t suit all businesses or all employees, but it suits many. A study by by recruitment specialists Robert Walters Thailand found 75% of workers want opportunities to work-from-home and only 25% want a return to full-time work at the office.
The Covid-19 pandemic also forced countries to rethink their supply chains and reliance on foreign goods. China, for example, responded to the outbreak by shutting down factories, some of which other countries relied on for medical equipment needed to fight the virus, and vital components needed for manufacturing of goods in China and other countries.
Whilst there was an initial push-back on China, the international supply chain has become so entwined with Chinese businesses and manufacturers, and China with other countries, that it would take decades to unwind.
One of the biggest winners this year has been the rise of the delivery services. Grab Bike, Food Panda, We Serve and Line Bike are the best known but there are start ups making inroads into the growing delivery space as well as many smaller and larger businesses that have their own deliveries.
These businesses have been able to thrive on the ‘new normal’ stay-at-home culture. Eat at home, work at home, shop from home, watch movies at home – the trend is growing as people realise that they can get almost everything delivered, timely, efficiently and at little additional cost, usually free.
The big test will be once the Covid situation settles down, whatever that means and whenever it happens, and companies look back at the successes and failures of their employees working from home. But there’s no doubt the pandemic and the imposed restrictions ave accelerated the need to develop new ways of allowing employees to work safely, remotely or from home.
The successful transition of some office work to work-at-home will also put continued pressure on the commercial real estate market. Many employers are looking at their monthly office rental outgoings and starting to measure the return on their investment.
The rise of the work-at-home phenomenon and the digital nomad will be the main trends for office work in 2021.
This article was written laying on a couch, at home, at 6.15am in the morning… because we can.
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