While we’ll remember 2020 as the year most workplaces went remote, many companies had been trending toward a remote work environment for some time. In fact, according to recent data, the percentage of remote workers has grown nearly 160% since 2005.  Once considered “normal” only for entrepreneurs or independent contractors, remote work has expanded to include employees, consultants, leaders and managers once deemed necessary onsite. Of course, the rise of remote work culture has flourished as technology advanced, company culture flexed, and workers’ emphasis on flexibility increased.
In other words, the events of 2020 accelerated a trend already underway—one sped up by necessity for public health and safety. Employees may have jettisoned their commutes (and traded slacks for comfy clothes), but this rapid shift to remote work comes with challenges as well as advantages. Let’s take a closer look at some of the remote work trends shaping the present and foreseeable future.
Emerging Remote Work Trends
Remote work in response to a pandemic-altered world is here to stay. The increase was sudden but permanent: Just over 80% of employers offered remote work arrangements in 2020, rising from 50% the year prior.  While employers do expect to welcome on average a third more workers back to the office,  some will stay remote on either a part- or full-time basis. In general, it’s expected that there will be six times more remote workers in the US workforce than there were in 2018. 
Collaboration, connection, and company culture all take a hit when workers who are used to being together are isolated. And a year in, uncertainty and loneliness are taking a toll. Two-thirds of employees report feeling more stressed now than before the pandemic.  This stress puts mental health at risk, which can affect how employees think, feel, and act.  Ongoing stress and unaddressed mental health needs contribute to decreased employee happiness, which is linked to productivity and good customer experience. 
Such dramatic changes to the work structure and environment are pushing savvy employers to reexamine how benefit strategies and coverage can adjust to the “new normal,” yet be flexible enough to help meet emerging needs in these very fluid times. Employers are realizing that the right benefits can help connect employees to the resources they need. These can include addressing key stressors such as mental health needs, financial strain, workplace stress and more.
A Growing Disconnect Between Employers and Employees
Teams are used to in-person meetings and being able to collaborate with coworkers in person and in real-time. A year into our new reality, collaboration and communication between employees and employers are degrading in a remote-first environment. This is affecting our work relationships: Recent research reveals that 20% of employees and 54% of managers think their relationships have worsened since the start of the pandemic. 
This is showing up in different ways. Over the last year, employees report that monthly meetings with managers have decreased to six, on average.  Other meetings have increased in frequency and duration; the average workday is also nearly an hour longer.  Together, these new demands and communication challenges are contributing to “Zoom fatigue.”  In short, this new virtual replacement for in-person communication is imperfect: we have to focus more intently on information and stare at video screens without any mental break.
There’s a reason for the discomfort: Behavior ordinarily reserved for close relationships—such as long stretches of direct eye gaze and other nonverbal cues—has suddenly become the way we interact with casual acquaintances and coworkers. Software like Zoom and Skype were designed to do online work; these tools were meant to increase productivity in the workplace, but weren’t meant to mimic normal social interaction, nor be the go-to tools for everything we do. 
Certainly, in-person meetings will resume at some point, for most workers. However, understanding how productivity tools and videoconferencing affect employees is key to bridging this growing disconnect between employers and employees. Unless addressed as remote work normalizes, this rift has the potential for long-lasting consequences like decreased productivity, engagement and loyalty.
Benefits That Protect Workplace Productivity
We’re living in a transitional period. Given these emerging remote work trends and the reality that remote work is here to stay, employers should look to flexible benefits to address present and future needs. This is because while clear communication from managers can help to bridge the growing divide, employees need support.
Employers that focus on providing expanded support—and make it easy for employees to access and understand—help to mitigate the ongoing risk to productivity and business continuity during and after this time.  Data from before and just after the start of the pandemic shows that employees report greater holistic well-being when employers offer benefits to help them weather the crisis.  The same research found that benefits are a key driver of holistic health and well-being, which are linked to improved productivity and engagement and reduced workplace stress. 
Certainly, the right benefits can be a win-win for employers and employees in this remote work environment. However, not all benefits are created equal, and piecemeal solutions can leave employees scrambling to understand what benefits they have and how to access them. To save time and provide expansive, effective coverage and support, employers and advisers should look to robust supplemental healthcare insurance plans that can layer over the existing primary plan and provide such high-priority needs as mental health support—without breaking the benefit budget.
ArmadaCare offers an array of innovative supplemental healthcare insurance plans designed specifically to close gaps and shift costs from employees. ArmadaCare’s newly launched WellPak offers robust coverage and support for employee mental health needs during and after this period.
Learn more about WellPak and our other unique and flexible solutions for employees at every level and benefit budgets of all sizes.
 Global Workplace Analytics, 2019
 BenefitsPro, 2020
 Willis Towers Watson, 2020
 MetLife US Employee Benefit Trends Study, 2020
 Employee Benefit Adviser, 2020
 Paychex, 2020
 National Bureau of Economic Research, 2020
 Harvard Business Review, 2020
 Wall Street Journal, 2020
 HR Executive, 2020
 MetLife, 2020