For Many, Remote Work Is Becoming Permanent in Wake of Coronavirus


Companies across the economy are considering a permanent shift to remote work in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, following the lead of tech-sector giants.

“This will be an electric shock to the system,” said Paul Daugherty, chief technology officer for consulting firm

Accenture

PLC. “Companies are on the hook to rethink the work experience, and the work tools, for their cocooning employees.”

Facebook Inc.

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday announced plans to reconfigure operations over the next decade to enable up to half of its 45,000 employees to work from home.

The move follows an announcement last week by

Twitter Inc.

to allow employees to work from home indefinitely. E-commerce company

Shopify Inc.

on Thursday also said it plans to let most employees work remotely in the future.

Remarking on Facebook’s plans, Aaron Levie, CEO and co-founder of cloud company

Box Inc.,

said in a tweet: “Just as Intel, HP, and others originally defined how we operated for decades in tech, we’ll see a redefinition for the 21st century by new digital companies.”

From the open office to agile development, trends in the tech sector have a way of percolating into the broader corporate world. Some companies outside tech are following suit in the move to permanent remote work.

Before the coronavirus hit, marketing and advertising mogul Martin Sorrell thought that the leased office spaces and WeWork footprint at his London-based media company

S4 Capital

PLC were necessary.

But he reassessed that about a month into the wide-ranging lockdowns that have thrust everyday business online. ”We are breaking our leases and thinking about having people spend more time at home,” he said.

Martin Sorrell, chairman of S4 Capital.



Photo:

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News

More than 80% of enterprise-technology providers said corporate customers last month were shopping for communications, collaboration and other remote-work tools, up from 76% in March, according to a survey of more than 200 U.S. tech firms by IT industry trade group CompTIA.

LinkedIn Corp. executives are also seeing emerging trends that show remote work might become more widely accepted, said Karin Kimbrough, chief economist at the Microsoft Corp. subsidiary.

In the past month, LinkedIn recorded a 28% increase in remote job postings and a 42% increase in searches using the terms “remote” or “work from home,” Ms. Kimbrough said at a recent web conference.

Large tech providers are betting that demand for remote-work and business-continuity tools will continue after regional lockdowns are lifted, industry analysts say.

That is expected to drive a surge in acquisitions by big enterprise IT providers on the hunt for startups developing collaboration, access management and other capabilities aimed at supporting a dispersed workforce.

“The scale that we have implemented and the ongoing reliance on remote worker technology will be permanent, and it is largely the business processes that may be evaluated for potential changes,” said Nigel Faulkner, chief technology officer at investment firm

T. Rowe Price Group Inc.,

in an email.

Mr. Faulkner said that in the future, his team will be more focused on providing the underlying technology to support both productivity and flexibility for employees working from home.

Craig Malloy, CEO of software company LifeSize, said the response to the pandemic has revealed the viability of remote work for many businesses that had access to the necessary technology, but were hesitant to expand the practice.

“This is the tipping point for widespread remote work and we expect to see employers continuing to enable permanent work-from-home arrangements for distributed teams,” Mr. Malloy said.

That transition will need to go beyond sticking with emergency measures put in place to keep businesses running amid regional lockdowns, said Darren Murph, head of remote at software developer GitLab Inc., where everyone works remotely.

“What we’re experiencing now isn’t truly intentional remote work, it’s crisis-induced work from home,” Mr. Murph said.

But due to the emergency measures, companies will come to realize that a dispersed workforce is a far more efficient and productive way of doing business, and many will be prompted to install more permanent remote-work infrastructure and applications, Mr. Murph said.

“The current crisis has accelerated the adoption of remote work by at least 10 years,” he said.

Write to Angus Loten at angus.loten@wsj.com

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