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Telecommuting in a post-COVID U.S. will be radically different. And that's a very good thing.


When COVID is through torturing the U.S. — which will likely be late ’21 to mid ’22, depending on when a vaccine and good treatments can be discovered, tested, approved and mass-distributed — business execs are going to find themselves running very different companies in very different ways. And the vast majority of the burden to deliver the infrastructure for these new operations will fall to IT. So, yes, IT execs need to start talking with other C-levels now and figure out what they want their post-COVID company to look like.

The timing is interesting, in that it’s just about enough time for companies to implement all of these changes safely and securely. Let’s start with the most obvious change: corporate telecommuting. By the way, “working from home” (WFH) is exactly the term you want to use if you want to guarantee that it will fail. More on that in a moment.

Let’s start with where we were, where we are and where we’re going to be (while conceding that everyone is going to get there in stages). Enterprise-sized companies — let’s say $3 billion or more in annual revenue — barely did much true corporate telecommuting pre-COVID, in, say, January 2020.

Here’s the key distinction between WFH and corporate telecommuting: Most companies (again, in the pre-COVID days in the U.S.) thought of WFH as an occasional thing for convenience, as in during a blizzard or when the main office has a one-day power outage or on Fridays in the summer. That’s not corporate telecommuting. Telecommuting is where the employee or contractor is based at the remote location full time. That’s the jurisdiction where payroll taxes are calculated from, and when those workers have to come into headquarters, they are compensated for their travel, just as someone in a corporate building in Chicago is compensated to travel to a corporate building in Detroit. If the employee’s home is in Atlanta, the company needs to treat that as an Atlanta office/bureau in every way. That’s the only way corporate telecommuting works. That means that every office needs to have the same infrastructure/security arrangements as any other, granted one that is scaled for the number of employees at that location (we’re talking one employee in most cases).

Note: How many enterprises have bothered to change the tax status of employees who happen to live in a different jurisdiction than where they used to work? If they are now doing 100% of their work in that other jurisdiction, changing the tax status is necessary.

Pre-COVID, the typical large enterprise had somewhere between 3% and 9% of their full-time employees corporate telecommuting (stressing that this is not an occasional WFH situation for convenience). During COVID, that number has soared, with some enterprises (depending on their vertical and the nature of their business) today doing anywhere from 40% to 90%, with many finding themselves on the higher end of that range. When we’re in post-COVID days — and it will indeed be in stages — those numbers are not going to ever return to pre-COVID levels, nor will they stay as high as they are in this COVID era. My guess is that the typical enterprise will fall into the 30%-to-60% range, maybe even 40% to 70%. That is a gigantic increase from where things were in January 2020.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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